Only the word unbelievable adequately describes the catch that Kent Driscoll and his partner, Terry Byrd, produced a year ago on North Mississippi’s Grenada Lake.
In the two days the anglers fished, they only caught 35 crappie. Nothing unbelievable there, right?
But that’s not where the story ends.
“Our largest 10 fish weighed 30.02 pounds, averaging 3 pounds each,” Driscoll said. “On the weekend we fished, Grenada Lake was low. The water was still too cool to spawn, and there wasn’t very much cover in the water. We found these crappie on mud flats suspended in open water.”
Driscoll and Byrd had 16 B’n’M poles off their boat, slow trolling with two hooks on each line. They baited each of their top hooks with a large shiner minnow. On each of the bottom hooks, Driscoll and Byrd used a 1/32-ounce chartreuse/red, chartreuse/black or chartreuse/orange jig.
The anglers fished the first day under very cloudy skies.
“We had a minnow on a hook up the line, and we tied on a 1/2-ounce sinker, 18 inches below the minnow,” Driscoll said. “We tied on a jig 18 inches below the weight, and tipped the jig with a minnow.
“On the first day, we caught the majority of our crappie on the minnows without the jigs. So, we took the jigs off the bottom hooks, and fished with just minnows on both the top and bottom hooks.”
Driscoll and Byrd used about a pound of large shiner minnows (2-3 inches-long each) every day to catch big crappie in the open water.
On the second day, the sun came out, and once again, Driscoll and Byrd rigged their poles with a minnow on each top hook and a jig and a minnow on each bottom hook.
However, on this day, the crappie bit best on the jig tipped with the minnow. Therefore, Driscoll and Byrd fished the jig-minnow combination on both hooks with the red-headed jigs with chartreuse bodies and red tails producing the best with the jigs with chartreuse heads, black bodies and chartreuse tails a close second.
Whenever the crappie stopped biting, Driscoll and Byrd changed their jig color to a red head and a chartreuse-and-orange tail.
When the dynamic duo fished minnows only, they used No. 2/0 red hooks.
“I believe the red hooks produce more and bigger crappie than gold hooks do,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll and Byrd troll with B’n’M Pro Staff 12-foot Trolling Rods, strung with 10-pound-test fluorescent blue line.
“When you’re fishing off-color water, you can use the heavier line without spooking the crappie,” Driscoll said. “These big fish will slam the bait and almost snatch the poles out of the boat, so that’s why we need the stronger line and stronger poles to land these big crappie.”
Over the years, Driscoll has learned that when a bank has no cover in a drawn-down lake male crappie will move onto the bank to fan the bed, while the bigger females stay suspended out in open water. When you fish for open-water crappie before, during and after the spawn, you’ll have very little competition for these fish. Also, the bigger crappie tend to suspend out in the open water.
Driscoll and Byrd didn’t just get lucky on their March trip to Grenada Lake. They fish in open water all year.
“By trolling with my eight poles out, I can cover more water, and find and catch more crappie than the anglers do who tie up to a tree top or drop fish down the bank,” Driscoll said. “Also by fishing several different water depths with various types and colors of jigs and minnows, I can better determine what the crappie want to eat on any given day.
“However, one of the main reasons I fish open water is that very few people fish for suspended crappie in open water all year long.”
Even during the hot summer months, Driscoll and Byrd will head to open water. They often find fish as deep as 30 feet, but generally Driscoll locates crappie 10 to 14 feet deep. Driscoll and Byrd’s open-water tactics produce crappie for them not only during the spawn and immediately after the spawn, but throughout the summer months.
Driscoll and Byrd start fishing for crappie in May, after the spawn by trolling crankbaits for crappie throughout the summer.
“From May until September, the crappie in the four lakes I primarily fish in North Mississippi pull out away from the bank and suspend in the middle of the lake, often in large schools,” Driscoll said. “These schools of crappie, like those in other southern lakes, will be holding along the thermocline, which is usually in 12 to 15 feet of water.
“The thermocline is the crappie’s comfort zone. It’s where they find the most oxygen, the best water temperature and the most bait. The crappie at this time of year won’t be related to any type of structure, but instead will be holding out on major flats and points on the river channel or scattered out in the main part of the lake.
“When I’m pulling crankbaits for crappie, I’ll usually have out eight B’n’M Pro Staff Trolling Rods myself, and Terry has eight. I have four rod holders that each hold four poles on my boat. These rod holders are positioned on the right-hand and left-hand side of the bow and on the right and left sides of the stern.
“If I have a partner fishing with me, he’ll be fishing the eight rods on the stern while I fish the eight rods on the bow.”
Driscoll rigs and positions his poles in a certain way when trolling crankbaits for crappie.
“On the rod in the No. 1 position, which if I’m sitting on the butt seat in the front of the boat will be the pole to the far left of me, is a 14-foot pole with 12-pound-test line on a Cabela’s Depth Counter bait-casting reel, then up the line, I put a 2-ounce egg sinker,” he said. “Below the egg sinker, I’ll tie on a barrel swivel. Then, on the bottom eye of the barrel swivel, I’ll tie a 4-foot leader of 12-pound-test line.
“At the end of the leader, I’ll tie on a ball-bearing snap swivel and then hook the snap swivel into a Bandit 300-series crankbait. This crankbait will run the deepest of all the crankbaits on the poles, but will be directly under the boat.
“Most of the time on this first rod, I’ll use some type of pink color. Some of my other favorite colors are plum and black, chartreuse/purple and chartreuse/blue. If I’m fishing on a dark day, I’ll use a dark-colored crankbait. If the day’s clear, I’ll fish a bright-colored bait.”
Once Driscoll has the first rod on each side rigged with a modified Carolina-rigged crankbait, he’ll rig his second pole on each side, moving toward the front of the boat, a 16-foot B’n’M Pro Staff pole spooled with 12-pound-test line and a Cabela’s Countdown reel.
“I’ll tie a Bandit crankbait on the end of the line with no lead, and I’ll let out 75 feet of line behind the boat before I engage the reel and start pulling these crankbaits,” he said. “I want to have the tip of the rod at a zero-degree angle so that the tip of the rod is just inches above the surface of the water.
“The third poles on each side will be 14-foot B’n’M poles. I want the crankbait on this pole on each side to run in-between the depth of my crankbait on my No. 1 rod, which is running straight under the boat with a lead, and my No. 2 pole, which is the 16-foot pole that’s running a crankbait 75 feet behind the boat.
“Once again, I’m using 12-pound-test line and a Cabela’s Depth Counter reel on this pole. I’ll let the Bandit crankbait on this pole out to 100 to 120 feet behind the boat. Then this third pole has the crankbait swimming at the farthest distance behind the boat. This way, the crankbait on the No. 1 pole is swimming almost directly under the boat at the deepest depth, the No. 2 pole has a crankbait swimming farther back, and the No. 3 pole has a crankbait swimming the farthest behind the boat.
“And because I’m using three different lengths of poles, I have each crankbait swimming in its own little zone and at different depths.”
The No. 4 pole on each side of the boat will be 12 feet long, with 12-pound-test line and a Cabela’s crankbait reel. Driscoll will have shorter lines on the No. 4 poles because the crankbaits on these poles are usually going right over the top of the brush. So, if these crankbaits get hung in the brush, Driscoll can simply let out line until the other crankbaits on either side of the boat run past the brush and catch the crappie holding on either side of the brush before he has to get over the brush, and try to get the crankbaits free on the No. 4 poles.
“I’m using various lengths of poles and different amounts of line to let out behind the boat or to fish them under the boat to make a wide sweep as I troll the crankbaits and cover more water with more lures than the anglers who only troll one or two crankbaits at a time,” he said. “I also have different-colored crankbaits on each of my poles.
“Using this system, I can quickly and easily determine the depth of water that the crappie are holding in and the color of crankbait they prefer on that day. Once I know the color of crankbait they want and the depth of water where they’re holding, then I can rig all eight of my poles with that colored crankbait, and fish all of them in the depth that seems to be producing the most crappie.”
The size of the crankbait, the size of the line and the amount of line let out behind the boat determine at what depth a lure runs. The speed at which the boat’s moving also plays a major role in how deep the crankbaits run.
“I’ve found that the ideal speed to troll crankbaits for crappie in the summer months is 1.7 to 1.8 m.p.h.,” Driscoll said. “I obtain this speed by trolling with my 50-horsepower Mercury motor and not using my trolling motor. I determine the speed of my boat by using my GPS receiver.
“No speedometer I know of will give trolling speeds down to 1/10 of a mile per hour; however, the GPS receiver will break the speed down to those small increments.
“I’ve learned that if I’m trolling at 2 m.p.h. or faster, the crappie have to be really aggressive and really hungry to chase down baits that fast. If I’m trolling the crankbaits at speeds slower than 1.5 or 1.6 m.p.h, then I don’t get the action or the wiggle out of the crankbait that attract the crappie.”
Driscoll also uses another device to maintain the speed on his big motor — a trolling plate. Most crappie fishermen, especially in the South, don’t know about trolling plates, devices primarily used in the North by walleye fishermen to slow the speed at which they troll. A flat piece of square aluminum that fits on the foot of your outboard, the trolling plate can block the prop wash in front of the propeller after the angler adjusts it.
“I use the Happy Troller trolling plate, an all-aluminum plate that’s extremely durable,” Driscoll said. “I’ve modified it by using a grinder to add two slots in the plate, to allow me to have three different angles on the plate.
“Most trolling plates have only one slot, which makes the trolling plate hold at a 90-degree angle to the propeller. But I can raise my trolling plate up two more notches to increase the angle so that I can gain a little more speed by having the prop wash hit the trolling plate at a greater angle than 90 degrees.
“The advantage to having those two extra notches on the trolling plate is I can adjust the speed of the boat depending on whether I’m trolling into the wind or with the wind, and it allows me to adjust my speed to the force of the wind.
“On an extremely windy day when I’m trolling into the wind, I want to adjust the trolling plate up so that the motor gives me more thrust to combat the wind yet maintain my speed of 1.7 to 1.8 m.p.h. When there’s no wind or very little wind, I can adjust my trolling plate down so that it blocks the prop wash and slows the boat.
“Another advantage to using the trolling plate is it prevents me from having to rev the motor up to a faster speed, which creates more turbulence in the open water that spooks the crappie.”
The techniques that Driscoll uses to keep his crankbaits continuously trolling at the same rate of speed in different water depths allow him to cover a wider section of water when he’s trying to find and catch open-water crappie in North Mississippi. You can employ these tactics too to catch the crappie no one else does.