Successful crappie anglers typically exude that common sense vibe. Theirs is a straightforward approach with little room for extravagance.
Often, you can alter that opening sentence with the phrase “common scents,” and still retain the full meaning.
Yep, crappie have noses and, while there are times of the year when it just doesn’t matter how a bait smells, other times find the olfactory stimulus playing a bigger role in this show.
“During the prespawn and spawn are the most awesome times because fish are fired up and they’re in a frenzy,” crappie tournament pro Doug Cherry said. “But during the summer the fish are lethargic. The thermocline affects the water, and crappie suspend below that (warmer water).
“They’re not feeding much at all.”
Cherry’s fellow Strike King pro Bart Gillon agreed
“Prespawn is the best bite of the year, and I’m not as concerned with using scents because if you’re in the right area they’re going to bite just about anything,” Gillon added. “But from postspawn through fall, the fish are worn out, they’re scattered and you just about have to bump them in the nose to get them to bite.
“That’s when adding scent to your baits can really help. You’re struggling to get that fish to bite, and anything you can do helps you that much more.”
Now, opinions might vary a bit on the importance of scents during the warmer months, when a lot of crappie anglers are long-lining crankbaits and jigs in hopes of stimulating reaction bites. Nevertheless, with more-targeted tactics, you’ll do well to make your baits as enticing as possible.
Minnows definitely sweeten the presentation, but the concentrated aromas available to the modern crappie anglers broaden that sphere of influence.
Scent in many forms
One school of thought says to use soft-plastic bodies impregnated with various formulas, including amino acids, pheromones and other stuff that smells like baitfish, crawdads, worms and the like. Others keep it simple with straight-up garlic.
Brands such as TriggerX, YUM and Berkley offer a diverse array of crappie-sized baits with various scent bouquets and, while opinion variance rivals that of color selection, just figure out what works for you and go with it.
Old school works, too, however.
Strike King looks to the culinary world for the seasoning it uses to inject the plastics in its lineup of Mr. Crappie baits.
“The Mr. Crappie by Strike King soft plastics (Jokers, Thunders, Shadpoles, etc.) have anise oil injected into the baits for a liquorice smell that seems to drive crappie to strike,” Wally “Mr. Crappie” Marshall said. “Old-timers used anise oil for all types of fish, and you can still purchase it at your local grocery store in the spice section”
Soaking stale baits in various fish oils, anise oil or Berkley Gulp! Alive! recharge liquid restores them to their fish-tempting form. In a pinch, even minnow bucket water can help.
For more intimate treatment, savvy crappie anglers spice up each individual bait with scent attractants in gel, spray and stick form similar to lip balm products. The latter two are typically applied to the bait’s exterior, while gels are often injected into the body cavities of tube baits.
Expanding on the injection concept, a handy tool called the Bait Pump (thebaitpump.com) deserves a place in any scent-conscious crappie angler’s tackle bag. Picture a short, fat hypodermic needle with a narrow nose instead of a poker.
You’ll use this setup similar to those scent products that come prepackaged in applicators, only you’ll form your own scent paste.
Start by unscrewing the cap piece, filling the pump’s chamber up to the cap’s thread lines with scented pellets such as Berkley Powerbait Crappie Nibbles and then replacing the cap. Slowly tightening the cap crushes the soft pellets into a homogenous paste, which squeezes out the nose and into a tube body.
Yet another strategy pulls a little trick from the bass world and combines added scent with the visual attraction of dyes such as JJ’s Magic or Spike It Dip-N-Glo Worm Dye. We’re mainly talking the sniffy stuff here, but a little back-end contrast is a known fish-getter.
Ask Cherry what he uses on his plastics and he’ll quickly show you a tube of Kodiak’s Minnow scent.
“There is nothing better,” Cherry said. “It is hot with a capital ‘H,’ ‘O,’ ‘T.’”
Cherry’s tournament partner, Mark Williams, also likes that product, but he’ll always have one of those KVD Fish Sticks handy. Rubbing the solid baits while injecting the tubes covers the bases, Williams said.
Gillon has his preferences, as well. For him, top billing goes to Kodiak’s Wax Worm gel. Reason? That taste is a novelty for southern fish.
“The wax worm is like that big chocolate cake that you only get one time a year from grandma,” he said of the Wax Worm scent’s come-and-get-it appeal. “I think it’s just something a little out of the ordinary that the fish don’t get to taste very often.
“When they do smell it, they come running.”
Notwithstanding the charm of his favorite scent, Gillon said he’ll often diversify his spread by dosing up half of his baits with the Wax Worm gel and spraying the other half with a garlic aerosol.
“Most of the time, it’s trial and error,” he said. “I’ll have both in the boat and, depending on the lake, these four poles will have this scent and these four rods have this scent, and you just see which one that works best.
“It’s just like picking you color of the day: If I get something that’s working consistently, I’ll change them all to that.
Scents to serve
When selecting your scent products, consider two main strategies.
First, gels and pastes adhere to the bait to increase its attraction at the point of the bite. Making the bait taste more appealing might make the fish hold on a little longer so you don’t miss as many lighter bites.
Conversely, liquid sprays and aerosols are made to gradually disperse from the bait, spread throughout the water and attract fish from afar.
In either case, Gillon said anglers will maximize the benefit of scent by moderating their presentation speed.
“I think the slower you go, the better,” he explained. “I think you present a scented bait slower than a non-scented bait because if you just whiz it by the fish your bait may be gone before they even know it’s there.”
Gillon said the best tactics for maximizing scented and scent-added crappie baits are one-pole jigging and tight-lining trolling at approximately .3 mph.