Trolling Techniques for Fall Crappie

Moving about with multiple baits on multiple poles is a sure-fire way to find scattered schools of autumn crappie. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

I love trolling for crappie. I like it better than jigging jigs and dabbling minnows. Trolling let’s you relax, kick back and enjoy the scenery. It’s also among the best of all ways to find and catch scattered schools of fall crappie.

Tackle & Equipment

You can troll from the same boat you already use when crappie fishing. Use the same rods, reels, poles, line and other tackle already in service.

Use one pole or a dozen, but determine beforehand if there are any restrictions. In some areas, you can fish with as many poles as you dare to; elsewhere, the number is limited.

If the wind’s blowing, you can get by without a trolling motor, but you’re not likely to catch as many crappie. Wind drifting is a one-way, time-consuming affair. Make a drift, take up the poles, motor back up, reset the poles, drift again.

An electric trolling motor allows constant fishing without fuss. It also permits you to vary your speed and control direction, important factors when chasing fussy crappie.

Anglers who enjoy trolling often mount two pedestal seats side-by-side on the front deck behind a bar that holds six to eight rod holders. A sonar fish-finder may also be mounted on the bar, with the transducer attached to the trolling motor. With this setup, two anglers can experiment with different baits at different depths to quickly determine where crappie are holding.

Baits, Lures & Rigs

Jigs and live minnows entice crappie year-round, and most trollers stick to one, the other or a combination of the two.

One popular trolling setup is a dropper rig. A 1- to 6-ounce sinker is attached to the end of the main line. Above this are one to four foot-long dropper lines spaced a foot apart.

Each dropper is connected to the main line via a loop knot or swivel. A different type or color of bait is tied to each dropper, and the rig is pulled behind the boat when trolling. The bottom sinker helps keep the baits at the desired depth.

Small spoons and spinnerbaits also work great in many situations, and crappie readily strike small baitfish-imitation crankbaits as well. One of my favorite trolling rigs uses a three-way swivel with a 1/8-ounce Luhr-Jensen Shyster spinner rigged above a Rebel Deep Wee R crankbait.


Speed probably is the most important aspect of trolling, but I don’t know any magic formula for determining what speed is best under a given set of conditions.

On some days you may have to inch your boat along to get strikes. On other days you must troll much faster to catch fish. And when you find the productive speed, you must maintain it, even when wind or current push your boat ahead or drive it back.

Savvy anglers experiment with different trolling speeds until they determine what is most effective. This varies with the type of bait used and the measure of water clarity.

One mistake crappie anglers often make is trolling at the same boat speed when headed into the wind as when headed with the wind. On an otherwise still lake, you travel faster with the wind than against it, assuming you never reposition your electric motor throttle. Therefore, in order to maintain your ideal trolling speed, you must adjust the throttle up or down depending on which way you are traveling.

The same is true when in current. When traveling against the flow, you must advance the throttle to maintain the same speed you had when traveling downstream. Fail to do so, and your speed will change dramatically. So will the number of crappie you’re catching.

These factors may explain why, on a particular day, you’ll catch crappie when trolling in one direction and not in the other.

Off and Running

Some anglers start their troll blind; they have no idea what type of structure or cover is beneath the water. They simply start trolling and hope their hit-and-miss tactics produce more hits than misses.

It’s best, however, to use a sonar fish-finder to pinpoint structure and cover crappie favor—woody cover along the edges of creek and river channels, long points, rock piles rising into lighted water, man-made fish attractors, etc.—and troll over that.

With a serious look at a lake contour map and a quick check of prominent bottom changes with sonar, you could be catching slabs in minutes instead of wandering aimlessly.

Try zigzagging over channel breaks and adjacent flats. Stumpfields and weed edges at proper depths may be good early and late when crappie are more likely to be feeding.

In early fall, crappie are likely to be strung out along the thermocline in a shallow plane, so covering large areas of water by trolling may enable you to catch more of these fish within a given range.

When you find schooling crappie, throw out a marker buoy so you can anchor just outside the school and cast to it, or continue to troll around the concentration. A savvy angler may take crappie from one of these marked spots for an hour or more, so long as the fish aren’t spooked.

Fall crappie aren’t hard to catch, but at times they’re hard to find. Trolling, done properly, can help you overcome that problem. Hone your trolling skills to a fine edge and you’ll rarely need to stop by the fish market on the way home!

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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