May 24, 2021
By Mark Hicks
Noted crappie guide Todd Huckabee is a master jig fisherman. When he and his clients fish Lake Eufaula and other Oklahoma reservoirs, they usually catch their limits on jigs spring through fall. That’s saying something because Oklahoma’s daily crappie limit is 37 fish per day per person.
He also does well with jigs when he competes in major crappie tournaments. With a 10 1/2-foot Todd Huckabee Elite rod he plucks crappies from standing trees, flooded bushes, laydowns, brush piles, stake beds, docks and weed beds. He also fishes a jig vertically in deep water.
His skill with a jig is so well known in crappie circles that some clients hire him mainly to learn how to fish this lure. These anglers typically do well with minnows but strike out with jigs.
After Huckabee sets up his client with a jigging outfit, they begin fishing at a location that holds crappies. Invariably, the client begins twitching and hopping the jig, just as the name jig implies.
“Never jig a jig,” he explains to his client. “All that does is spook the crappies. Fish a jig as if you were fishing with a minnow.”
When the client stops incessantly shaking the jig, he starts catching crappies. When the crappies won’t go for dead sticking, he dupes them with deadly, slow-motion jigging retrieves.
For years he would conjecture about how the crappies were responding to his presentations. The guesswork was eliminated when he mounted a Garmin graph with LiveScope technology on his boat’s bow. LiveScope allows him to see his jig and the crappies and watch how the fish react to whatever he does with the lure.
“When you watch crappies on LiveScope as much as I have over the last two years, you don’t want to jig a jig hardly ever,” he said.
Huckabee explained that there are days when you have to hold a jig dead still on a crappie before it will nab the bait. Then again, there are times when the crappies reject a motionless jig and slowly sink to the bottom.
The Slow Rise
When dead sticking a jig fails, he often triggers bites with a tactic that could be called “the slow rise.”
“You drop the jig just above the crappies and start raising it up real slow,” he said. “The crappie will let the jig get as much as 4 feet of separation, then it will rush up and smack it.”
Before he switched from 8-pound monofilament to 15-pound high-vis yellow braided line, he would raise the jig by lifting the line with his free hand. He now raises the jig by lifting it with the rod tip because the small diameter braid cuts his hands when he sets the hook. However, he concedes that lifting the line by hand affords more precise control.
The slow rise came through for him recently while fishing at Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake. LiveSope revealed that crappies were holding just to the side of stumps that stood about 3 feet tall in 6 to 12 feet of water. When he dropped a jig down, a crappie that he hadn’t seen would swim up bit from the top of the stump.
The slow rise tactic worked wonders on the stump sitters, which turned out to be males. However, it failed to temp the crappies that were suspended next to the stump, which were females.
The Horizontal Swim
To catch the females Huckabee resorted to the “horizontal swim.” He dropped his jig next to the stump and slowly moved his rod tip sideways so the jig would swim horizontally past the crappie. As with the slow rise technique, the female crappies would let the jig swim a few feet past them before darting over to snatch it.
“If you stop the jig when you’re pulling it up or moving it horizontally, they won’t eat it,” he said. “Moving a jig horizontally along the edges of boat docks works really well, too.”
The Pitch & Pendulum
Another of his reliable jigging ploys is the pitch and pendulum. It is similar to the horizontal swim with the exception that the jig does not stay on the same plane. It often comes through for him when the crappies relate to standing, flooded pole timber.
He first lets out about 10 feet of line. Then, instead of dropping the jig straight down next to a tree trunk, he stays farther back and pitches the jig 2 to 5 feet past it. The farther he pitches past the tree, the deeper the jig will be when it reaches the trunk.
After the pitch he holds his rod still horizontally or angled down and lets the bait pendulum back on a tight line. A crappie hears the jig splash into the water, sees it swimming by and has a hard time resisting the snack.
Jigging Tackle & Baits
The 10 1/2-foot Todd Huckabee Elite is one of 12 rods he has designed for every crappie fishing technique and situation. He matches his rods with “a cheap and light reel” because the reel does little more than hold 15-pound, high-vis yellow braid. He ties the braid directly to a 1/8-ounce Raptor jig made by Redneck Rubber.
“The Raptor has no lead on the shank of the hook,” he said. “That means the 1/8-ounce head is the size of that on a 1/4-ounce jig. The bigger jighead shines really well on LiveScope.”
The Raptor jig is also designed to match perfectly with the only soft plastic bait that Huckabee uses, the 2-inch Beaver Bottom. He has been sacking slabs with this lure for decades. The Beaver Bottom has a ribbed body and a flat beaver-like tail. If the crappies want something smaller, Huckabee trims the bait’s tail with scissors.
Author’s Note: After I interviewed Todd Huckabee for this article, I launched my boat at a small lake in Ohio that swarms with undersized crappies. I found a few schools of them at different locations in 12 to 20 feet of water.
I dropped a jig vertically to the fish. Dead sticking and the horizontal swim yielded few bites, but the slow rise duped multiple crappies wherever I fished.