By John Neporadny Jr.
Veteran guide Barry Morrow knew he was in for a challenging guide trip on an October day when Fort Gibson Lake was being drawn down and the weather was turning colder.
When his clients caught only a few small crappie suspended in the standing timber, Morrow believed the weather and water conditions had caused the bigger crappie to hold tight to the bottom. “Once we got our lures down to the bottom we started finding bigger fish,” Morrow recalls.
In order to keep his client’s lures tight to the bottom, Morrow replaced the 1/8-ounce jigs they were using earlier with 1/4-ounce models. The switch to the heavier jig paid off that day as Morrow’s clients were able to keep their lines vertical and detect strikes easier. They finished the day with 25 crappies ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.
While many crappie anglers think small when jig fishing, Morrow and other pros believe in the big bait-big fish theory.
“If you are not flexible enough to change and know that is a tactic to use you are just not going to get bit,” says Morrow. He notes that in many instances you will keep catching smaller fish if you continue to use small lures.
“We don’t even own a 1/16-ounce jig,” says Kevin Rogers, who competes on the Crappiemasters tournament trail with his dad, Charlie Rogers. A 1/8-ounce jig is the smallest bait the Rogers team uses during tournaments.
Although small baitfish and insects are staple meals for crappie, these predators have mouths large enough to inhale bigger prey. “A lot of people think a crappie won’t hit a large bait,” says Morrow, who now guides on Missouri’s Truman Lake. “When I pull crankbaits I know they will hit them and when I am bass fishing I catch crappie so I know they will eat big baits.”
Since he only needs a tournament limit of seven crappie, Rogers relies on a larger and heavier jig that eliminates smaller bites and hooks bigger fish. He favors 3/16-ounce Bobby Garland Mo’ Glo jigheads and 1/4- or 1/2-ounce Northland Tackle Gum-Ball Jigs attached to 3-inch Bobby Garland Slab Slay’R soft plastics for most of his tournament tactics.
The fast fall of heavyweight jigs has helped Rogers win more than 30 tournaments throughout his pro career. “On a tournament day we only have eight hours so we are trying to fish as fast as we can and let that jig fall in front of that crappie’s nose as fast as possible to get a reaction bite,” says the Missouri pro. “It allows us to fish faster too. The jig gets down to the bottom faster so we can get it up faster and go on to the next spot. So it gives us more drops throughout the day than with a lighter jighead.”
Since he guided for several years mainly on Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula which is known for its slab-sized crappie and large forage, Morrow fished most of the time with a 1/4-ounce Lindy Jig and Lindy Watsit Grub and on extremely windy fall days he opted for a 3/8-ounce jighead. He now matches the heavyweight jigs with a Crappie Town Daddee Shad or a Redneck Rubber Company Beaver Bottom Bait.
Rogers and Morrow both prefer plying heavy jigs in dirty waters where crappie tend to stay in the shallows and are easier to catch. “I am looking at 12 inches or less of visibility when I am using those bigger baits,” Morrow says.
Sensitivity is another reason Rogers and Morrow rely on bigger jigs, especially since they use line as heavy at 10- to 15-pound test. “The big jighead lets you feel the lure a lot better,” Rogers says. “You can keep in contact with that heavier jig a lot more than you can with a 1/32-ounce jig.”
The larger jigs Rogers and Morrow use are equipped with bigger hooks (1/0 or 2/0), which improves their hook-setting chances. “There is no way crappie can get that big hook out of their mouth,” Morrow says. “They will inhale it but when they try to spit it out it just stays there. It also goes in the roof of their mouth–the bony part of the mouth– and not in the cheek of the crappie.”
The tournament team of Gilford and Sonny Sipes depend on heavyweight Roadrunner jigheads for their spider rigging tactics on shallow, dirty-water reservoirs during the fall. “The faster we are running the heavier the Roadrunner we are going to need to use, even up to 1 ounce,” Gilford Sipes says. “That 1-ounce head will run up to 1.2 mph on a GPS reading.”
The Sipes cousins frequently use 1/4-ounce Blakemore Roadrunners but when they need to troll faster and cover water quickly they opt for homemade 1-ounce horsehead jigs. The Alabama pros match their Roadrunner heads with a 2-inch soft plastic bait or live minnows. Their spider rig setup includes two Roadrunners tied on each of six long B’n’M crappie poles.
Since they are pushing their rigs from the front of the boat, the tournament competitors try to keep their baits a safe distance in front of them to prevent spooking the fish. So they use the heavier jigs to make sure their lines stay vertical while trolling. “You don’t want the line more than 45 degrees back (towards the boat),” Gilford Sipes says. “If it gets more than 45 degrees usually you are going too fast and you have to add more weight.”
The heavyweight Roadrunners usually work best in the fall for the Sipes team when trolling for suspended fish 7 to 8 feet deep on southern reservoirs. Gilford Sipes confirms their spider rigging tactic is a big fish technique since the smallest crappie they have caught on the heavy Roadrunners weighed 1 1/4 pound.
When crappie start to make the move to deeper water this autumn, try heavier jigs to catch more slab-sized fish.