When Les Smith of Senatobia looks at the thermometer in July, it’s not the weather temperature that comes to mind, it’s the fishing temperature. His years of experience on north Mississippi’s famous crappie factories like Enid, Sardis, Grenada, and Arkabutla lakes have shown that the heat of summer doesn’t mean it’s time to stop fishing.
It’s just time to change tactics.
While tight-line trolling, long-line trolling and crankbait trolling all have their seasons, Smith has found that a hybridized version of all of these tactics — power trolling — puts more fish in the ice chest for him in summer than any of the other tactics. He’s not alone in this thought process.
“This time of year crappie will be keying on specific underwater features,” Smith said. “Most of the fish are deep, meaning 18 to 20 feet of water and they are keying on ledges and contour lines. You need a tactic that can get you to that depth and keep your bait in the strike zone longer.”
Longlining either crankbaits or jigs behind the boat have been wildly popular tactics in Mississippi for several years, and Smith said he does enjoy both tactics and has caught a lot of fish in the process.
But the weakness in either long line tactic is the inability to stay at a precise depth in a targeted area.
“Let’s say I mark fish suspended on the edge of a flat that’s 10 feet on top and drops sharply into 23 or 35 feet of water. That’s a pretty typical summer scenario, especially if there are bait fish present,” Smith said. “I can pull crankbaits or long-line troll over that area, assuming I have everything dialed in right on the depth and I’ll catch a couple of fish in a pass.
“The problem is, to get back on those fish in the second pass is going to require about a half mile to get the whole train turned around.”
Power trolling allows the angler to present baits — in Smith’s case he favors combinations of 1/8- and ¼-ounce Road Runner jigheads paired with Ziptailz fishing skirts — at precise depths while pushing the baits at typical crankbait trolling speeds from .9 to 1.5 miles per hour.
Because the baits are pushed from the front of the boat versus being pulled behind the boat, targeting specific areas and then reversing course and going back over that area quickly is much easier.
“I fish out of a 23-foot center console fiberglass boat,” said Smith. “If I’m in the fish and then I troll out of the area, it takes me only 23 feet to turn the boat around and get right back in them, and there is not the hassle of having my lines tangle up like you would have long lining or trolling crankbaits.”
Keeping relatively small baits deep in the water column while trolling at over a mile per hour requires some heavy metal. Smith utilizes a trolling rig that is very similar in makeup to the double hook minnow rigs favored by springtime tight-line trollers.
“I tie my rigs with 12- pound Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon line,” Smith said. “I tie a barrel swivel at the top, come down about 2 feet and tie a loop knot that holds a 1/8-ounce Road Runner jig. I drop down another 2 feet and wrap a 3-ounce egg sinker into the rig and then drop down another foot and tie on a ¼-ounce Road Runner head at the bottom.”
The rig is only half the equation, however. To push heavy metal at relatively high speeds requires a stouter rod than the average tight-line trolling rod. It also requires a pretty stout rod holder to handle the pressure when a 2-pound crappie or 15-pound catfish decides to grab the bait.
“The setup is the same as shallow-water tight lining,” said Smith. “I’ve got two seats in the front of the boat, side by side and the boat moves using a variable speed trolling motor.
“Most of the local Mississippi anglers are using single rod holders, but I’ve gone back to using the trolling bar that everyone started out with when tight lining first became popular. The bar is a lot stronger than the individual adjustable rod holders.”
In addition to stouter rods, Smith also uses baitcast reels spooled with 15-pound monofilament line when power trolling. His personal preference is an orange tinted Sufix mono line spooled on the reels.
Smith said targeting baitfish was another integral component to the success of power trolling. He spends a lot of time graphing for baitfish and the crappie that are relating to them and then keeps his eyes glued on the graph while trolling.
“There’s a bow-mounted sonar unit on the front of my boat,” he said. “The rods are 12- to 14-feet long and stick out in front of the boat, but when we’re trolling, the lines will blow back and you can actually mark the level of the baits by a solid line on the graph. That’s how you keep up with exactly how deep you are fishing.”
Smith’s long time friend Kent Driscoll, pro-staffer for West Point-based B’n’M poles is also a fan of power trolling, and was quick to point out the attributes that having the right rod brings to the table.
“You can’t do this with just any rod,” Driscoll said. “People want to use a pool cue rod and it tears the hooks out of the fish’s mouth or they use regular rods and they can’t stand the pressure. B’n’M’s Pro-Staff rods are the best on the market for power trolling, hands down.”
Both Smith and Driscoll reiterated the importance of having baitfish in the area when power trolling. Crappie often take on a nomadic existence in summer, moving with water temperatures and baitfish migrations. Where there are concentrations of bait, you’ll nearly always find crappie.
“Sometimes I think just the fact that you troll through there gets the fish stirred up,” Driscoll said. “You have two baits per pole with big weights, and with six poles that’s a dozen baits busting through the school of bait. The bait scatters and that triggers the crappie. Crappie move in to investigate and they see these Road Runners or whatever bait you’re using come flashing by and they hit that.”
Driscoll said both crappie and baitfish will move deeper and deeper as the summer progresses, usually putting them closer to the dam, regardless of the lake you are fishing.
“Some of these lakes have defined creek channels and ditches that you can just follow,” Driscoll said. “Look at a topo map before you leave or get one of these lake chart chips that go in your sonar unit. Anywhere you see contour lines tight together means a drop off. Get on that contour drop and keep moving till you mark bait or fish.
“Those drops represent cover to the fish and sometimes they’ll still have old stumps or wood that’s washed in hang up along that drop. Those are great ambush spots and the cool thing is you stay down at the right depth and in the strike zone the whole time with power trolling.”