Crappie diem

Small but scrappy, the speckled perch (aka “crappie”) fills the gap between simple panfish tactics and more advanced bass pursuits.

Soaking minnows under corks and waiting for a freckled friend to find your bait may be the most common approach to crappie fishing, but anglers in the know realize that sometimes you have to take the game to the fish. Two diverse tactics with a common goal accomplish just that. Pulling (aka "trolling") enables anglers to cover water to find active fish, while pushing (aka "tight-lining," or "lead-lining") holds a tantalizing group of baits right in front of the speckled perch that you've either marked on sonar or suspect to be holding on weeds, docks, etc. Kind of a "tweener" fish that links the low-impact panfish routine with the bass world's more advanced search and presentation strategies, crappies offer a high level of sport, scrappy fights and some of the best filets you'll find in freshwater. Here's a look at how crappie experts get those filets from the lake to the skillet. Getting pushy An effective tactic for when you've found fish or a likely point of habitat such as a dock or weedline, pushing is an excellent finesse technique for crappie fishing. Leveraging the power of persuasion much like a drop-shot rig wears down a curious bass, spreads held on target make it easy for lethargic or otherwise indecisive crappies to find and attack your baits. Small jigs, often tipped with minnows are the common offering for crappie.Probably the most common bait for pushing (and pulling) is a 1/16- to 1/32-ounce jig, usually tipped with live Missouri minnows, hooked bottom to top through the lips. This combo keeps the minnow tethered without nullifying its real-life appeal. Natural smell and taste also help the cause. Usually conducted off the bow, pushing relies on a vertical presentation. To keep light baits on target, anglers rig weights above their jigs, thus explaining the "tight-lining" and "lead-lining" tags. Options include sliding an ounce or 2-ounce slip-sinker onto the main line and then connecting the leader with a small barrel swivel, or simplifying your presentation with an in-line sinker, sprouting swivels at both ends. For optimal versatility, crappie pros often choose a three-way swivel, pre-rigged with a weighted leader hung from the bottom ring and the bait leader tied to the side ring. A main-line snap swivel clips to the top ring, thereby allowing quick changes in rig setups. (Tip: Use lighter line on the weighted leader. If your rig snags on bottom structure, you can break it off without losing all your tackle.) Varying depths and conditions, as well as occasional tangles, often require retying. That's part of fishing, but wrapping premade leaders around plastic, wooden or rubber spools and packing them in plastic storage boxes minimizes down time by keeping replacements conveniently accessible. Be sure to mark spools with details of rig size, length and arrangement. You can also group like rigs together for easy identification on the boat. Generally orchestrated from the bow, Furthering the descriptives, the common sight of multiple rods protruding from horizontal racks gives crappie boats a certain arachnid appearance captured by yet another moniker - "spider rigging." Adjusting rod holders to keep rod tips within inches of the surface makes it easier to spot a hookup. Brightly colored rod tips further aid in strike detection, and adding corresponding colors to rod handles ensures that you grab the right one. Pulling strings When you need to cover water to find a hot bite, lay out a spread of baits and "pull" them over likely areas. Eliminating water is part of the calculation, but so is the location of aggressive fish, ornery enough to chase down a moving target. Complementing standard jigs, the inherent motion makes bladed lures like the classic Road Runner very effective. With either, experienced crappie trollers maximize their presentations by running multiple baits from each line with a dropper loop rig. Form this rig by slipping a 1/16-ounce jig onto your line about 2 feet from the end. Make a loop in the line with the jig in the center, and tie a double overhand knot (pass the jig through the knot both times), which leaves the top jig hanging about 5 inches from the main line. Finish the rig by tying a 1/32-ounce jig to the line's end. So arranged, the heavier front jig runs lower than the lighter jig at the end. Anglers fishing solo may opt for a stern deployment, with a sonar unit, GPS and livewell situated within easy reach. This keeps all elements close at hand, while occasional forward glances ensure a clear course. An autopilot is understandably invaluable to lone crappie hunters. Mounting a speed sensor to a trolling motor head helps crappie trollers maintain their optimal rate.When boat setup and manpower allows, lateral rod deployment enables you to stagger rod lengths to spread out the lines and avoid tangling. On port and starboard, start with the longest rod and the longest bait positioned forward and work back with progressively shorter rods and shorter bait lines. This minimizes the likelihood of a hooked crappie running across the spread and fouling other lines. Speed control factors greatly, and crappie pros are fanatical about determining and maintaining their optimal number. GPS units are helpful, but some install speed sensors to their trolling motor heads to further refine their operation. If windy conditions push you along too quickly, dragging heavy link chains secured to the stern with ropes will decrease boat speed. Another chain benefit: Stirring up the bottom flushes out grass shrimp, and that often stimulates crappie feeding. Finding a competitive edge Beyond the basics, committed crappie catchers employ a host of edgy tricks to turn more fish toward their lines. Baits to "dye" for: When crappies are finicky - usually as a result of seeing too many of the same jig colors - savvy anglers will modify their plastics by dipping all or part of a jig tail in colored dye (chartreuse, pink, orange, etc.). Spice it up: Garlic spray jazzes up a jig and minnow with a scent crappies have to inspect. Multiple rods set on either side of the outboard engine allow anglers to troll, or That's a wrap: High-visibility lines help anglers keep track of pulling spreads, but they also make it easier to wrap and unwrap long crappie rods in low light. Smell of success: A ventilated scent dispenser filled with a turkey baster and mounted to the trolling motor shaft releases fish-attracting aroma that the propeller spreads through the water. Rod watch: Wrapping rod tips with brightly colored tape helps an angler detect light strikes. Some wrap their rod handles in matching tape to ensure they grab the right one. At times - the spring spawn, for example - catching a limit of crappies requires little more than soaking a few minnows on the right spot. The trick, of course, is finding those "right spots" before anyone else. Even then, fishing holds few guarantees. Cold fronts, crowded water and cantankerous crappie attitudes all hold day-wrecking potential when you depend on your quarry coming to you. Nevertheless, fish must eventually eat. So when they won't visit the dining table, send them a round of room service - either pushed or pulled.

Tags: tips-and-techniques  david-a-brown 

/news/2015-04-23-griffith-grabs-tbf-lead-

Griffith Grabs TBF Lead

By midday, the prospects were unclear for Jon “Scooter” Griffith here in The Bass Federation National Championship on Grand Lake, but in a roundabout way it provided just the clarity he needed to dial in a pattern that helped him take the day-one lead with an 18-pound, 13-ounce limit. Griffith began his day by sight-fishing the clear water down by the Pensacola Dam. This opening move, he says, gave him some early comfort, as it matched the transparent water he’s used to fishing near his home in Mesa, Ariz. Targeting windblown points, Griffith got his early bites with reaction baits in about 4 to 8 feet of water. Unfortunately, the plan turned out to be less productive than he had expected. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-23-tbf-championship-tips-off

TBF Championship Tips Off

The spawn is on at Grand Lake, but that’s not the only game in town. As the 2015 The Bass Federation National Championship plays out for the next three days, anglers will find this northern Oklahoma impoundment abounding with lots of fishing options. Brian Maloney, the 2012 Walmart Bass Fishing League All-American champion, says he was impressed with what he found in practice. “The quality of fish on Grand is just amazing,” notes the Missouri angler. “This lake continues to put out 3- and 4-pounders, and right now there’s a variety of things we can do. “There are guys sight-fishing for spawning fish, and we’re probably looking at another wave or two of fish coming in soon. I’m sure the full moon coming up in another week or so will move them in.” Adding that the lake currently has fish in all prespawn, spawning and postspawn stages, Maloney thinks that TBF contenders will be greeted by a mix of water conditions typical for Grand this time of year. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-20-spawn-looming-at-beaver-lake

Spawn Looming at Beaver Lake

As the pros who fish the Walmart FLW Tour begin practice on Beaver Lake, this jewel of northwestern Arkansas could be setting up for another spring spawn showdown. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-13-top-10-patterns-from-sam-rayburn

Top 10 Patterns from Sam Rayburn

With heavy rainfall swelling Sam Rayburn Reservoir, this Angelina River impoundment had risen 5 feet above normal level by the start of the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament. This gave fish and fishermen access to miles of shoreline forest and brush that normally stand in mere inches of water – if not on dry ground. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-12-top-10-baits-from-sam-rayburn

Top 10 Baits from Sam Rayburn

With Sam Rayburn swollen to 5 feet above its normal water level, the top 10 pros broke out various flipping and punching rigs to pick apart newly flooded cover. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-11-hanselman-wins-back-to-back

Hanselman Wins Back-to-Back

Once you get Ray Hanselman going, just get out of his way. The Del Rio, Texas, pro is riding an incredible high right now after sewing up his second consecutive Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division win. Hanselman won the opener on Lake Amistad in February, then backed it up this week with a win on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in an event presented by Mercury. For his final-day limit, Hanselman plowed deep into Rayburn’s flooded cover to track down a five-bass limit worth 16 pounds, 10 ounces, raising his three-day total to 60-08 for a win by more than 7 pounds. For his efforts, Hanselman earned a cool $35,815 check and another trophy to add to his mantle. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-11-wilson-tops-co-anglers-on-rayburn

Wilson Tops Co-anglers on Rayburn

Dan Wilson caught one of only three co-angler limits on the final day of competition to come back from fourth place and win the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Mercury. Consistency was key for Wilson, who weighed in 11 pounds, 1 ounce on day one, then followed with 13-04 and 14-15 on days two and three, respectively. His three-day total of 39-04 bested day-two leader Bryan New of North Carolina by 3 pounds, 12 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-11-rayburn-day-3-midday-update

Rayburn Day 3 Midday Update

A chilly morning greeted the top 10 pros and co-anglers for the final day of Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division competition on Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Mercury, but a warm sunrise filtered by scattered clouds bespoke the gorgeous conditions forthcoming. Winds have dropped off to barely a breeze, main-lake running is easy, and the coves and creeks where most anglers are fishing are glassy smooth. Fish surely pulled tighter to cover with the sunny conditions, but that probably makes little difference, as the majority of anglers have been flipping close to trees and into dense buck brush since day one. The heavy, tangled spots with vines seem to be the prime targets again today. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-10-hanselmania-returns

Hanselmania Returns

He’s back at it again. Ray Hanselman of Del Rio, Texas, won the season-opening Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament on Lake Amistad, and today he weighed in 23 pounds, 5 ounces on the second day of competition at stop No. 2 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. Hanselman vaulted into the tournament lead with a two-day total of 43-14. “Hanselmania” leads by 5 pounds, 6 ounces over Denny Brauer, also of Del Rio, who is in second place for the second consecutive day. The leader’s stringer is even more impressive considering that Hanselman lost three 5-pounders this morning and caught 23-5 on a day when only one other pro weighed more than 20 pounds, and only three others weighed more than 18 pounds. Day-one leader Joe Don Setina weighed in only four keepers for 11 pounds today. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-04-10-top-5-patterns-from-sam-rayburn-day-2

Top 5 Patterns from Sam Rayburn Day 2

Two limits of more than 20 pounds have pushed Del Rio, Texas, pro Ray Hanselman atop the leaderboard at the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament on Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Mercury. Hanselman is flipping and pitching plastics to flooded brush and trees, with careful consideration to the spots that allow him the best targeting efficiency. The lake level remains at a 15-year high, so anglers are chasing scattered bass in areas the fish rarely see. Overcast skies dominated the day, and isolated showers popped up throughout competition. Overall, productivity was lower than that of day one, with fewer fish and limits caught, and overall weights down. READ MORE »

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Rayburn Day 2 Midday Update

With only one fish in the livewell at 10:30, Joe Don Setina was probably hoping for a repeat of day one – at least the part where he sacks ’em up in the second half. We found the leading pro fishing the Black Forrest area that he worked the first day, and he’s sticking with the same routine of flipping heavy cover. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-09-setina-overcomes-slow-start

Setina Overcomes Slow Start

Pittsburg, Texas, pro Joe Don Setina is off to a hot start in the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division this season. After a top-10 finish at the opener on Lake Amistad, Setina jumped out to the day-one lead on Sam Rayburn today. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Setina, however. He says nothing went right for him this morning, when he lost fish, snagged trees and finally had to sit down and collect himself before continuing on. After refocusing, Setina caught his first keeper at about 11 a.m. and proceeded to sack up 23 pounds, 6 ounces for a slim 8-ounce lead over second-place pro Denny Brauer, who also finished in the top 10 at the Amistad opener. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-09-top-5-patterns-from-sam-rayburn-day-1

Top 5 Patterns from Sam Rayburn Day 1

Overcoming a tough start, Joe Don Setina rallied to take the day-one lead at the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division event presented by Mercury on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. He’s fishing flooded trees and bushes like most of the field and weighed in 23 pounds, 6 ounces. With the lake at a 15-year high thanks to recent rains, Rayburn’s bass are scattered, often in areas that are difficult to reach. Some pros are muscling their way through the thick stuff to search for bedding fish, while others opt for working the perimeter of the flooded zone for postspawn bass. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-09-anglers-brace-for-rough-weather

Anglers Brace for Rough Weather

At the morning takeoff, Texas pro Jim Tutt joked about putting on his rainsuit in the warm, dry sanctuary of the cove where the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division event on Sam Rayburn would soon commence. However, upon leaving the protected waters just east of the Sam Rayburn Dam, anglers soon found a very different mood that’s likely to worsen as the day progresses. Cloudy morning skies generally foretell some type of weather system coming or going, but this afternoon and evening will see some pretty fierce meteorological mayhem making its way across the Midwest and Mississippi Valley regions. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-09-swollen-rayburn-challenges-anglers

Swollen Rayburn Challenges Anglers

High water, high winds and high hopes – that’s the forecast for the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir presented by Mercury, which kicked off today at the Umphrey Family Pavilion. Torrential rains of recent weeks have swollen this Angelina River impoundment, and a huge downpour last weekend has all but stymied efforts to lower the water level. Currently, the lake sits about 5 feet above normal – a level not seen here in more than 15 years. Realistically, anglers aren’t looking for much, if any, decline this week – particularly given the approaching storm system. READ MORE »

/news/2015-02-24-tour-opener-timed-right-for-florida-spawn-fireworks

Tour Opener Timed Right for Florida Spawn Fireworks

It’s always nice to kick off a new season with the proverbial bang, but the Walmart FLW Tour might very well mark its 20th anniversary with a Boom. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-02-21-meyer-motivated-by-catch-of-a-lifetime

Meyer Motivated by “Catch” of a Lifetime

Cody Meyer had a tremendous Walmart FLW Tour season in 2014 – three top-10 finishes, his seventh consecutive Forrest Wood Cup qualification and a second-place finish in the Angler of the Year race. Suffice it to say, the seventh-year pro from Auburn, Calif., carries significant momentum into 2015, but that’s not all he’ll bring. Meyer’s recently intensified motivation comes from something you can’t find on stat sheets or in a tackle bag. Put it this way: Meyer has hoisted plenty of nice largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, but on Jan. 14, he lifted the most precious “catch” he’s ever held: Brooke Emily Meyer. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-01-05-cold-water-bass-fishing

Cold-Water Bass Fishing

Is cabin fever getting the best of you? If so, why not go bass fishing this winter? Let’s see what top competitors have to say about where and how to catch a few. READ MORE »

/news/2014-11-04-top-3-patterns-bfl-wild-card

Top 3 Patterns – BFL Wild Card

When day one of the Walmart Bass Fishing League Chevy Wild Card on Kentucky Lake commenced, J.R. Henard got right to the point, sacking up a limit by 8:30 a.m. and never looking back. For two days, he kept his foot on the gas and hauled in a tournament-winning total of 42 pounds, 5 ounces – nearly 12 pounds better than second place – and a top prize of $4,478, plus entry into the 2015 BFL All-American. READ MORE »

/news/2014-10-27-top-3-patterns-kentucky-lake-regional

Top 3 Patterns – Kentucky Lake Regional

Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat – that’s a fitting summary of Hamilton, Ohio, boater Chris Martinkovic’s nail-biter win at the Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional on Kentucky Lake Oct. 16-18. READ MORE »