UPCOMING EVENT: Rayovac FLW Series - 2015 - Lake Champlain

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 

/tips/2015-06-22-thrift-flirting-with-second-aoy-title

Thrift Flirting with Second AOY Title

Bryan Thrift can’t say for certain what baits will sit on his front deck during the final Walmart FLW Tour event of 2015 on the Potomac River, which is set to kick off this Thursday, but he’s quick to say what will not join him – the memory of his 2010 Angler of the Year title. READ MORE »

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Starting Strong

Zack Birge likes to play the numbers, and right now the math is looking pretty sweet for him. With two events remaining on the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour, the Blanchard, Okla., pro has essentially sewn up Rookie of the Year honors, and he’s currently sitting in fourth place in the Angler of the Year standings. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-08-top-10-patterns-from-the-james-river

Top 10 Patterns from the James River

Flipping isolated clumps of spatterdock produced the winning fish for Canadian pro Cory Johnston at the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division event on the James River. Adapting to the week’s extreme high water was critical to bagging the winning total of 46 pounds, 14 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-06-johnston-rises-from-sixth-for-the-win

Johnston Rises From Sixth for the Win

Cory Johnston’s bucket list just shrank. After a couple of close finishes, the pro from Peterborough, Ont., finally bagged his first Rayovac FLW Series victory with a winning total of 46 pounds, 14 ounces at the Northern Division opener on the James River Saturday. “I’ve always wanted to win one of these,” Johnston says of his accomplished Rayovac career, which hadn’t included a first-place finish until now. “I’ve won some other tournaments; I’ve been second (in Rayovacs) two times and my brother (Chris) has been second two or three times. So to win this really feels good.” Fishing the Chickahominy River — a major James River tributary — Johnston got off to a lukewarm start, as a 10-pound, 9-ounce effort left him with a 27th-place showing on day one. Regrouping for day two, he formed a new game plan borne of a revelation that came early on day two. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-06-co-angler-honeycutt-triumphs-in-james-river-debut

Co-angler Honeycutt triumphs in James River debut

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/news/2015-06-06-james-river-day-3-midday-update

James River Day 3 Midday Update

Pro leader Kelly Pratt had a good morning and was culling by about 9:30. He returned to the shallow creeks and coves inside the Chickahominy River where he’s been targeting spawning fish all week. With a limit of about 13 pounds by 10, Pratt was still looking for his big fish to turn on later in the day. He’s throwing at gaps and drains in the spatterdock, along with various structure from laydowns to duck blinds. Pratt’s using reaction baits for his primary presentation and following up any missed bites with a finesse worm. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-05-pratt-stays-close-to-take-lead

Pratt Stays Close To Take Lead

High water on the James River has created a challenging scenario for much of the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division field. For top pro Kelly Pratt, however, it has brought a bounty of opportunity reflected by his tournament-leading weight of 33 pounds, 4 ounces. Michael Crocker, the leader on day one with 16-10, slipped to 22nd in the second round as he could only muster three fish for 5-09. Georgia pro Troy Morrow shadows Pratt with 31-0. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-05-top-5-patterns-from-day-2-on-the-james

Top 5 Patterns From Day 2 On The James

Gaining two spots today, the FLW Tour pro from Eastanolee, Ga., again committed his day to the Chickahominy — a major James River tributary known for the quantity and quality Morrow sought. Today’s limit added 15-14 to Morrow’s total. “I caught them all day again, but still no size early,” he says. “Every once in a while I’d pick off a big one. Morrow says he’s been catching fish on several types of shallow habitat from wood to vegetation, but one particular bait has produced all of his weight. He wouldn’t divulge the particulars, but he did say it was a bait “that moves a little.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-05-james-river-day-2-midday-update

James River Day 2 Midday Update

Most anglers seemed to have been struggling for most of the morning on the James River in round two of the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division opener, including day-one leader Michael Crocker. The Maryland pro started his day by running up to the Chickahominy River where he fished a variety of habitat ranging from pads and cypress trees to stumps and docks. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-04-crocker-takes-james-river-lead

Crocker Takes James River Lead

Michael Crocker stepped to the front of the boat and fished his way to the front of the pro field in the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division opener on the James River. Crocker won this event’s co-angler division in 2014 and now the Pasadena, Md., pro has positioned himself well at the other end of the boat with a limit catch of 16 pounds, 10 ounces. The morning delivered an early round of action, albeit short-lived. “I got a couple of bites and then it just died on me,” Crocker recalls. “Then, about halfway through the day, I made a change and nailed two really fast. I made another move and nailed another one really quick and that’s all I caught. I caught five fish today.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-04-top-5-patterns-in-the-james-river-rayovac

Top 5 Patterns in the James River Rayovac

Hailing from Williamsburg, Va., Pratt says he fared well in conditions that challenged many of his competitors. Essentially, the week’s full-moon cycle brought extremely high tides to a river already swollen by recent heavy rains. This contrasted the period of extreme low tides leading up to tournament week. High water allows fish to push farther into cover, but Pratt said he didn’t allow that to hinder him. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-04-northern-rayovacs-kick-off-on-the-james

Northern Rayovacs Kick Off on the James

Ostensibly, the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division tournament presented by Mercury that began this morning is taking place on the James River, but much of the fishing focus will be centered on the Chickahominy River – or Chick, as it’s affectionately known locally. “This tournament is typically won out of the Chick,” says North Carolina pro Jamey Caldwell of the James River tributary. “There are some great bags coming out of the [James] river right now, but I just feel that those big fish are a little more sporadic. I’m going to hang out in the Chick and hope for the best.” READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-04-james-river-midday-report

JAMES RIVER MIDDAY REPORT

A damp, drizzly morning turned into a soggy day for anglers in the Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division tournament on the James River. A light mist became a steady shower, which gave way to sporadic downpours of moderate intensity. The remainder of day one will see little change, according to weather reports. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-04-top-10-patterns-from-lake-texoma

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Texoma

With his win on Lake Texoma, Del Rio, Texas, pro Ray Hanselman made Rayovac FLW Series history by sweeping the Texas Division. Hanselman did most of his damage with a Strike King Sexy Frog, although he made a few flips and pitches here and there with plastics. Recent rains had pushed Texoma to about 2 feet above normal pool, and Hanselman used this to his advantage by targeting overlooked areas that had been muddy during practice. Working flooded brush in the backs of secondary coves, he found bedding fish, as well as postspawners ready to chew in the clearing water. Most of the other top 10 finishers also targeted a mix of spawning and postspawn fish. The changing water level, plus a mild cold front that pushed through the first day of the event, made for tough fishing under mostly high, bright skies. Anglers reported super-tough conditions, and many struggled to get daily limits. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-02-hanselman-trifecta-tops-texoma

Hanselman Trifecta Tops Texoma

Del Rio, Texas pro Ray Hanselman made history on Lake Texoma with a victory that completed his sweep of Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division. With victories in the previous two divisional events on Lake Amistad and Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Hanselman caught a 5-bass limit that weighed 18 pounds, 9 ounces today and finished with a tournament total of 58-13 and a 12-pound winning margin. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-02-big-day-one-catch-sets-up-lejeune-s-texoma-win

Big Day One Catch Sets Up Lejeune’s Texoma Win

No doubt, co-angler Ryan Lejeune, of Eunice, La., would have preferred two more days like his first, but a big opening effort set up his wire-to-wire win in the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament on Lake Texoma. READ MORE »

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Hanselmania Closing in on Texoma Title

It aint’ over ’til it’s over. The fat lady has yet to sing. All the cliches still apply, so in fairness to nine other talented pros, we’ll make no predictions or insinuations about day-two leader Ray Hanselman and possible outcome of the Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division tournament on Lake Texoma. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-01-big-bag-pushes-hanselman-ahead

Big Bag Pushes Hanselman Ahead

It’s the question of the day, the question of the week; indeed, it’s the question of the 2015 Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division season: Will we see the trifecta from Ray Hanselman? With the Del Rio, Texas pro leading the final division event on Lake Texoma with 40 pounds, 4 ounces, it appears that the stage is set for a third installment of Hanselmania. READ MORE »

/news/2015-05-01-texoma-midday-report

Texoma Midday Report

Lake Texoma is showing its stingy side as Rayovac FLW Series anglers ply this Ouachita River reservoir for day two of the final Texas Division event. The weather is nice, with sunny skies and moderate wind, but the first half of the day was painfully slow for the handful of boats we followed. READ MORE »

/news/2015-04-30-setina-takes-day-1-lead

Setina Takes Day 1 Lead

Joe Don Setina, of Pittsburg, Texas leads day one of Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division action on Lake Texoma with a limit catch weighing 20 pounds, 9 ounces. Setina caught his fish by flipping flooded brush. Ryan Lejeune, of Eunice, La. leads the co-anglers with 12-4. READ MORE »