Jeanne Huffman shows off a beautiful brace of crappie, including a black and crappie taken while pulling crankbaits in Arkansas. (Photo: Tim Huffman)
Advanced Seasonal Structures: Hot Water for Cranking Crappie
Open water offers crappie action now with crankbaits.
by Tim Huffman
July isn’t the most comfortable fishing month in the middle and southern states. Pleasure boaters, jet skis and soaring temperatures create challenges and test any crappie angler’s resolve. However, many waters offer a good solution by pulling crankbaits.
Crankbaits offer several advantages. They target suspended, scattered crappie that are difficult or impossible to catch with slow techniques. Bites are reaction so the fish don’t have to be feeding. The technique is good in the wind because the long lines stretch and absorb bounces. Fast-trolling is a great way to scout a lake and mark potential spots for fishing at another date with slow techniques. And it’s fun.
There are several setup options for pulling crankbaits, including using shorter poles off the back, an in-line setup or offset poles off the side or planer boards. My personal setup is to use offset poles with 16-, 12- and 8-foot BnM Trolling poles on each side of the boat. They provide four feet of lure separation to reduce tangled baits.
Line-counter reels are a bonus. It’s important to repeat successful depths. For example, when a fish is caught with 120 feet of line out the back, repeating that distance will put the bait back in the strike zone. Other poles can be set to match.
An inexpensive option is to use existing reels, stretch line out in the yard and mark lines with a Magic Marker at 60 and 120 feet from rod tips for a consistent reference.
Catching open water crankbait crappie is a
matter of finding a pattern and sticking to it.
There is a lot of pressure when a big fish or hang-up occurs while moving fast, so rod holders should be strong and locked into place. Also, line should be in excellent shape with 10- or 12-pound test high-vis monofilament being the typical choice.
Two more items are critical. Electronics (a basic sonar and mapping unit) is needed to keep the right depths while GPS mapping allows upcoming depths and contours to be seen along with tracks to repeat successful runs. A GPS model trolling motor with autopilot allows a fisherman to follow a path without constantly attending the trolling motor. Sonar with mapping and auto trolling motors are the two most important pieces of equipment for serious trolling.
The general rule is to troll in waters with depths and cover deeper than 20 feet. Big flats and channels are good places to start.
Typical speeds vary with fish aggressiveness. Try a speed range of 1.3 to 2.2 mph. While trolling this spring in 64-70 degree water, 1.5 mph was a good speed. This summer the fish will likely want a faster bait. Baits should be identical types so depths will be consistent with line length. Bandit 300-series, Flicker Shads and similar cranks will catch crappie. It’s important to have a variety of colors. My two favorites are pink and firetiger, but crappie pick different colors daily.
Watch for a summer thermocline usually shown by a line across the sonar screen. All active crappie will be above the thermocline.
Set up for a trolling run, set the trolling motor on 1.6 mph and let lines out. A starting point could be setting lines at 50, 80 and 110 feet. Vary depths and speeds until you zero-in on the strike zone and right speed.
Catching open water crankbait crappie is a matter of finding a pattern and sticking to it. A pattern includes the learning the depth, type area, speed and color.
Crankbaiting has disadvantages, too. First, a good setup is expensive. An auto-trolling motor, strong rod holders, poles, reels and crankbaits add up. There is a recurring cost of replacing crankbaits. Secondly, a white bass or catfish flopping around with treble hooks caught in the net is an injury waiting to happen. A fisherman must be careful with crankbaits. And finally, hot summer means getting out early to stay safe from summer heat and to avoid jet skis and pleasure boaters. However, there are more positives than negatives.
I’m in my late 60’s, so I don’t want to fight a trolling motor and chase fish with LiveScope. I also get tired of hopping from spot to spot baiting multiple hooks and setting out poles over and over to slow troll. I like trolling cranks while relaxing and visiting with my fishing partner, usually my wife Jeanne.
Get out early, drink plenty of liquids and enjoy catching hot, open water crappie.
To watch this month’s Crappie Video Tips about trolling crankbaits for crappie, click here [Xenos Trolling Crankbaits]
(Tim Huffman has specialized in crappie fishing writing and photography since 1988. He is currently the Editor/Senior Writer for Crappie Masters Magazine, freelance contributor to four magazines, book author and Senior Writer for CrappieNow Digital Magazine.)