Just call me the “weatherman,” because like the weatherman, I can tell you what happened yesterday better than I can predict what may happen tomorrow.
A couple of columns ago, I suggested you take a break from crappie fishing during the month of May. I told you to garden, take up golf or go visit your in-laws.
Truthfully, May has always been my least favorite month to fish for crappie. Usually, the good fish disappear for a four- to six-week period as the annual spawn winds down.
Boy, was I wrong this year, and I have really caught it from my fishing buddies. This May was one of the very best months to catch limits of healthy, slab crappie in lots of places all over the state.
I’m speaking from personal experience here, folks. Either I caught them myself or personally saw the fish or talked to the fishermen who were limiting out on several Mississippi lakes.
Great reports from Tunica Cutoff, Moon Lake, Sardis and Enid came to me from one of the best crappie fishermen in the north Delta, William Clark of Clarksdale.
Wolf Lake was hot all month with big slabs still full of eggs when the Magnolia Crappie Club held a tournament there in mid-May. Bee Lake, north of Yazoo City, was hotter than the 4th of July, and Ross Barnett just kept producing ’em “as big as they grow” through the entire month of May.
I take it back. I was wrong. I apologize if in any way my earlier advice kept you off the lake during the month of May.
But let’s move on into summer. Trust me, folks, I’ll try to get this one right.
Summertime crappie fishing is great. The hotter it gets, the better they bite, it seems. In fact, crappie become very predictable and almost too easy to catch in summer.
Want to try something new this summer? Let me tell you about an alternative to jig or minnow fishing. Specifically, I want to talk about catching hot-weather crappie on crankbaits. You jig purists just skip on down to the bottom of the page. You ain’t gonna believe me or try any of this anyway. The rest of this month’s column is for you folks who are willing to try something a little different.
Summertime is crankbaiting time for lots of us crappie fishermen on Mississippi’s larger reservoirs and lakes. I was introduced to this more than 10 years ago when the Magnolia Crappie Club held its annual two-day championship on Sardis. Seems the crappie fishermen have been doing this for years on Sardis and Enid.
Once you get the hang of running crankbaits, you’ll really enjoy this relaxed way of fishing. This crazy idea works, but you’ve got to follow a few basic techniques.
I recommend using medium-action, 7-foot spinning rods with good ultralight spinning reels loaded with 8-pound monofilament for pulling crankbaits. You’ll need crankbaits in several colors that run at different depths.
I’ve found two that I really like. Bandit Lures makes Series 100, 200, and 300 lures that work great on big slab crappie. Bandits are probably the most commonly used crankbaits in Mississippi.
This summer I’ve also been running a new bait. Cabela’s Jointed Rad Shad PLUS is catching lots of crappie for me this year. I really like the extra wiggle that jointed tail delivers — you get more giggle when you wiggle, I say.
Here’s a tip that comes from much personal trial and error. Run your baits as close as you can to your boat. First time crankbaiters typically think they have to pull their baits way behind the boat to get bit.
’Taint so, boys and girls. Ever here of pushing crankbaits instead of pulling them? Extreme “pushers” use heavy-action rods with 12-pound line. A 2- to 4-ounce weight positioned about 30 inches above the crankbait is used to control the depth. The idea here is to use as short a line as possible — to fish right underneath your boat. Hang the rod from the bow of the boat, not the back of the boat. Your lures are “pushed” through the water column right under your boat instead of being “pulled” behind the boat.
Why? What difference could it possibly make whether I “push” or “pull” my crankbaits? Here’s why: The tighter you fish your lures to the footprint of your boat, the more precisely and effectively you can run them through the sweet spots on ledges and drop-offs. If you’re trolling in the middle of the lake at Enid or Sardis, it doesn’t matter. Pull them. There, the summertime strategy is to catch suspended crappie in the middle of the lake over deep water. But if you’re fishing a defined ledge with lots of underwater structure on it, you should shorten your string.
To prevent hang-ups on structure on the bottom of the lake, use deep-diving baits. The larger bill on the front of a Bandit 300, for example, helps the lure bounce off those underwater snags instead of sinking a hook into them.
Target what you’re looking at on your fish-finder screen. I recommend the use of marker buoys if you’re working a ledge, and I recommend several passes over the “sweet spots” that are holding structure-oriented fish. You’ve got to push those crankbaits through that underwater cover creating reaction strikes.
Experiment with different trolling speeds. It’s amazing how fast you can troll a 3-inch crankbait and still catch a slab crappie. If you’re using an electric trolling motor to swim your crankbaits, try her wide open. Then back off from there to get the trolling speed that works best. Subtle changes in trolling speed can make a big difference.
The trick with trolling crankbaits is to troll them where the fish are. Your electronics become vital. For suspended fish over deep water, determine the holding depth of the fish you see on your fish-finder screen, and run your crankbaits just above those fish. Depth control is critical to catching the open-water fish. Look for schools of shad in the summer and activity from surface-feeding fish or birds, and run your crankbaits where you see such activity.
Will a minnow or a jig catch more crappie than a crankbait? Yeah, sure, nine times out of 10. But try crankbaitin’ just as a change of pace. You’ll catch the occasional white bass or hybrid striper, but, hey, they’re fun to catch, too. Even catfish attack my crankbaits. And gar love crankbaits.
Go to Chotard or Eagle Lake in the summer, and troll some crankbaits. I dare you. I promise, whether it’s gar, stripers or crappie, trolling crankbaits catches ’em as big as they grow.