There are many more exhausting ways to go fishing than the tactics Brad Chappell employs when he's looking for crappie, but few are as effective.
The Mississippi crappie pro and guide proudly says, "the boat's doing the work," when he's long-lining for his favorite fish.
It's a trolling technique — also called "pulling" — that has a more laid-back approach to crappie fishing than shooting docks or vertical jigging over structure, and it consistently puts fish in the boat whether Chappell competes in a tournament or teaches a client how to do it.
Chappell, a guide on lakes Washington, Ross Barnett and Eagle in Mississippi, is adept at all crappie techniques, including spider-rigging (or "pushing"), but his specialty is long line trolling, "which catches not only large quantities, but great quality fish," he says on his Facebook page.
Chappell put his crappie knowledge on display during an outdoors writers camp with the pros hosted in early May by Lew's tackle and Gene Larew and Bobby Garland lures on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Chappell's Color Choices for 2017
One of Chappell's sponsors is Bobby Garland crappie baits, which makes the Stroll-R jigs he used (see more about Chappell's jig choices in the attached video). Garland's Grenada Gold (orange tail; gold glitter head) is the "fish catching color for me." Chappell rigged the lures on bladed jig heads, (similar to a Roadrunner) he makes himself.
Armed with eight rods of varying lengths up to 18 feet, Chappell caught several crappie, a handful of bass and even a small striper during a short morning outing at Toledo Bend. He slow-trolled in open water, searching for schools of post-spawn fish suspended and feeding on balls of shad. The technique attracted a low of attention.
"Those were the first bass I've caught all year. Swear to God," said Chappell, a devoted crappie man. "I even catch catfish doing this."
Crappie fishing is king in Chappell's mind. He's been passionate about it since he finished fourth in the first tournament he ever fished with the Magnolia Crappie Club years ago. "I was hooked pretty deep after that."
Jighead Weight + Speed = Depth
Crappie pro Brad Chappell offers these tips from early May for anglers who want to give long-lining a try.
- Jigs: Use 1/32 oz to ¼ oz jigheads. "Start smaller and work up."
- Rig: 1 or 2 jigs per line, tied with loop knots 3 to 4 feet apart
- Colors: Generally natural colors for clear water, bright colors for stained. "But let the fish tell you what they want."
- Boat Speed: Starts at 1.1 to 1.2 mph to start; probably the fastest he'll go is 1.8
- Line: 6-pound test
- Reel: Spinning
- Rods: 8 to 18 feet, but "you don't have to run eight rods."
- Lake map/pre-scouting: Get a map and make a plan. Chappelll won a tournament on a new lake by fishing spots he identified on a lake map.
- Pay attention: Watch your electronics to find bait; keep an eye on your line to avoid tangles; react to color, lures and depth the fish prefer.
- Quick Tip: "Start [trolling] in shallow water and make notes on the jig you are running and what speed you're at. Let the fish tell you what you need to be doing."
In early May, Toledo Bend crappie were moving out to deeper water adjacent to spawning areas. Long-lining was especially deadly on these suspended fish..
"I like long-lining better because you get to cover a lot of water and learn more about the body of water and what the fish are doing," said Chappell, who thinks it's kind of boring to work a jig vertically over a brush pile or shoot boat docks. "There are so many different techniques now more than ever. It's not just sitting there watching a cork and cricket anymore."
Chappell said the key to long-lining is matching the weight of a jighead (3/8 to ¼ ounce) and the speed of the boat (typically 1.1 to 1.8 mph) to get the jigs to the crappie. Simply put, speed up and the jigs rise in the water column; slow down and they run deeper. But it's more complex than that. A successful troller has to pay attention and make adjustments based on conditions, electronics, and most importantly, what the fish want.
"The operation of the boat is what catches fish," said Chappell, who kept a constant eye on his electronics looking for bait in the mouths of creeks during the Toledo Bend outing. "And you gotta make gradual turns with so many lines out" to keep the baits in the strike zone and avoid the lines from becoming tangled.
Chappell adds that long-lining in open water is a technique that can be effective all year. "[Outside of the spawn] the crappie do just about everything they need to do in open water," he said.
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