July 19, 2015
By John Neporadny Jr
When bass pros need to cover water quickly in practice or during a tournament, they put the trolling motor on high and sling spinnerbaits or crankbaits at the bank. Although it seems like most anglers take a much slower approach for crappies, there are times when faster presentations are required to find them. Crappie tournament competitors in particular rely on tactics to cover water fast, especially when fishing unfamiliar waters.
Ohio pro Russ Bailey relies on tactics to cover water fast during tournaments when he hasn't done much prefishing or if the pattern he found in practice stops producing. "The last thing you want to do is fight for water with others so you need to find some fish quick," he says.
Crappiemasters competitor Dan Dannenmueller used to fish bass tournaments so he knows the benefits of covering water quickly to find fish. He also knows crappies move around a lot following schools of baitfish. "They go where the food is, especially when conditions are right," he says. So the Alabama pro scouts vast areas quickly to keep up with crappies on the move.
When fishing competitively, Don Brooks uses heavy jigs to find crappies in a hurry. The Missouri pro opts for a 1/4-ounce jig which has a fast fall to trigger strikes. Its fast sink rate also allows him to quickly cover a wide range of depths and determine the depth crappies are holding. "I figure the 1/4-ounce jig sinks a couple feet per count. I can switch to an 1/8-ouncer to see if they want a slower fall," he says.
"Often I start in shallow water and work my way out, to figure out the depth I want to fish," he says. He usually starts pitching to standing timber, lets the jig fall to the bottom, reels it in, and then pitches to the next target. If shallow cover fails to produce, he moves to targets in the 8- to 10-foot depth range and keeps moving deeper until he finds the most productive depth.
Russ Bailey fancasts in shallow and deep water to find crappies fast. His shallow pattern works best in spring along riprap banks and spawning flats with sandy bottoms. He moves to deep water during postspawn and fall when crappies are transitioning along rocky bottoms either from the shallows to deep or vice versa.
For shallow crappies, Bailey sets a tear-drop float (the type often used for ice fishing) about 4 to 5 inches above a 1/48- or 1/16-ounce jig with a Southern Pro Stinger Shad or Southern Pro Hot Grub. "When crappies are finicky and I'm searching the shallows, I use that small float because often if you don't have a cork or if you're using a larger cork you won't see hits," he says. "It can make the difference between a livewell full of fish and no fish."
Moving at a fast pace down a bank, he fancasts to spots and lightly pops the float once or twice. "Popping it brings the jig up a bit to get their attention and then when it settles back they can't resist — that's when they hit it," he says. He moves on to the next spot if a couple pops fail to trigger a strike.
When he's searching for transitioning crappies in deeper water, he positions his boat a cast-length from the bank and fancasts rocky shorelines leading into bays. He favors a 1/16-ounce jig and a Southern Pro Hot Grub with a curly tail that generates plenty of action.
Transitioning crappies could be either suspended or hugging the bottom, so Bailey uses a countdown method to determine how deep the fish are holding. He lets the jig fall to the bottom — usually about 10 feet deep — and works it along the bottom back to the boat. He continues to fancast the area until he finds the depth where most of the crappies are residing.
He uses the same rod, reel, and line for casting in both shallow and deep water. He prefers a 61„2-foot B'n'M Buck's Crappie spinning rod on calm days or a 10-foot B'n'M Russ Bailey Signature Crappie Wizard Rod on windy days. Rods are matched with B'n'M Pro-Staff spinning reels spooled with high-visibility 6-pound Gamma line.
Spider-rigging with heavy weights and double-rigs allows crappie pros Charles and Travis Bunting and John Harrison to power-troll and cover wide swaths of water quickly. With poles sticking out in front of the boat, heavy sinkers keep lines vertical and lures pushing forward rather than swinging back under the boat.
The father-and-son Bunting team runs the trolling motor at .8 mph and places eight poles in the front rod holders, with two rods on each side for longlining jigs and four out front with double rigs. "That setup allows us to cover the entire water column in one pass, and by trolling at .8 mph we cover a lot of water," Travis says. "That spread covers a swath of about 35 feet."
For longlining, they use 61„2-foot B'n'M Sam Heaton spinning rods on the outside of the rod racks and 14-foot B'n'M poles for running baits farther outside. Longline rods are armed with jigheads ranging from 1/64 to 1/8 ounce adorned with Muddy Water Baits soft plastic grubs in different colors. When starting out, they make a long cast out each side of the boat and start trolling. If they want to place baits farther back, they strip line from their reels in 2-foot increments. Four 16-foot B'n'M Pro Staff poles with two jigs and 2-ounce sinkers on each pole are used for power-trolling rigs off the bow.
The Missouri anglers use this combo tactic mostly in tournament practice so they can determine whether longlining or power-trolling is more likely to be more effective during the tournament. They usually troll with this setup along the same type of structure they troll crankbaits. "We run ledges and shallow flats depending on the time of the year," Travis says. "We also concentrate on points and run from point to point."
They also watch their electronics closely to determine the depth of the crappies. "If we see that they're deeper or up higher, we adjust presentation depth to get into that strike zone," he says.
Travis recommends this tactic for fishing the open waters of Florida lakes where crappies could be anywhere and at a variety of depths. He recalls a tournament in Florida where they were "stinking it up," so with about two hours left in the day they switched to their trolling technique and caught enough crappies to move into seventh place. "We'd catch two down deeper and one or two up higher, so the fish were spread out in the water column," he says.
Grenada Lake Guide John Harrison also power-trolls from the front of his boat with double minnow rigs weighted with 2-ounce sinkers, a strategy that produced a 3.03-pound crappie last fall at Mississippi's Grenada Lake. "With that rig I can go 1 to 1.3 miles per hour and cover a lot of water," he says.
Harrison power-trolls with a double-minnow rig with one hook set about 16 inches above a 2-ounce weight and a bottom hook tied 14 inches below the sinker. Since he's fishing for suspended fish, he sets his rigs at various depths depending on how deep he sees baitfish on sonar.
He relies on power-trolling in fall when the lake level is dropping. "When the Army Corps starts pulling water, the crappies stay on the move," he says. "They're moving every day."
On 24 of 25 days he fished last fall he noticed the crappies were constantly moving. "Days when I caught 40 fish from a spot I'd go back to the same spot and troll and we didn't catch a fish," Harrison says. He noticed crappies were following shad up and down the river channel so he'd have to power-troll new stretches each day.
Power-trolling also helped Harrison and his partner Kent Driscoll win a tournament on Grenada last fall. They pushed their rigs in quarter-mile sections throughout the day to keep up with the relocating fish. "We covered almost half the lake," Harrison says.
He also discovered a tactic for finding crappies quicker by watching for pelicans feeding on the surface. One morning he noticed his depthfinder screen went black, indicating a thick school of shad about 13 feet deep, and birds were feeding there. He turned his boat around to troll through this area with bird activity and started catching crappies. Now, whenever he sees pelicans flocking, he trolls through the feeding frenzy to find open-water crappies.
When crappies are migrating along long stretches of ledges during prespawn and fall, Dannenmueller likes to push crankbaits to cover water quickly. He prefers to push crankbaits in front of the boat rather than pulling them behind the boat because it gives him better control of the direction of the plugs. "I can pinpoint the area I want to hit," he says. "If I know there's a ledge coming up, I can make short, quick S turns to stay on top of it. When pulling cranks I have to make wide turns."
Johnson Shad Cranks are his favorite for pushing along ledges and drop-offs. The Alabama pro favors these crankbaits because they're designed to run at low and high speeds. They can be pushed as slow as .6 miles per hour and still dive, or as fast as 2.6 mph and still track straight, he says. Last fall he discovered most of the fish he caught preferred crankbaits running at 1.1 or 1.2 mph. "If I went slower they wouldn't touch 'em, and if I went faster I would get short hits," he says. Since he tries to match the hatch when pushing crankbaits, he opts for the 21„8-inch Shad Crank if he sees small baitfish and switches to the 21„2-incher to mimic larger shad.
Dannenmueller sets up with a mainline of 10-pound-test Gamma monofilament clipped to a 1- to 3-ounce Bass Pro Shops Trolling Weight followed by another clip and a 3-foot leader of 8-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon tied to the crankbait. "The weight keeps the crankbaits down and prevents them from pulling the line under the boat," he says. "Without enough weight, at higher speeds the lures can be pulled under the boat, which is too much angle. You want the lures down on an angle of at least 80 degrees." He believes that keeping the crankbaits in front of the boat prevents spooking fish.
Using longer poles also helps keep Shad Cranks farther out in front of the boat. Dannenmueller has used poles up to 16 feet long but he prefers 14-footers most of the time. He favors the strong backbone and sensitive tip of the B'n'M Duck Commander Series of crappie poles for pushing crankbaits.
Crappies on the go. They can become much easier to find and catch if you try one of these proven tactics to cover water quickly.