A Road Runner tipped with a minnow is a deadly bait for slow trolling, dipping and other techniques.
Give crappie a choice of spinner or no-spinner and let them show you which one they like. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Minnow Basics, Tips & Tricks
by Tim Huffman
No one can deny that live minnows are universally great baits to lure crappie to your hook. For more than a century, fishermen have been using a lively minnow to put crappie and other species on the table. Minnows obviously provide all the natural smells, actions and flash without requiring too much work from the fisherman.
But, there are some tips and techniques that may help your minnow fishing efforts to be even more productive.
Minnows have three primary problems. First, they cost money at the bait shop, unless you have a rare situation where you can trap your own. Secondly, they often die on the hook before a crappie finds them and a dead bait is essentially like having no bait. Thirdly, it can be difficult or costly to keep your minnows alive, especially in hot weather.
Tournament crappie fisherman go to great lengths to have healthy minnows, using expensive coolers equipped with oxygen and aeration. However, a weekend fisherman can still keep minnows alive without breaking the bank.
A small cooler will help keep water temperatures stable in the summer or winter. That’s important, especially in the summer. Cold water will hold significant higher levels of oxygen. Placing frozen plastic soda bottles, filled with water, in your cooler or minnow bucket will help keep minnows lively. A good battery-operated aerator is the second item required. Occasionally adding fresh water will also help, however, take care to not make radical water temperature changes, either up or down, or it can “shock” or even kill your minnows.
Periodically change minnows when fishing. Change a minnow when it is no longer alive and active. Smaller, thinner diameter hooks cause less trauma and will help your minnows stay livelier longer. Basically, the livelier the minnow, the more fish it will catch.
Ultralight Single Rig
“Ultralight fishing with a single minnow can be good,” says Wade Mansfield with the Grizzly Jig Company. “Right now, fish are active in the warm water. It’s a great time to ultralight fish. It’s basically using light tackle with a 9- to 12-foot jigging pole, light line and dipping bait around cover. Casting is a form of ultralight fishing, too, but can be used in open water or over and around cover.
“Casting is a fad right now. It can be done free-style with the fisherman controlling the depth and speed. Add a slip-float when fish are deep. Ultralight casting is simple, requiring only a good, light spinning outfit spooled with 4- or 6-pound-test line. A small minnow, hook and split-shot is a natural way to present a bait. If you enjoy seeing a float disappear, and who doesn’t, adding a small float is a good, simple way to catch crappie, along with a lot of other fish.”
“If you enjoy seeing a float disappear – and who doesn’t – adding a small float is a good, simple way to catch crappie, along with a lot of other fish.” ~ Wade Mansfield, Grizzly Jig Company
Single Minnow Rigs
“Spider rigging is a good way to catch crappie. I did it for years with my dad and grandpa,” says 2022 Crappie USA National Champ, Terry Adams. “It’s a great way for a weekend fisherman to catch fish using minnows.
“Today I’m using (live-imaging sonar, LIS) all the time. On tournament day, I’ll be using jigs but an important rig I have ready is a minnow setup. I want to catch fish on my jigs, but there are times that fish will only hit a minnow and I’ll definitely use them if I need to. They are good when fishing is tough.”
Adam’s first option is to pitch. The pendulum swing of the minnow followed by holding it over the fish is deadly. However, he says spooky fish sometimes requires casting.
“I’ve been using a spinning outfit but I’m learning to cast with a 6.5-foot Double Down BFS rod system by Jenko. It’s the future of serious casting because it’s more accurate and a fisherman can get further distance when casting super-lightweight baits.”
Double-Hook Minnow Rigs
Dan Dannenmueller is two-time Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year champ and uses minnows for several techniques. His primary use is when spider rigging, now called spider scoping when using LIS.
“Minnows are good by themselves, but I also use them with hair and plastic jigs. I use larger minnows when the water is muddy, and fish are looking for bigger baits. When a white crappie wants a big meal, it will just inhale the bait, but you must be patient for the bite. Black crappie prefer a smaller minnow most of the time. However, they are aggressive when they decide to bite.
“I tie my own double-hook rigs using #1 TruTurn hooks, or a hook on top and a jig/minnow on bottom, with a weight between hooks. My partner and I will be using eight 16-foot BnM trolling poles with two hooks per pole, giving us 16 baits for fish to find and bite. That’s an advantage.”
Will Robey with Jenko says, “We get so wrapped up in the tournament side of things that we forget that most fishermen are the ones who enjoy catching fish, often by spider rigging. Guys still tie their own double-hook minnow rigs and catch plenty of fish. We offer a Big T 360-degree Swivel that’s a good addition for a sturdy connection that always keeps the line and hook away from the main line. We also have pre-tied rigs if a fisherman prefers those. We recommend 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line and #2 Aberdeen-style hooks, with a bell sinker on bottom with the weight matching the depth and situation.”
Tips from the Pros
Properly hooking a minnow is important. The minnow should be hooked enough so the minnow won’t easily be knocked off the hook, but shallow enough so the hook won’t injure the minnow too much.
Lip hooking is popular for slow trolling, casting and other situations. The minnow will follow in line with minimal rolling when the bait is pulled through the water. Hook the minnow through the lips but not into its head.
Dorsal fin hooking is best under a float. The minnow has a lot of natural movement. Hook the minnow under the dorsal fin not getting too far into its body and hitting the spine.
Eye hooking through the eyes is the easiest way to hook a minnow. It works great when your hands are freezing in the winter. However, the minnow will move up and down the hook, and comes off easier. Pro fisherman Sam Heaton always said, “It’s the best way to hook a minnow because it can’t see what’s about to happen to it.”
Other ways to hook a minnow includes tail-hooking, hooking in the mouth and out the gills and threaded weedless. There are many other variations. Pick the one you like that gives you good results.
Minnow size is critical and often difficult to predict. The best way to learn what crappie want is to look in the water at the shad and minnows. Also, cut open a crappie belly to see what it’s eating. Simply match the look and size of what you find to the minnow you use.
Tipping a jig with a minnow is a great way to add a natural attractant. A minnow adds scent, flash, movement and a natural look. In most situations, stick with a small minnow when tipping a jig.
Minnows are not forgotten. There is a craze for presenting plastic and hair jigs when using LIS, but minnows will always be a major part of crappie fishing. Just ask thousands of bait shop owners and bait dealers across the country.
Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing writing and photography since 1988. He is currently Senior Writer for CrappieNOW Digital Magazine, freelance writer and book author. His 2022 book is Crappie Annual & Product Guide. Books are available from Amazon.com.