Standing on the lower deck of his boat, Torch Tindle paused after unhooking another crappie from his brightly colored jig to reflect on a crappie fishing experience a few summers ago.
“I used to think these Mississippi oxbows were void of crappie,” said Tindle, a former crappie-fishing guide from Cleveland. “I mean, I used to come out here with a single pole in the summer and might get a few dinks, but nothing like what I’m catching since I learned how to troll.”
“Trolling” means a lot of different things to different anglers, but Tindle was referring to one of three very popular tactics: long-line trolling, crankbait trolling and power trolling. He once believed they only worked on big reservoirs but has come to change his tune after using them on oxbows.
“I fish Whittington a lot simply because it’s close to home,” he said. “Oxbows are a little different than, say, Enid, Sardis, Grenada, and Arkabutla, because the levels are controlled by the river stage in the Mississippi River, but these tactics work anywhere during the summer.”
Tindle said that most anglers forget about crappie fishing after the spring spawn. In the summer, they either switch to other species or give up fishing altogether until cooler weather settles back in. Probably one of the reasons why many anglers — like the “old” Tindle — struggle trying to catch crappie during the summer is because patterns aren’t as easy to follow as fishing around visible cover.
“From about early June until September, these fish move out away from the banks and just suspend out in open water,” Tindle said. “In a lake like Grenada, they might be in water that’s 15 to 25 feet deep and suspend at depths of 9 to 15 feet, but they aren’t relating to anything. They’re just out there on a long flat, waiting for food to come to them.”
Trolling by any method is a way to get food to the hungry crappie.
Tindle said long-lining is his current favorite among the three trolling techniques.
“It’s a toss up between long-lining and crankbaiting, but if I’m starting out on a lake trying to locate schools of fish, I’m going to start long-lining, just because I can cover so much more water,” he said. “If I’m fishing a tournament and trying to catch the biggest fish, then I’m probably going to troll crankbaits.
“If I’m after the most numbers of fish, then I’m probably going to power troll, but I love long-lining because you can catch both size and numbers and cover a lot of water.”
Tindle differs from most crappie fishermen in the way he sets up his boat for long-lining. He runs four rods from the front of the boat and four more from the rear. The center rods up front are 20-footers, while the outside poles on either side of the boat are 16 feet. Across the back, he runs four 12-foot rods to cover the interior pathway.
Aside from his four-up, four-back rod positioning, Tindle has a couple of other tricks up his sleeve for catching big Mississippi crappie, the first being line size. He uses nothing but 6-pound test line. His reasoning is that 6-pound test provides the right mix of strength and small diameter so he can get his jigs to the proper depth when trolling.
The second is the jigs he uses.
“I make my own jigs,” Tindle said. “I got tired of missing fish on No. 2 or No. 4 hooks, so I started pouring my own heads using a dang 2/0 Aberdeen hook. When they bite that hook, they’re coming to the boat. No more missed fish.”
Harrison likes cranking
Catching big summer crappie is a specialty for John Harrison, a Grenada Lake guide. Like Tindle, Harrison once sported a single pole when the heat turned on, but now he spends much of his time trolling crankbaits.
“I guess it’s that rattle and the commotion of so many crankbaits coming through the water,” Harrison said. “It causes a reaction bite because they’ve only got a second or two to either react or get out of the way.”
Harrison uses Bandit crankbaits the majority of the time, swapping between 200 series and 300 series baits depending on the depth he’s trying to target. Despite the bite being a reaction bite, he said color plays a big role in whether you get bites or not.
“You’d think they’d just hit whatever color — and there are days they will — but other days these fish can get down right picky,” Harrison said. “That’s why I keep changing out colors and keep track with what colors are producing fish.”
Harrison said the position of the sun and the water clarity has a lot to do with what color works best, and current can also affect crappie appetites.
“Another thing is if they are moving water through the dam,” he said. “Most of these flood-control lakes have been up this summer, and the water authorities have pulled water through the dam a lot. When that current is moving, the fish bite better.”
Power trolling needs heft
The third tactic is power trolling, which has been a moving target for a lot of crappie anglers for a number of years.
The tactic is very similar to slow, vertical trolling except at much higher speeds. To keep lines vertical at higher speeds requires more weight. To accommodate more weight takes a stouter fishing pole. That’s where B’n’M pro staffer Kent Driscoll has the corner on the market.
“We’ve been working on this design for a while now,” Driscoll said. “The rod is called the Pow-R-Troller. It’s a heavy-action trolling rod designed to hold heavier weights, up to 3 ounces, with little bend in the rod tip.”
Driscoll said whether you’re summer fishing, pushing 3- and 4-ounce weights at up to 2 miles per hour, or dragging crankbaits behind planer boats to get your baits away from the boat, the new rod could get the job done.