Competitive fishing has honed todayâ€™s specialized bass and walleye boats. Lately, the growing popularity of crappie tournaments has stirred anglers to seek a rig that can handle the variety of tactics employed by crappie experts. Tournament competitors have in some cases converted bass and walleye boats into customized crappie boats, but marine manufacturers have also begun to offer boats specifically designed for crappie fishing.
At the weigh-in ceremony of a national crappie circuit, you see a variety of boats, ranging from 16-foot aluminum jonboats to 21-foot fiberglass rigs. The array of boats favored by pros suggests it may be difficult to describe an ideal crappie rig for all situations. Indeed, pros concur that the waters you fish and the tactics you rely on determine the type of boat best suited to your style of crappie fishing.
Boat Buying Considerations
â€śIf you fish areas that are shallow and have plenty of stumps, an aluminum boat would be best for you,â€ť says Mike Walters, who has teamed with fellow Ohio angler Rick Solomon to win several Crappie USA events and qualify for 12 Crappie Classics. They own a fiberglass bass boat (Ranger 520) and an aluminum boat (Fisher GT-19), allowing them to match boats with fishing conditions on the variety of waters.
â€śSome anglers like multispecies boats, but I prefer a bass boat because its lower gunnels catch less wind,â€ť Walters says. He likes fiberglass because itâ€™s heavier than aluminum, which he says makes the boat more stable.
Boat size also depends on where you most frequently fish. For large, wide-open waters, Walters recommends a longer, wider boat. â€śIn such conditions, width is more important than length in making a boat stable,â€ť he says.
Tournament veteran Whitey Outlaw runs a Ranger 521 bass boat, whether heâ€™s fishing among stumps on his home waters of Santee-Cooper in South Carolina or the wide-open, weedy waters of Florida. â€śItâ€™s a long, heavy boat that sits deep in the water,â€ť he says. â€śThat makes it stable. The design of the pad on the transom also keeps the stern from swinging when youâ€™re tightlining off the bow.â€ť The South Carolina pro also likes the Rangerâ€™s low profile and the way it handles rough water.
Alabama crappie guide Brad Whitehead ran a Bumblebee bass boat for years but recently switched to a Triton TA-196 SC Crappie Series Edition fiberglass boat. â€śItâ€™s almost like combining a bass boat, bay boat, and walleye boat,â€ť he says. The weight of this fiberglass boat serves Whitehead well for his crappie Âtactics in most situations, but he adds 125 pounds of lead to the front of the rig to keep the bow down when trolling in rough water. â€śWhen youâ€™re using 12- to 14-foot poles, you need stability in your presentations,â€ť he notes. â€śWhen fishing in 10 to 20 mph winds, many boats tend to bounce. Weighting the bow helps stabilize your boat and poles.â€ť
Other features Whitehead likes in the TA-196 include a vinyl floor for easy cleaning; deep sides; three pedestal seats, allowing two anglers to fish from the front; and a 35-gallon baitwell in front of the steering wheel. Another handy feature is the trolling motor mounted in the center of the boatâ€™s nose. â€śPlacing the trolling motor directly in the middle is ideal,â€ť he says. â€śIt keeps you from having to turn your rod holders whenever lowering your trolling motor in the water.â€ť
The added weight makes the boat slower, but Whitehead believes speed isnâ€™t such an important element in crappie fishing. â€śMost crappie anglers donâ€™t run far,â€ť he says. â€śSo most donâ€™t have a motor over 150 horsepower.â€ť Although crappie anglers may have less need for speed than bass tournament competitors, they do need enough horsepower for their rigs. Walters Ârecommends an outboard to match its Coast Guard maximum-hp rating.
â€śItâ€™s like driving a car,â€ť he says. â€śYou donâ€™t drive the street with the pedal to the metal, but you have power to accelerate when you need to.â€ť
The team of Gilford and Coy Sipes fishes from the Triton 186 bass boat they won at the 2004 Crappie Masters national championship. Sipes says the â€™glass boat gives them speed to cover more water in tournaments, but feels aluminum boats are easier to manage while trolling in windy situations. He says fiberglass boats tend to turn and rock in waves, causing the trolling rods to bob up and down. Aluminum boats, by contrast, cross squarely with the waves, preventing rods from bouncing too much.
Tournament competitor and guide Kent Driscoll recently helped War Eagle Boats design the War Eagle Predator 861 aluminum boat, which features a 23-degree V-hull. â€śIt was built specifically for crappie fishing,â€ť he notes. â€śWhen youâ€™re in the front of the boat, itâ€™s like piloting a jet or a helicopter, because you have all of the controls right in front of you.â€ť
Driscoll favors aluminum boats for the waters he fishes in Tennessee and Mississippi. â€śAluminum is tougher,â€ť he says. â€śI fish the Corps of Engineers flood-control reservoirs that are full of stumps. Iâ€™ve knocked holes in some of the fiberglass boats Iâ€™ve owned and cracked some hulls, too.â€ť
Whether itâ€™s a high-dollar bass boat or a more moderately priced aluminum rig, experienced anglers Ârecommend placing accessories in strategic locations.
Trolling Motor: Nearly all crappie pros mount the trolling motor on the bow. While many favor foot-Âcontrol models, Walters and partner Solomon prefer a hand-control motor. â€śA hand control provides more boat control. If you take your foot off a foot-control motor in the wind, the boat quickly spins around,â€ť Walters says. â€śMoreover, many crappie anglers use the variable speed dial on the trolling motor when trolling breaklines. With a foot-control motor, theyâ€™re always bending over or using their toes to adjust power to compensate for wind or current. This task is easier with a hand-control motor, since the adjustment is on the handle.â€ť
Pole Holders and Storage: Crappie pros often rig boats with double or triple pedestals in the bow so they can fish side-by-side with a partner when spider-rigging. They place rod holders for spider-rigging and other drifting tactics on gunnels close to these bow seats in the front of the boat.
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