June 10, 2014
Crappies occasionally look at it but rarely bite it. A sinker has no appealing taste, smell, or look to crappies, but it's a key component of many panfish rigs. In many cases, the size and shape of the weight is just as important as the lure or bait for making a proper presentation. Crappie tournament pros continuously tinker with various styles and sizes of weights to make their baits look more natural on spider rigs and slip- or fixed-bobber setups. Veteran crappie pro Wally Marshall has introduced painted Mr. Crappie Troll-Tech Sinkers in fluorescent hues to improve his chances of catching fish in dirty water. "The color of the weight is a fish attractor," he says. "Chartreuse and bright orange are good at catching the eye of fish in murky water. All of a sudden they see the minnow or whatever you are fishing with."
Top anglers continuously tinker with existing crappie sinker styles and develop new designs to enhance presentation effectiveness. Here's a look at what some crappie pros rely on for various tactics used on the tournament trail.
Mr. Crappie Weights
Marshall's Troll-Tech Sinkers from Bullet Weights are available in bell, egg, and torpedo shapes. Egg- and torpedo-style weights also come in double-swivel models. He uses the bell-shaped Troll-Tech Crappie Casters for tightline trolling, spider-rigging, slow trolling, and vertical fishing. Equipped with a swivel to prevent line twist, the bell sinker is ideal for his Double Hook Rig that he sets up with two #2 crappie hooks, one tied 12 inches above the weight and the second added 12 inches above the first hook.
The Troll-Tech Torpedo Sinker works best in standing timber since the cylindrical weight glides through limbs whereas an egg sinker tends to snag in woodcover. "When I'm dipping livebait I put that torpedo weight on my line first and then tie on an in-line swivel as a stop for the weight," Marshall says. "Then I put a snell hook or a regular crappie hook on the end of the 12-inch leader."
He prefers double-swivel egg sinkers for trolling minnow-and-jig rigs. He threads 10-pound high-visibility mainline through two eyes of a three-way swivel and ties a #2 crappie hook to a 6-inch leader, which is attached to the third eye of the swivel. After tying the mainline to the top swivel of the egg sinker, he attaches a 12-inch leader to the weight's bottom swivel and adds a Roadrunner or other jig to the leader. This setup allows the minnow to move freely on the leader above the weight for a more natural presentation.
When Marshall trolls with a double-jig rig, he opts for the double-swivel Torpedo Sinker, which glides through the water and gives jigs a better swimming action. The cylindrical weight also slides through snags easier when the rig contacts brushpiles or standing timber.
For anglers who want a simpler setup, Mr. Crappie offers a pre-rigged Troll-Tech Crappie Rig available with a 3/8- to 1-ounce torpedo weight. It features a 31„2-inch wire arm on top that can spin 360 degrees with a snap swivel, and Mr. Crappie snelled hook. The bottom arm contains a torpedo weight, snap swivel and hook. The rig works best for tightline trolling, spider-rigging, slow-trolling, and vertical presentations.
Marshall has also devised the Troll-Tech Downrigger for pushing or pulling crankbaits. This heavyweight rig is equipped with an 11-inch stainless-steel wire, 2- or 3-ounce torpedo weight, and a swivel on the bottom. He recommends attaching the crankbait to a 4-foot leader and tying it on the swivel.
When spider-rigging for suspended crappies in open water, tournament angler Matt Morgan and his partner Kent Watson rely on a 3/4-ounce egg-shaped slipsinker to troll minnows or jigs.
Their double rig consists of 10-pound monofilament mainline attached to a three-way swivel, with a 6-pound fluorocarbon tag line that leads to a #2 hook for the top bait and an 18- to 36-inch leader of 10-pound fluorocarbon extending to a barrel swivel. The leader carries the freely sliding egg sinker. Another 8- to 12-inch leader of 6-pound fluorocarbon runs from the barrel swivel to a jighead or another minnow hook to complete the rig.
Morgan estimates the rig provides a coverage area of 20 to 30 inches or sometimes even more when trolling for suspended crappies. "The heavier the weight we use, the longer we make the rig because we're trying to cover a different portion of the water column," he says.
Since white crappies seem to prefer larger baits than black crappies, Morgan and Watson vary weight and jig sizes depending on which species they're targeting. They opt for a 3/4-ounce sinker and 1/8- to 1/2-ounce jigheads when fishing for white crappies and 1/4- or 1/2-ounce egg sinkers and 1/8-ounce jigheads if they're fishing waters with mostly black crappies.
The free-sliding weight on the rig is the key to hooking more big fish. "When a big crappie feels resistance while taking the bait they often try to get rid of it," Morgan says. "With the sliding weight, when they grab the top minnow or bottom jig, the only resistance they feel is the limber pole tip. That weight slides up during the bite, whether the fish is swimming down, sideways, or up with the bait, so there's little to no resistance."
When they troll rigs through brush, they downsize to a 3/8-ounce egg sinker, wrapping the leader around it to hold in a fixed position to minimize hang-ups. They use 15-pound-test fluorocarbon for the leader and light-wire hooks for the baits, which allows them to straighten hooks when hung in brush.
Crappie Masters pro Dan Dannenmueller combines heavy egg sinkers and jigheads to make natural-looking presentations in heavy current. "When spider-rigging you want rigs to be rather vertical," he says. "They're never going to stay perfectly vertical, but the heavier the weight the more vertical they are, which gives you more contact with the bait, and the deeper the bait rides in the water."
His heavy current rig consists of a 3/4- or 1-ounce fixed egg sinker combined with a 1/4-ounce jighead in most instances. When fishing on southern waters hosting magnum-sized crappies, he increases jighead weight to 1/2-ounce, at times.
Dannenmueller notes that light jigs combined with a heavy sinker tend to flip around too much in heavy current, creating an unnatural look to crappies. "Heavier jigheads keep the bait more in line below the big weight," he says. He also notices heavier jigs increase the sensitivity of the rig since the added weight prevents slack in the line, even in strong current.
Bullet-shaped sinkers are what Crappie Masters father-and-son team Charles and Travis Bunting use for their trolling and slipbobber rigs. Their trolling setup is similar to other double rigs, with a minnow hook on top followed by a weight in the middle and a 1/16-ounce jig and softbait on the bottom. The difference in their setup is the type of weight they use — a 3/8-ounce Water Gremlin Bull-Shot bullet-shaped split shot. Travis Bunting suggests the bullet sinker minimizes snags and also helps dislodge snagged hooks.
"The weight slides through the brush cleanly and your jig follows it through," he says. "A round or egg sinker often catches a limb and kicks the jig out, increasing the chances of getting hung up. With the weight above the jig, 90 percent of the time the bottom hook gets hung up. But if you're pushing forward you can bring your rod tip up behind the brush at the correct angle and drop the weight down and it pops the jig loose."
Since a bullet sinker slides through brush easier, Travis believes it lessens the chances of line breakage, whereas egg or round sinkers tend to rub the line against limbs more and create nicks in the line that weaken it. He also prefers the pinch-on sinker to a slipsinker because it allows him to change weight without having to retie his rig.
The Buntings also like the Bull-Shot sinker's snag resistance when they fish a slipbobber and minnow around brush. The sinker also is easy to remove, making it convenient when they need to change weight.
Most of the time, they favor a 1/16-ounce bullet sinker, but they switch to an 1/8-ounce one and a larger float on windy days. Travis recommends using Thill Crappie Corks, which are labeled with a number indicating the amount of weight the cork floats. Matching the bobber with the right size weight is critical. "If you don't have enough weight on a big cork, fish can bite the heck out of it and you're never going to see it," he says. "And if you add too much weight, the cork sinks."
Magnum Split Shot
BB-size split shot is commonly used for light-line vertical presentations of minnows, or as weight on a bobber-and-minnow rig. The Crappie Masters husband-and-wife team of Jim and BarbReedy have found a magnum split shot they prefer for slow trolling.
"It's a big BB split shot," Jim says. "With smaller BB shot you have to add three or four to have much weight." The Reedys avoid stringing on multiple small weights by using the SS1 Removable Split-Shot Sinkers made by Showdown Tackle Company available in 1/2-, 5/8-, and 1-ounce sizes.
They favor this style over a round or egg sinker because it can be easily pinched on the line in a fixed position rather than having to tie on a weight. If they're trolling in rough water and need extra weight, they can pinch on another 1/2-ounce split shot to help keep their lines vertical and prevent their pole tips from bouncing too much. Jim recommends using at least 8- to 10-pound line for these split shot because the heavier weights can weaken and eventually break lighter line.
When the Reedys troll with spider-rigging setups over stump flats, they use B'n'M Capps & Coleman Minnow Rigs. Developed by six-time crappie national champions Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman, this double minnow rig is ideal for slow vertical trolling at various depths with different weights (available in 1/4-, 3/8-, 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ounce). The pre-rigged setup features a three-way swivel, two leaders connected to #2 bronze hooks, and an egg sinker between the two hooks.
They favor the 3/8-ounce rig because it's ideal for trolling stump flats in depths of 2 to 7 feet. "The rig is light but heavy enough that if you hang in a stump you can use the 3/8-ounce weight to knock the hook out," Jim says.
During the winter, Illinois guide Kyle Schoenherr uses drop-shot rigs to catch crappies on the bottom in depths of 35 to 40 feet on Kinkaid Lake. "It's about feeling what is going on down there," Schoenherr says. He finds drop-shotting best for tracking the bottom while keeping his bait above the lake's floor. "If you try vertical jigging with a 1/16-ounce jig, like you do in 5 to 12 feet of water, you can't feel much."
He attaches a barrel swivel to his 15-pound-test braid mainline and ties on an 18-inch leader of 15-pound Vicious Fluorocarbon to the swivel and a bell sinker on the bottom of the leader. He ties a loop knot for a short line with a minnow hook that connects to the leader about 12 inches above the bell sinker. If Schoenherr sees on his electronics that fish are holding higher off the bottom, he use a longer dropline from the hook to the weight.
"I let it hit bottom and then I reel up slack. As that weight hits bottom, the minnow flutters closer to the bottom and sometimes fish are hooked before I take up the slack," he explains. "That's how tight they get to the bottom in winter."
If he's slowly easing his drop-shot rig along the bottom, he uses a 1/4-ounce bell sinker. If the wind is pushing his boat along too fast he increases weight to a 3/8-ounce. He switches to a 1/2-ounce bell sinker to keep his line vertical when bumping the rig through brushpiles or stair-stepping it along ledges.
When fishing deep brush, Schoenherr sometimes rigs his drop-shot with a 1/16-ounce jig and uses a heavy bell sinker for better lure control. The line tends to hang more horizontally if too light of a weight is used in the deeper water. "By the time you feel a bite you're probably be going to be hung in a limb at an angle down there," he says. "It's easier to feel a subtle bite on a drop-shot rig than a rig with the weight above the hook." He also favors the drop-shot rig because it slides through the brush easier and hangs up less than standard minnow rigs.
Although crappies might be indifferent to sinkers or even find them unappealing at times, they're highly attractive to savvy crappie anglers who know the size and shape of their weights can be the difference between catching a limit and getting skunked.
Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble