To the uninitiated angler, the pontoon boat motoring across the early morning water looked like a Chinese fire drill minus the firemen. Every rod displayed across the front of the 'toon had a hard bend in it - the rod tips almost dragging in the water.

Behind the wheel, David Nasser, veteran power troller from Merigold, had a look of hard study on his face as he and his fishing partner eyed the sonar screen and monitored the progress of the rods. Apparently there wasn't a fish hooked on every one of the rods. Nasser and party were simply fishing for crappie using the often-misunderstood tactic known as power-trolling.

The history of power trolling in Mississippi's waters dates back several generations.

"My dad and uncle used to use stiff bamboo poles to drag heavy weights around the lake," Nasser said. "They'd manufacture some guides to wire to the poles and use heavy line and weights to keep the lines straight down in the water.

"They always referred to it as trolling, but at some point somebody decided to start calling it power trolling, I guess to distinguish it from tight-line trolling that has become so popular."

 

Power-trolling basics

At its basic form, power trolling is a tactic that uses weight, up to 10 to 12 ounces in some cases, to control the depth of presentation of a trolled crankbait, jig, spinnerbait or other crappie-enticing lure. A power-trolling rig entails tying a three-way swivel to the main line and using monofilament droppers to hold the trolling bait and the trolling weight.

Anglers willing to keep up with multiple baits per line can add an additional three-way swivel below the first one, add a second bait to the rig and anchor the entire rig with one heavy weight.

Rods are positioned in rod holders on the front end of the boat and slowly trolled using a "pushing" motion that puts the baits in front of the boat rather than back in the boat's wake, like some other trolling tactics.

Nasser trolls with his pontoon boat using a small 6-horsepower "kicker" Nissan outboard motor.

"Boat speed is critical," he said. "The flat-liners who troll crankbaits have to run up to 2 mph because they are trying to achieve a specific diving depth and need the speed to get the bait down. I use weight to control depth, so that allows me to slow down if the situation dictates or speed up if that's what it takes."

For Nasser, the hottest month of the year, August, is his favorite time to power troll. Without a doubt, his favorite place to do it is at Enid Reservoir. He catches some of his biggest crappie of the year, and catches them on some of the most outlandish baits imaginable, when Enid's waters get hot and thermoclines have set up.

"I'll push Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits, even a few secret saltwater lures, and they all catch big slab crappie," he said. "I have people tell me that they never knew a crappie would hit such a big bait. Well, you never know until you try one.

"For the most part, crappie show a preference for different baits and different colors on an almost daily basis. Somedays, they'll be wearing the Rat-L-Traps out, and the next day it seems like all the noise spooks the fish. When you're trolling a bunch of them 12 to 14 feet beneath the boat and you can hear the rattling and you're not getting bites, it's time to switch up and try something new."

Where to troll is probably more important to Nasser's strategy for power trolling than what to troll. He has fished Enid since he was a kid, and has several time-proven hotspots. Most of his favorite spots are down the lake and confined to two areas.

"I love to start at the main points that stick out around the mouths of Bean Creek and Wallace Creek," he said. "Most of the flatline crankbait trollers know to troll the points, but they don't troll far enough off the points.

"My best spots have deep water in the 24- to 28-foot range. I usually won't put the baits out until I get to at least 22 feet, and then I'm going to run right down the middle of the main creek channels.

"Wallace Creek is on the upper side of Enid, and Bean Creek is on the lower side of Enid. The two creeks are on opposite sides of the dam but often produce the same results. Bean Creek has a cleaner bottom, which is good when you're trolling half a dozen $5 to $6 crankbaits. Wallace Creek has a lot of brushtops as you work farther in, so that's as far as I'll go trolling."

Nasser catches the majority of his crappie suspended from 18 to 20 feet deep over these two creek channels and off the long points. He has even caught fish suspended over the main channel, which runs 40 to 50 feet deep, as he was crossing from one side of the lake to the other.

 

Power-trolling light

For the last 15 years, the team of Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman have been the team to beat on national crappie circuits. The duo has developed tournament tactics that result in manufacturers specially creating rods, rigs and lures for them.

Coleman explained how and why pushing crankbaits produces better results than pulling them in the summer.

"It's a lot easier to control where we fish if we're pushing crankbaits out the front," he said. "Most people who troll crankbaits troll them way out the back, and when you go into a turn, there's no way to know exactly where the baits are.

"We've made a living fishing break lines over the years. We'll get on a specific break line, and just follow it all over the lake. I'll give you a good example of why we learned to do that. Ever since we started fishing with GPS units, we started marking every big fish we caught. At the end of the day, we'd go back and map out where we caught our best fish, and just about every one will be on a break line at a specific depth for that day."

Coleman prefers to lighten up his power trolling weight in order to make the rig more adjustable and versatile than the heavier weight rig employed by Nasser. He also adds an additional lure to each rod. This allows him to target multiple depths.

"We make up a two-way rig using two three-way swivels," he said. "We may place the swivels as much as 5 feet apart, depending on how deep we'll be fishing.

"Off the top swivel we'll run either a Rapala broke-back minnow or a 300-series Bandit crankbait on an 18-inch leader. The lower swivel has a Bandit on a 24-inch leader. Down below the bottom swivel we tie a dropper that holds the weight. It will be anywhere from a 2- to 5-ounce bank sinker. Again the amount of weight depends on how deep and how fast we're fishing."

 

Power trolling to go

Like most crankbaiters, Coleman chases white crappie with his power-trolling rigs, and finds Enid to be one of his favorite targets. He has some advice for anglers who may be interested in trying to target crappie on any lake that they fish.

"Before I set up on a blind lake, I want to know the lake has white crappie in it," he said. "Crankbaits occasionally work for black crappie, but you really have to downsize the baits and the fish are so tight to cover that other tactics work better. White crappie suspend more and have bigger mouths, so they don't have a problem eating a 3-inch crankbait.

"If I didn't know anything about the lake other than looking at it on a map, I'd start on a break line, probably in the 20-foot range. You can determine where the thermocline is using electronics or by graphing fish. That's where the biggest majority of the fish will be.

"I'm going to start following that break line, trolling about 1.7-2.0 mph. A lot of it is trial and error, but once you start putting together a pattern, you can catch some good crappie.