It rocks when the bite’s easy. But when summertime crappie fishing gets difficult, dig in and consider a new strategy.
By David A. Brown
Feisty, tasty and plentiful, crappie enjoy a well-deserved popularity that keeps many eager fishermen on the hunt. It’s nice when the bite’s easy — sometimes that happens.
But when the fish play hard-to-get, either through their mood or their location, savvy anglers step up their game. That could mean strategic presentations, bait enhancements or simply a willingness to take the game to the fish.
THE PLANER TRUTH
Searching for scattered crappie can burn a lot of daylight. But while covering water is necessary, if you increase your efficiency you’ll accelerate your objective. That’s what planer-board trolling is all about — expanded coverage for maximum reach.
A detail-heavy technique often used to catch walleyes up North, the effective planer spread requires considerable rigging and deployment effort. But properly arranged, this method bears several strategic benefits. Specifically, you achieve depth and distance control, deeper presentations for smaller baits, and the ability to pull crankbaits past their designed depth.
Bait diversity helps, so run a mix of crankbaits, jigs and Road Runners behind these rectangular planer boards, which are equipped with spring-loaded signal flags. The board’s front clip firmly holds the line, while a rear clip lightly grips until a strike pops it free and releases the flag.
With rods set in stern racks, staggering the group highest-to-lowest (from the front) ensures that each planer and bait line up below the previous one. This arrangement lets you not only maintain spread width, but also prevents line fouling, even when turning. (Be sure your lake allows multiple rods.)
Line-counter conventional reels ensure precise bait placement, and lever-action models allow line release better than thumb bar models. Star drags simplify small tension adjustments. To withstand planer drag, you’ll want a beefier outfit than standard lure-trolling. So reach for the catfish outfits.
A Tadpole-style tolling weight clipped between the main line (behind the planer board) and a 2- to 3-foot leader provides the critical depth-control element. For a “deep-dive” into planer boards, check out the Precision Trolling Data smartphone app to determine how much line you need between the planer board and the Tadpole for the right bait depth.
Infographic by Ryan Kirby
Walleye Gear For Crappie?
PLANER BOARDS give you amazing control over depth and distance. Line up each planer and bait below the previous one. When your setup is rigged like this, you’ll have lots of lines spread wide but no line fouling.
Trolling creek channels, criss-crossing broad flats, hovering over brush piles… sure, there are plenty of ways to grab open-water crappie. But the game’s not over when fish tuck into heavy grass or pads. Nope, the steady-handed angler who doesn’t mind venturing into moccasin territory can often pluck slabs holding in the cover.
Spring often finds crappie utilizing vegetation for spawning cover, but don’t be surprised to find the fish moving into this shallow cover during the summer months. Shelter and feeding opportunities are always productive, but plants emit oxygen, and during the dog days, O2 is a big-time attraction.
Pad fields near deep water offer the best of both worlds with favorable habitat plus the safety of a fall-back zone. The fish often identify a depth preference, so keep dipping until you establish consistency.
Jig poles in the 10- to 11-foot range with rear reel seats are optimal, but longer spinning outfits you’d use for trolling or tight-lining can pull double duty. With either 10- to 15-pound braid they combine sensitivity with the strength to pull fish from cover.
When matching jig size to the scenario at hand, consider that a 1/16-ounce head offers maximum sensitivity and slips into sparse cover nicely but tends to yield too much to windy days. On the other hand, a 1/8-ounce jig does a better job of negotiating denser spots, while holding its own when it’s windy.