Story & photos by Darl Black
Ken Smith of Sharon, Pennsylvania is as hardcore a crappie angler as they come! Having started fishing for crappies when just a youngster, Ken now devotes all his leisure time in pursuit of his favorite fish. And being retired, he has a lot of leisure time to fish!
From ice-out to ice-up, you will find him prying water utilizing a variety of techniques with his favorite B’n’M rods. While his “home waters” include Shenango Lake and Pymatuning in NW Pennsylvania and Mosquito Lake in Northeastern Ohio, Ken is not one to stay local. For over 30 years Ken has been making annual trips to one of the South’s best-known crappie waters – Kentucky Lake.
“Coming from a state where anglers always cast jigs for crappies, I was taken back during my first southern trip to Kentucky Lake in the late 1980s when I saw all those spider-rigging rods sticking out the bow of each boat! I quickly received an education on the effectiveness of this multi-rod technique.”
Ken was determined to apply some of what he learned to his home waters. However at the time, Pennsylvania anglers were limited to just two rods per angler. Furthermore, his V-hull aluminum boat didn’t have room on the front deck for two anglers sitting side by side.
“So I eventually figured out my own system of slow-troll/slow-drift presentation which allowed me to hover over specific deep cover as well as working open flats to search for scattered crappies. By positioning all rods on the left gunnel, as I maneuver the boat with the bow trolling motor, all anglers in the boat had equal opportunity to catch fish.”
One day following a successful outing, a fishing buddy asked Ken what he called this technique. Ken thought for a moment and then answered “Hang Gliding” and with that the homegrown PA crappie technique received a name!
Over the years Ken has tried different B’n’M rods, but he has settled on the CW122 – Richard Williams signature 12-foot jig pole. “This rod has the necessary sensitive tip but is strong enough to battle big crappies, catfish, bass and even the occasional musky which inhales the small bait. They are very durable,” notes Ken.
His spinning reel is spooled with 6-pound Gamma Polyflex Line. To keep lines vertical, a 1/2-ounce egg sinker is threaded on the line and slid a little over 2 feet up the line. Then it is securely wrapped in place by threading the tag end of line through the sinker three times.
“About 18 inches from the egg sinker, I tie on a lightweight jighead to which I attach a plastic body. My most frequently used bodies are the 2-inch Bobby Garland Baby Shad and the 1.25-inch Bobby Garland Itty Bit Swim’R – although I do experiment with other baits from time to time. The weight of the jighead is determined to some degree by how deep I am fishing.”
He prefers an unpainted jighead with #4 sickle hook for all weight jigheads. His heads are obtained from a custom pourer.
During early spring when crappies are still deep, Ken may employ a 1/8-ounce head for depths over 20 feet. But during the summer, his jig weight is usually 1/16-ounce – just the right weight to track behind the 1/2-ounce egg sinker.
“But during the late summer, I find our northern crappies seem to like smaller baits, so I go to a 1/32-ounce head with a 1.25 inch Itty Bit Swim’r. My top summer colors are Kentucky Bluegrass and Monkey Milk.
Most of Ken’s summer fishing takes place in depths from 8 to about 20 feet – depending on water color, baitfish activity and available cover on each lake, as well as weather conditions. Once Ken selects an area, lines are lowered to the bottom. Then two or three turns of the reel handle brings the jig into position about 2 feet above the bottom.
Rods are propped in ‘Y’ holders on the gunnel of the boat with butts resting inside the boat. Ken then uses the breeze and his trolling motor to control the path of the baits. He may take a path across a flat between two brushpiles marked on his sonar, or up and down the slopes of a mid-lake hump to determine the depth crappies are holding.
“When I encounter a brushpile or crib, everyone takes up enough line so baits skim one to two feet above the cover,” explains Ken. “With the trolling motor, I will move the bow of the boat back and forth over the cover – basically hovering in place.”
According to Ken, two critical pieces of equipment enable him to make precise presentations. “I have the transducer on the trolling cantered to the left so I’m able to watch tailing jigs on the screen as they pass over cover. As any crappie angler knows, getting your bait close to cover without snapping is imperative.”
“Second, your trolling motor must be very responsive, therefore I do not use an electric-steer model – they are too slow to respond to directional changes. Instead, I use a foot steer model for instant change of direction.”
Anyone who fishes with Ken Smith will be impressed with how he executes his Hang Gliding technique and successfully catches crappies through the summer when many other anglers are struggling. As the crappie spawn draws to a close in Pennsylvania and crappies move deeper, now is the time to start Hang Gliding!