Plastics For Papermouths

We grew up being told that you have to use minnows to catch crappies. But thanks to technology, even some old-timers are changing their bait of choice! (April 2007)

Todd Huckabee spends about 300 days a year crossing the country trying to fool crappie under every possible condition.
Photo courtesy of

The debate rages on. Can you catch more crappie by using live minnows, or by offering a plastic trailer on a jighead?

There isn't a crappie angler alive who doesn't have an opinion he can't back up with stories about the non-stop action he fell into using a particular lure or minnow setup. But those "mother lode" papermouth outings are generally about being in the right place at the right time. In situations like this, it wouldn't matter what you were using for bait.

To come to a solid conclusion on the best method for catching crappie, the best indicator is what produces during tough fishing conditions. Obtaining that information meant talking to someone who spends the majority of the year on the water while guiding clients and fishing tournaments where crappie are the species of choice. That person is Todd Huckabee, an expert who spends about 300 days a year trying to fool crappie under every conceivable condition. His experience proves that when it comes to the best way to catch crappie, everyone is right -- at times.

"The main reason that you would use one technique over the other is because that's where your confidence lies," Huckabee said. "I have a lot more confidence in a jig than I do a minnow. That's because it's what I've always used. But there are a lot of people out there who have more confidence in a minnow than a jig."

Asked to describe the best scenarios for a live-bait approach, Huckabee said, "Anytime a cold front comes through and the fish are real sluggish, the minnow is going to get the same amount of bites as a jig, but you're going to catch 80 percent more of them on the minnow. It's because the crappie are going to inhale the minnow farther and hold on to it longer.

"The other time live bait makes sense is in real clear water in the middle of the day when you have a high sun," continued Huckabee. "This is where the crappie aren't really feeding that much, and you can take a minnow, hook it through the back without a split shot, toss it out and just let the weight of the minnow sink it down to the fish. This will get bit a lot more than a faster-falling jig."

Other than that, Huckabee believes it is a far more productive approach to use plastics for papermouths.

"I fish for crappie 12 months out of the year and I firmly believe that you can catch as many crappie on a jig as you can a minnow -- if you know how to fish a jig."

So there is a catch. You have to know how to fish that jig.

"A lot of people will get in my boat and the first thing they do when I give them a rod with a jig on it, is they drop that jig down and just start jigging the heck out of it," Huckabee said. "The rod tip is going everywhere and the jig is hopping all over the place. I've had so many people make the comment that they can catch crappie on minnows all day long, but if you give them a jig, they can't get bit on it. I say, 'All right, show me how you fish a minnow.' And they hold their rod real still and they get bites on it."

Huckabee's program is relatively simple. He relies on only a couple of plastic trailer styles on his jigs, and he actively searches for the aggressive fish. It's simple but effective.

"Every time you set the hook in heavy cover, you're going to lose that minnow, and that is going to hurt you if the fish doesn't get hooked," he said. "When I drop a jig down into brush or the tree roots next to a stump and I get bit and miss that fish, nine times out of 10, I'll catch that crappie. When I set the hook and I can tell that fish is not on, I have only moved the jig a foot straight up. So I'll drop it right straight back down and put the lure right back in that crappie's face, and most of the time he'll eat it. What happens with the minnow is that you're going to raise the hook up to see if the minnow is still there, and then you can't get right back into that ambush spot."

So how often does this guide bring live bait with him on a fishing trip?

"I haven't used live bait with clients in the past 12 months even once," Huckabee said. "Some of the people who fish with me think the baits I use are pretty big for crappie, but I tell them that if you look at the size of the minnows that crappie eat, you can see why they won't hesitate to grab a Beavertail."

Huckabee is miffed at some anglers' tactics.

"Another thing I don't understand is when the old-timers jig-fish, they use 1/32- and 1/64-ounce hair jigs," pondered Huckabee. "But when they fish with minnows, they want bigger shiners. All right, where is the theory behind that? You look at a crappie's mouth and it's not that small. I've taken fish all over the United States and those bigger jigs are going to get a lot more aggressive bites than a small jig, because a fish is going to eat that bigger jig. It's not going to play around with it. It's going to eat it."

For more on catching crappie, check out Huckabee's Web site at

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