by Vic Attardo
You know how it is with the wind and weathermen. For the angler, a good rule of thumb is to add 5 to 10 mph onto whatever the weather folks forecast for the day’s windblow. After all, they’re not on the water; you are. And it’s always windier on the water than inside a TV studio.
When long-lining most crappie are prespawn fish and these fish have come out of the deeper places and start to migrate into the bays and coves for the spawn.
I was fishing with guide Darrell Baker on Weiss Lake on one of those mis-predicted windy days. The weatherman – in this Alabama case a pretty peach of a weather gal – told us confidently that the wind would only be 5 to 10 out of the northwest. But by mid-morning, the wind was doing a steady 15, with higher gusts, and on the open water the nearly two-foot high waves were slapping hard against the boat hulls of anyone who braved the main lake.
I don’t know if Baker, who has been guiding on Weiss Lake for 10 years and fishing it for over 35 years, lacked trust in the forecast or just planned to fish the more protected bay. But we weren’t having the problems the outside boats were experiencing – though we still bounced some with the blow. What’s more Baker had chosen to use a technique perfectly suited for windy days: Long-Lining. And his technique wasn’t hurting our catching none.
The basics of long-lining do not require a lengthy explanation here. Most crappie fishermen have long-lining in their arsenal, or at least tried it. But the reasoning and details of why the tactic is good on breezy days is what this story is all about, so in this case form will follow function.
“Of all the methods we do for catching crappie,” Baker said. “Probably long-line trolling is the one where the wind affects you the least.
“It’s simple really; long-line works because your boat is constantly moving. Even if the wind is blowing into your side it may still want to blow the back end around, but not like it would if you were trying to sit still.” Baker makes his case in favor of long-lining but citing the limitations of other tactics on windy days.
The lower you can keep rod tips and keep lines down closer to the water, the better
“If you are casting to docks, most casts and even the position of your boat will be affected by the wind. And wind will certainly affect you when you are trying to spider rig.”
“With spider rigging if you can pull into the wind it might not hurt, but if you have to go into a river ledge in a way that the wind is pushing at the side of your boat, it’s not easy. You might hold the front of the boat with the trolling motor but the back of the boat is going to be all over the place.”
On the other hand, long-lining has distinct advantages in the same situation.
“On windy days, long-lining is a good tactic because the wind doesn’t hamper you as much because your boat is constantly moving and you’re not trying to position your boat like you would if you were fishing structure.
“And when you’re long-lining, if the wind is coming into your side, the wind may blow you a little bit but you are moving along. So, it’s not really going to affect you as it does when you’re sitting still.” Something else that puts long-lining on the plus side is the attitude of the crappie on windy days.
Wind scatters baitfish. It pushes them around, forces them into places they may not want to be, makes it difficult for them to do the kinds of things baitfish like to do. That is, swim, stay together and eat in safe places.
Because crappie eat baitfish, a windy day also means the crappie have to chase their food. As Baker said, “Wind scatters both baitfish and crappie.” It means crappie can be around more places than they’d be on a calm day.
“And with long-lining you can cover a lot of water,” Baker said. “You can search and find them and all the time be presenting your jigs in a way that will catch fish. It’s another reason why it’s a good tactic on windy days.”
The technique fits the mood of the fish in other ways as well. “When you are long-lining most crappie are pre-spawn fish and these fish have come out of the deeper places and start to migrate into the bays and coves for the spawn. As the water warms up, they move into these coves.
“A lot of times these fish are in the bays suspended and you are just pulling these jigs through suspended fish. For this, long-lining is a very good open water presentation and you don’t necessarily have to fish structure. “With that being said, try to find a good drop-off, a water depth change or a couple of good brush piles in that cove. Anytime you can troll over those you’ll catch a few more fish than you would in open water.”
When long-lining there are adjustments to be made on windy days. Keeping the ideal trolling speed of from 0.7 to 1.0 mph may require some fine-tuning of the trolling motor – after all wind is wind.
“The biggest thing in long-lining is your speed,” Baker notes. “So if you have wind strong enough to create one-foot waves, it will make a little bit of difference in your speed simply because if you are going with the wind (in the same direction) it will be pushing you and you’ll probably be going too fast. You’ll need to cut your speed down.”
“Then when you turn and come into the wind, you are going to have to kick up your speed on the trolling motor to get you going the right speed.”
Of all the adjustments you might make on windy days, Baker says it’s the presentation and hook set that are the most commonly encountered. “On a good calm day those strikes are easy to read because you can see the line tighten and you can see your rod start jerking. But a lot of times on a windy day, if the wind is blowing across the boat and across your line, it will create more of a bow. This will naturally make it harder to see the strike. So what you have to do is wait until you see the line start to tighten up, then you can tell there is a fish on.”
Baker has some tricks to improve the odds here. “The lower I can keep my rod tips to the water and keep my lines down closer to the water, the better. That helps on windy days because you don’t have the rods up in the air and letting the wind catch them.
I see people trying to fish that way (with the rods high in the air) and I can look at another boat and tell they’re doing something wrong. They will have their rod tips up high and the line is catching a lot of wind and that makes it hard to see that bite.
“Also keeping the rod tips low will help keep your bait at the depth you want to fish. Because if you start letting the wind really catch the wind it will bring that jig up a little higher in the water column.
No longer do crappie anglers have to fear the wind. They just need make some adjustments and play the game right. And the game is long-lining.