In most activities, a slip-up is a bad thing. Botched snap that leads to a recovered fumble, dropping an easy fly ball, missing that breakaway slam dunk — all bad.
But for crappie fishermen, a slip-up can actually refer to a well-planned tactic for tempting those tasty schooling fish.
Bobby Murray knows this game well. He holds the first Bassmaster Classic title, but he also holds a lifetime interest in crappie fishing.
Tactics are many, but when the fish hold over structure like brush piles, Murray knows keeping a bait on fish’s radar is essential for consistency.
“You have to be able to keep the bait in front of the crappie because he won’t chase it like a bass,” Murray said. “You don’t want it going up and down.”
And his favorite way to accomplish this involves hanging jigs under floats.
A free-sliding “slip float” offers a lot of versatility and user-friendly ease-of-operation, but to properly preface this technique, let’s first look at how and where this fishing legend uses a fixed float.
Murray uses plunger-style floats — the ones with spring-controlled stems and line-cinching arms at each end — for depths of 3 to 12 feet. He prefers this technique for springtime presentations in 3 to 4 feet of water around standing brush and shallow brush piles that come up to within 10 to 12 feet of the surface.
However, he noted that in deeper scenarios you’ll be throwing a lot of line behind that fixed float.
With Yum Money Fry baits on 1/16-ounce heads, Murray goes with 4- to 6-pound line, but he said the rod he uses is essential. For efficient presentations, he uses a 7-foot, “zero tip” spinning rod.
“When I say ‘zero tip,’ I mean ‘zero tip,’” Murray said. “This is like a fly rod so you can get the entire rig behind you and make the cast.”
Murray paints the bottom of a chartreuse float orange for the clear contrast that provides an instant strike detector. With his line hooked only to the bottom part of the float, the weight of the jig holds the float level in the water.
Murray said that the nature of a crappie bite will change the float’s attitude such that it reveals the painted lower half.
“A lot of your crappie bites are ‘lift bites,’” he explained. “Crappie don’t slash like a bass. They bite and stop; they hit and hold. When they do that to a crappie jig, the float will automatically turn orange. When you see orange, you’ve got one.
“When a crappie hits the jig, it flips the float over and that (orange bottom) will always be facing you. It’s all sight-fishing.”
This simple, yet effective strategy hinges on one key point — the line can be affixed only to the bottom of a float. Using both ends of the float completely nullifies the intent.
“You’d be pulling it over, leaning it over every time you’d go to move it,” Murray said. “When it’s rigged (properly), you can literally pull that float and make it travel at exactly the right depth and never turn it over.
“It’s a lateral pull — you’re just trying to move it over the top of the cover.”
Murray added some other benefits to this setup.
“When you can fix the float to the line, it gives you complete depth control because it’s not going to go any deeper than how you have it set,” he explained. “Also, you never get hung. I can catch a limit of crappie and never (snag the brush pile).”
Slide a little deeper
When crappie hold over deeper spots, Murray switches from a fixed bobber to sliding float — more exactly, a Thill Slip Bobber with a Thill Float Swivel Adapter added to the bottom.
Comprised of a silicone sleeve with a tiny swivel at one end, the adapter creates a fixed pass-through at the float’s bottom. Similar to the plunger-style float’s arrangement, this enables Murray to set his desired fishing depth without the hassle of trying to finagle a lot of line on each cast.
The setup is simple, and Murray suggests committing this series to memory: bobber stop, bead, bobber, split ring.
The first item on his main line is the bobber stopper. Styles vary, but he likes the Thill stoppers made of high-visibility, small-diameter thread. A small sleeve keeps the stopper’s diameter open until you slip the main line through. Then, just slip the stopper off the sleeve and snug it onto your line, while removing the sleeve from your main line.
Beads are often used to protect knots, stoppers, etc., but in this case, Murray adds one to limit his float’s up-line movement. Essentially, he sets his bobber stop for the amount of line he wants to feed through that adapter swivel at the bottom, and uses the bead as a barrier that butts up against the stopper and prevents the float from passing over the stopper.
Below the cork, a small split ring limits the float’s down-line progression, while also linking main line to a dropper tied to the jig. Dropper lengths range from a foot to 3 feet, depending on depth and fish temperament.
When depth allows, longer droppers avoid spooking wary fish by moving the jig away from the split ring. Even with a maxed-out dropper, the slip float system’s design makes for easy casting.
“You don’t want the float to go all the way to the lure,” Murray said. “I can fish 20 feet deep and the (dropper length) is all the line I have to throw. When you put 12 feet or more of line out, most people struggle to cast — especially in the wind.
“Also, (in deeper spots) when you reel a fixed float to the rod tip, your fish may still be 10 feet under the water. With the slip float, it allows you to get the fish up to where you can get a dip net under him.”
Murray occasionally replaces the slip bobber with a modified plunger version, which has its bottom arm fashioned into a pass-through loop. This, too, has an orange bottom to contrast with the chartreuse top. Once the jig settles, it pulls the float upright. Any change in color signals a strike.
“The bite’s exactly the same — if it turns orange, you got him,” Murray said. “Of course, it’s pretty obvious when the float goes under that you’ve got one.
“But, again, there are a lot of ‘lift bites,’ and they’ll just barely (move the line).”
The advantage of the slip float over the fixed depth system is the ability to set a presentation level in deep water without having to cast with a lot of line below the cork.
“The fixed system is for presentations down to about 12 feet, max,” Murray said. “With a slip float system, I’ve caught crappie at 25 to 30 feet.”
Presentation is all about paying attention to details, he said.
“It’s all depth and speed,” Murray said. “You want to keep your bait at the right depth, and you want to move it along slowly and make it wiggle in front of the crappie.
“Just mark your brush pile, make a cast beyond your brush pile and slowly walk (the jig) over the brush. You don’t move the float with your rod — you want to hold your rod steady and just ease it along with your reel. And you can adjust your depth with ease: Just slide the bobber stop shallower or deeper.”
Also a float fan, Toledo Bend guide Jerry Thompson runs crappie trips out of Toledo Town & Tackle in the mid-lake region.
He likes vertical jigging — along with casting Road Runners — in the early spring period, but he’ll employ slip-float tactics later in the vernal season, after the fish have established a bed.
“(T)he slip float allows us to fish in a variety of depths, even though it’s going to be really shallow,” Thompson said. “The biggest thing is that we can cast a minnow a little easier underneath a slip cork.”
Thompson said the other scenario in which a slip-cork rig aids his presentation is with long poles. With some of the grass growing to the surface, he finds crappie holding in the gaps and spaces, where precise placement matters.
“You can drop a slip cork into those little holes around the grass that you can’t reach otherwise,” he said. “If you try to do it with a (fixed) cork, you either overplay it or underplay it so the bait doesn’t fall down through there right and it winds up sitting on something.
“A slip cork works great for doing that.”
Thompson said this tactic also works well with shallow brush piles in the creeks. Here, he’s dropping his bait through a pile — or even a laydown — and precision is at a premium.
“It doesn’t have the excess line flying around, and it doesn’t get hung up nearly as bad,” Thompson said.
Thompson said anglers can use jigs or minnows under slip corks, but this time of year he finds that minnows get better reactions from fish on or near their beds.
“It may just be pressure — they’ve seen a lot of jigs, so it seems that you can come back with a minnow and catch a few more fish,” he said.
Thompson prefers a small cigar-shaped red/white float with hollow pegs on either end. This design allows you to either use the removable pegs to cinch your line in the cork’s center, or run your line through the pegs for a true slip-style rig.
For him, simple is best.
“I rig this about as easy as you can rig it, so I don’t use a bobber stop and a bead,” Thompson said. “I tie a rubberband on the line with a simple overhand knot. That’ll hold your float in place, and it will stop it on the line.
“You can still slide the rubberband up and down the line to adjust your depth.”