Think the crappie season ends after the spawn? Not so, at least not on many Mississippi waters where another even more productive pattern starts — deep trolling with crankbaits on the main lake bodies.
That technique is raising eyebrows around the country, and worth is spreading. So much so that
John Harrison and Kent Driscoll, longtime crappie anglers and members of the B’n’M Poles pro-staff, got a call from some pretty recognizable names.
“Jack Wells from B’n’M called and said he wanted us to take some of the guys from Duck Commander fishing up on Grenada,” Driscoll said. “They had heard about trolling crankbaits and they wanted to learn how and see if it would work in their lakes back in Louisiana.”
With a cast and crew assembled to accommodate all involved, Duck Commanders Jay Stone and John Godwin, along with a couple of the boys from the duck call room, arrived at Grenada Lake under the cover of darkness — being stars of the popular A&E show, Duck Dynasty, comes with notoriety.
Word gets out pretty fast, but care was taken not to ruin a good fishing trip. Once Driscoll and crew got the Duck Commanders on the water, they were free to let their hair down and learn the ways of crappie fishing Mississippi-style.
“Crankbait trolling for crappie on Sardis, Enid, Grenada, or any lake for that matter doesn’t have to be that technical,” Harrison said. “You need the right rods and the right rod holders and good crankbaits, but once you’re set up you can really catch a lot of fish and a lot of big fish through the summer months when most people think it’s too hot to fish.”
Though over-simplified, crappie on the various lakes will pull out to deeper water as water temps warm. Fish typically follow river and creek ditches and relate to channel edges and drop-offs all summer. Trolling crankbaits allows fishermen to cover a lot of water, so simply following these travel routes with an array of noisy lures is the pattern.
Driscoll and Harrison pull crankbaits on eight rods along each side of the boat — four to a side. The two prefer B’n’M Pro Staff rods, super-stiff poles that keep the crankbait from putting too much bend in the rod while trolling. The pair graduates the rods in length, starting with an 8-foot rod nearest the transom, then a 10-footer, a 12-footer and finally a 14-foot rod nearest the front.
A Driftmaster trolling bar or individual rod holders are used to hold each rod while trolling. Having line counter reels allows the anglers to precisely measure the distance each crankbait is trolled behind the boat. In a typical run, the 8-foot rod has the longest line, then the distance out decreases as the rod length increases. This way the crankbaits stay separated.
The 14-foot front rod is sometimes rigged as a down rod with a 2-ounce egg sinker that is attached 3 feet in front of the lure. The weight allows the long rod to run more perpendicular and targets fish at whatever depth the anglers find on the depth finder.
Their line of choice is 12-pound Viscious Hi-Vis Green. The visibility and higher-than-average test line helps them keep the crankbaits running straight and allows each angler to retrieve a bait if it gets snagged.
Both Driscoll and Harrison are diehard fans of Bandit crankbaits, a local and national favorite manufactured on the banks of nearby Sardis Lake. Depending on depth preference, the duo use either 200 (shallower) or 300 (deeper) Series in one of the special crappie colors. Preferred colors are Hotty Totty, Pink/Silver Sparkle and Grenada Shad.
“Some guys troll with a small kicker gas motor or the big motor and a trolling plate, but I’d rather use my electric trolling motor,” Harrison said. “I can control the boat better using a remote control and I also like the fact that it’s much quieter than running the big outboard.”
Crankbait season starts in early May and gets better as the summer months approach.
“Cranking is especially useful in the spring when waves or blowing winds create boat control problems,” said Harrison. “You don’t get all the bounce like you would running tight lines.”
Added Driscoll: “Some days the crappie want the bait slower and some days they want it a little faster. Covering as much water as possible in order to find willing fish is another secret to the formula.”
Gaining all that “crappie by crankbait” information was exactly why the Duck Commander guys came to Grenada Lake to fish two days with Harrison and Driscoll.
Jay Stone, who heads production of the “real” call room at Duck Commander and is the grandson-in-law of Duck Commander patriarch Phil Robertson, was impressed. He saw a way to extend his fishing season all summer long, a time when things at the company slow down, giving him time to pursue his fishing interests.
“I wanted to learn a method to catch crappie during the hot summertime, where you can sit up underneath some shade, relax, enjoy your company and still catch fish at the same time,” said Stone. “I think trolling these crankbaits is the way to go in the summertime, for sure”.
Stone quickly grasped the importance of putting the crankbait at the right depth. Crappie suspend in the water, more so in the summer than any time, and pulling crankbaits beneath the fish will seldom get any action. Muddy water also limits how far up a crappie will go for a bait. Putting the bait on the same depth plane with the fish is critical.
“I learned that line diameter, the length of the line you have out, and what size crankbait you use plays a big part in knowing how deep you’re fishing,” said Stone. “All the fish are stacked up at a certain depth just above the thermocline in the summer. You have to be fishing at that depth or you won’t catch fish.
“The main thing with this crankbait fishing that I’ve found is to make sure your lure is running about a foot over that thermocline. If you can ever get them dialed in, it can be really productive.”
Stone was taking note of the boat layout of both Harrison and Driscoll’s boats. The importance grew after each angler had several turns grabbing rods bowed over with the weight of a big crappie.
“The poles have to be staggered to keep from tangling up when you make a turn; that’s a big thing,” noted Stone. “You start turning too sharp and you don’t have your poles staggered, you’re going to have a tangled mess, no doubt.”
It made a big impression on Godwin, who plays himself on Duck Dynasty.
“I’m going to have my boat ready in about two days to do this,” he said. “I’ve never thought that using a bass bait to catch a crappie would work but it sure does.”
Despite the complex setup required for trolling crankbaits, Godwin relished the fun or sitting on the back of the boat, waiting for a rod to bend. He and Harrison agreed that the fishing was more fun if done barefoot.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it looks like a good thing to take your family out and enjoy the day because we’ve caught a little bit of everything,” Godwin said. “It would be fun for them to see that and just sit back and enjoy the day.
“You ain’t sitting still. You cover a lot of water so you see a lot of the countryside, too, a lot of the scenery, so I think it would be a good family fishing trip.”
Like Stone, Godwin was taking notes of the tactics while enjoying stepping out from the limelight of show business to fish, and planned start trolling crankbaits back home in the waters around West Monroe, La. He saw a lot of potential.
“I think it will work because I don’t know anybody that does it back home,” Godwin said. “Our lakes are more stumpy, so we’ll have to be kind of particular where we go and we’ll have to look for the exact locations to do this, but I’m anxious to try it. I know there are a couple of lakes that’ll probably be real good for this, good open areas, where crappie are now, so I’m anxious to get home and try them.”