By Darl Black
To tip or not to tip: that is the question!
Do you fish your crappie jig with just the artificial body, or do you opt to “tip” your jig with live bait? What live bait should you tip with? Do you tip 100% of the time, or just occasionally? When are the best times to tip?
Under the right circumstances, tipping with live bait will increase the number of crappies you catch year around.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions – the choices are up to you. However, I would like to share my experiences and observations regarding “tipping” in order to aid your decisions.
One question that often comes to mind in regard to tipping is why add live bait to jig which already has a soft plastic or hand-tied hair body. That’s an easy one to answer. Adding live bait to a jig:
1.Provides a strong scent that does not wash off after a few casts
2.The wiggling of bait provides “sign of life” to an inanimate jig that is suspended below a bobber or is being retrieved very slowly.
3.The addition of a minnow offers strong visual clues of a recognizable food source. And when a live baitfish is added to a jig with a baitfish-shaped body, the overall presentation now appears as multiple minnows swimming close together, in much the same way that Live Target’s BaitBall series of lures fools bass.
4.For most anglers (but particularly ones new to artificial lure fishing) the addition of live bait to a jig builds confidence in the presentation.
I am unaware of statistics that identify the percentage of crappie anglers who always or frequently tip a jig with live bait. But based on what I observe in the field, my guesstimate would be around 50%. At key times of the year, such as the early spring up north immediately after ice-out, the number of anglers tipping jigs is much closer to 100%.
What to Tip With
When adding live bait to a crappie jig, attention focuses primarily on minnows and commercially raised insect larvae.
Minnows in the 1-1/2 to 3-inch range are the most popular tip bait for crappies across the U.S. The typical species include fatheads, emerald shiners and sometimes small golden shiners. Fatheads, a.k.a. “tuffies,” are a very hardy commercially raised minnow. Emerald shiners are a very delicate slender minnow that is commercially trapped around the Great Lakes region – as opposed to being raised in ponds; however, VHS (a deadly infectious fish disease) within the Great Lakes environment has reduced the availability of emerald shiners.
In the Northeast and upper Mid-West, various insect larva (live “grubs”) are extremely popular among anglers who fish for a mixed bag of crappie and bluegills. In northern states every bait shop carries several different types of grubs throughout the year. But when I ask for “maggots” while traveling in the South, all I get is a puzzling expression from the bait shop proprietor!
In Pennsylvania, the most widely available grubs are maggots (fly larvae); waxworms (wax moth larvae); butter worms (Chilean moth larvae); and mealworms (darkling beetle larvae). Other regions may have a slightly different selection.
Given that various minnow species are the primary food source for adult crappies in lakes during most of the year, why tip jigs with grubs? Well, crappies do not consume only minnows. At times they eat hatching insects (particularly Mayflies and Stone Flies), aquatic worms and even large zooplankton. Perhaps a wiggling grub offers a visual representation of this type of prey. In addition, the smell of grubs is quite potent, and likely attracts crappies.
Finally, there is the convenience of tipping with live grubs, especially during the heat of summer when it may be difficult to keep minnows alive. Grubs are sold in very small containers less than three inches in diameter and simply need to be kept in the shade as opposed to highly oxygenated cool water required by minnows.
Use of larvae as tip baits is popular in the North, but rarely applied in the South.
Guidelines for Tipping
Like many crappie anglers, I am confident in fishing a jig without tipping it with live bait. However, there are instances when tipping appears to be a necessity, and other times when tipping will trigger more strikes than a plain jig.
As previously mentioned, the early spring cold water seems to mandate the addition of a very small minnow or live grub to a jig when targeting black crappies in the shallows. At this time of year jigs are typically fished below a bobber and the retrieve is incredibly slow. Without the addition of a little meat on the jig, strikes are non-existent.
During the immediate pre-spawn and spawn period, crappies are easily suckered into hitting a plain jig. But come June on northern waters as spent crappies are moving from spawning areas towards summer sanctuaries, tipping a jig will likely increase the number of hits overall as well as draw strikes from larger fish. Also, anytime during the summer when weather conditions give crappies a case of lock-jaw, tipping the jig with live bait will generate more strikes than fishing a jig without meat.
When using larval baits to imitate aquatic nymphs and hatching insects, small profile jigs are generally selected. The tip baits on these jigs are identified as (clockwise from top right): mealworm, butterworm; waxworm; and maggot.
The first choice for early summer tipping would be a minnow. Over the years when selecting a jig for tipping with a minnow, I’ve always favored the subtle-action of a traditional hand-tied hair jig or a marabou tail body (such as a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub). If slow trolling or drifting over deep water, consider a Bobby Garland Minnow-Mind’r body which cradles the minnow in between two extended legs. A minnow added to a Road Runner head with colorful tube body works well for either trolling or casting.
But I must admit a recent preference for tipping a Garland Baby Shad with a live minnow of approximately the same length as the soft plastic body. It’s that multiple baitfish image that is stuck in my mind after seeing the introduction of Live Target’s BaitBall at last year’s tackle trade show!
Larval baits can be easily added to any jig at any time. A larva on a small profile jig likely represents an aquatic nymph or hatching insect.
On those June days when shallow-water crappies are not aggressively attacking a minnow-tipped jig but you swear fish appear to be dimpling the surface feeding on some sort of hatch, that’s the perfect time to tip a lightweight jig with a live grub, suspend it below a bobber and cast to the rising circles.
Tip ’em to catch more crappies!