Fast and flexible, jigs in their various forms are the most reliable artificial lure crappie anglers have at their command. Try these tips for success!
Tom Mann first introduced the Sting Ray grub in the early 1960s. It was a short, stubby piece of plastic that was popular with saltwater anglers from Texas to New Jersey.
The Sting Ray caught on as a jighead bait and was phenomenal at catching fish in some instances, particularly fish that were very deep and fish that would react to a darting bait. As you hopped it off the bottom, it darted back down in a very rapid and erratic manner.
It didn't wiggle. It was a stick, a paddle-tail plastic grub that could be rigged two ways. If you rigged the tail vertically, it would drop straight back down. This was good for fishing deep water. If you rigged it with the tail horizontally, you got a lot more erratic action, and it would dart off to the side. It worked best on 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigheads. It was a reaction-eliciting bait because its action was so quick.
As tournaments sprang up, bass anglers began using the Sting Ray. Bobby Murray won a tournament with it, and suddenly tournament anglers had to have the Sting Ray in their arsenals. It was widely used as a trailer for spinnerbaits. The grub idea begat myriad generations and mutations.
Mister Twister came out with the curlytail in the mid-70s. The curlytail-style grub currently holds the majority of the market place and offers the broadest fishing techniques. Most people probably think of it when you say grub. The curlytail design gave the bait a lot more wiggle and appeal to fish at a slower retrieve. It had a swimming action and looked more natural to fish.
This is when the crappie angler began experimenting with grubs. Hair and feather jigs were around before the plastic dressings, and they were, and still are, very effective. It's just that plastic is the most popular; just look in a Cabela's catalog or the bins at you local sporting goods store. You'll see more pieces of plastic, from the simple to the complex, from plain to scented or salted. There is something there for every crappie jigger.
Soft plastic bodies behind a weighted jighead give anglers many options for switching bait size and color while staying with the basic crappie jig. Photo by Vernon Summerlin
As Director of Public Relations for Crappie USA, I've talked with crappie tournament anglers from almost every state in the eastern half of the country. These anglers, probably the most knowledgeable in the world, have their jig techniques down to a fine science. Their experimentation and expertise can help you.
KILLER CRAPPIE BAITS
Jigs and minnows are the most common crappie baits, fished alone or in combination. But selecting a grub color to satisfy the crappie's finicky eye can be tricky.
Water color is probably the most important factor governing crappie's feeding activities. Crappie are primarily sight-feeders. If they don't see the bait, they won't hit it.
Studies show that fish see colors differently in different water clarities and in diverse light levels. Some colors may be highly visible at one time of day and in one water clarity, but they might become practically invisible at another time of day or in a different water clarity. This may be why anglers think the fish turn off when a color that had been catching fish fails to produce any longer. It may be that the ambient light or water clarity changed and the fish no longer see the lure.
One crappie pro angler told me, "Anything chartreuse works." Another pro said, "The color of the water is what determines which color we put on. I slow-troll with a few different colors, starting with colors that have done well in the past, and I refine it from there, letting the fish tell me which colors they want. Once I learn the colors they want, I still keep some different colors on in case conditions change."
Another pro said, "I use chartreuse and any other color, as long as it's chartreuse, too."
GENERAL RULES FOR SELECTING COLORS
1. In clear water, use clear jigs. 2. In dark water, use dark jigs and dark combinations of colors. 3. If it's muddy, use dark jigs.One pro said, "In clear water, we put on white and chartreuse, green and chartreuse, and red and chartreuse. In muddy water, we use black and browns tipped with a minnow."If you prefer casting, the jig-n-float technique is excellent for when crappie move shallow for their spawning run. Tie a jig a foot to four feet below the bobber; the depth that you fish depends upon how deep the crappie are. You want the jig to be a little shallower than the fish.Cast toward the shoreline and slowly reel in the float. You can twitch the float and then hesitate to make the jig jump a little and swing back under the float. If there is any wind, the waves will give the jig some action.Some anglers, myself included, use a 6-foot, light, spinning rod with 4-pound-test line to cast a 1/64-ounce jig below a lightweight float. Try fishing the jig-n-float over brushpiles, stakebeds or other shallow cover.
THESE TROLLING TECHNIQUES WORK!
(Editor's Note: Trolling for crappie is not legal everywhere, and readers should check the regulation book for local game laws as they apply to trolling and the number of poles allowed for each angler. Where trolling under power is not allowed, often the same effect can be had by using the wind to drift over known crappie-holding waters and using jigs of various weights to fish different depths.)Trolling or drifting jigs behind a boat is the most efficient method for locating crappie because you cover a lot of water and offer a variety of colored jigs at one time.Use as many poles and hooks as is legal (or practical) for you and your partners to fish. Twelve-foot graphite poles (with spinning reels) will get your baits far enough away from your boat so they won't drift back into each other.Fan out your poles in holders off the front of your boat. Set the depths of the jigs to cover the water column, and try a variety of colored jigs. These parameters will let you cover a wide swath horizontally and vertically, as well as determine which colors or color combinations the crappie prefer.I recommend looking at an area with your sonar before you fish it. If you run into a snag you don't know is there, you can hang all your baits up at one time, and then you've got a mess.Choices of grubs range from tube (hollow) to solid bodies. One angler uses solid jig bodies just for color. He slides them on his light wire hooks instead of a jighead and tips them with minnows. His technique includes using an 18-inch leader with long, cylindrical sinkers (with a slot down the middle and ears at each end that crimp on) 10 inches below a swivel and then adding a hook. He claims these sinkers don't snag as badly as egg sinkers do.Slow-troll over crappie-holding structures, such as ledges, stumps and brushpiles. Judge by the time of year if there should be fish in the area.
Flat-line trolling (or drifting) is good for suspended fish. Line up various lengths of poles (12, 10, 8 and 6 feet long) fanned out the back of your boat. In the spring, the first move crappie make is vertical. Ideally, your baits will be moving at about 1 to 1 1/2 miles per hour.There isn't an accurate speedometer for going that slow, but you should use the speed shown on your display. If you read 1.2 mph and you're catching fish, you know to stay at that speed, whether it's really 1.2 or 0.8 mph.When it's windy and you're going with the wind and then you change directions, bumping up the trolling motor speed a little bit helps maintain the right speed.
The pros continue to refine crappie fishing, and attending a weigh-in and talking with them is a good way to stay on top of the changes. The next developing technique is cranking for crappie . . . but that's another story. Happy Hooking!