Pockets of popularity you might say. Everyone knows crappies eat crankbaits—at times. That’s not good enough for most crappie anglers, who remain largely dependent on a connection to livebait and the variety of techniques that go with it.

But, one of In-Fisherman’s fundamental teaching points applies as much to crappies as to any other fish. It’s often best to begin with aggressive strategies and let fish tell you whether to temper those strategies to something less aggressive.

In crappie circles, anglers typically begin with tentative tactics, assuming, before they get a judgement from the fish, that such strategies are sure to work best. These anglers believe that because finesse tactics are so prevalent that those tactics must be so good that they are going to produce fish no matter what mood the fish are in.

I admit that where spider-rigging can be used in conjunction with jigs, rigs, and livebait, it’s usually hard to beat. And where spider-rigging can’t be used, because multiple lines aren’t an option, I also admit that straightforward jigging methods usually produce some fish. The crappie is, after all, a fish of comparatively laid-back character.

But not always. Crappies are cranked way more often than most anglers realize—and anglers don’t give crappies a chance to tell them how cranked they are. Fish often seem tentative when they’re presented with tentative strategies—because they’re not interested in those strategies when they’re in a more aggressive mood. In not using aggressive tactics to begin with, we often minimize catches by not maximizing strategies that pay off in producing more fish. When crappies are cranked you catch more of them with aggressive tactics. So begins this tale.

Searching for a Clue

Sometimes casting cranks is a great way to get a feeling for what’s happening and where at least some of the fish are before you make more refined judgements about how to proceed. I’m at Grenada Reservoir in Mississippi April 7 one spring. It’s the home of giant white crappies and I’m there to shoot TV. But I really don’t have anyone that I know there that I can call to talk to about conditions—don’t have anyone that can tell me exactly what’s going on. Should be prime spawning time. I was there two years previous, but the water was very high and most of the fish were pushed shallow into flooded bushes and floating debris. This time the water’s high, but not extremely high. Where might the fish be? More precisely, where might the big fish be?

I snoop on crappie101.com and see some of the best local guides are catching fish so long as the weather’s decent—but no details about fish location. I drop the boat in and start looking. People are wading and fishing in flooded brush, per usual at this time of year, dipping and dabbling livebait and jigs with long rods. Don’t see anyone spider-rigging, which is a common tactic, but that’s probably because it’s so windy that day. I try fishing shallow and the fish are scattered and average, not exactly what I’m looking for.

I pull out a #4 Glass Shad Rap and start probing basins just outside backwater spawning areas. Most of these basins run 3 to 4 to 7 feet deep. The Shad Rap runs 3 to 4 feet down on 6-pound Sufix 832, a braid, depending how high I keep my rod tip. I’m just casting, making slow retrieves, and covering water looking for fish. I start seeing some fish on the locator and finally catch a big fish, maybe 2.5 pounds. Then another nice one. And another.

Many anglers hesitate to use cranks because compared to a typical crappie jig they seem too big—even immense. But I open the mouth of a 2-pounder that has completely eaten the Shad Rap. This fish could eat 4 Shad Raps at the same time. A 3-pound fish could eat a baseball.

As badly as I want to continue casting cranks, looking for a 3-pound fish, we quickly have enough footage for a nice TV segment, so the next day we move on to other things. The fish in those basins are set up perfectly for spider-rigging. So I do that to shoot another segment and then shoot yet another one concentrating on a discussion of crappie spawning behavior.

So, here’s an instance—typical in my experience—where a crank quickly helps me find fish and allows me to consider how to proceed. The 2.5-pound fish also is the biggest I catch during the three days, which isn’t unusual when crankbaits are part of the equation with crappies. Cranks tend to get the big bite many times even though they can also be the best option for lots of fish, as my next story illustrates.

To add further perspective to my experience at Grenada, I say this: The cranks got me started, but with the water as dirty as it is, I also soon see that spider-rigging is the way to go for lots of fish. It’s also likely that spider-rigging should therefore account for so many fish that overall it produces more big fish than cranking might have in a couple days of fishing. We’ll never know for sure.