Bass anglers have long known that they could catch fish behind other anglers if they put their baits where those other anglers could not or would not. Pitching and flipping came about as ways to accomplish this goal.

Both techniques allowed anglers who were previously resigned to fishing the outside edges of a piece of cover to put their baits right into the heart of it, where none dared with an overhead cast.

Pitching and flipping were more precise. Pitching and flipping were more thorough. Pitching and flipping were more systematic. And these new techniques turned weekend Joes into bass fishing heroes.

Crappie anglers probably didn't see what the fuss was all about. They had been flipping their tube jigs into brushpiles with a simple flick of their wrists for as long as they could remember.

With the long poles crappie anglers use, raising a rod tip to let the jig swing back before lowering it while flicking the wrist to propel the jig forward was a lot more efficient than flinging that long pole over their heads to try to get their baits out there.

The only problem Shelton Culpepper and David Thornton could see with this was that flipping a jig on 12 feet of line with a 12-foot pole didn't mean they could keep their jigs out 24 feet away from the boat.

"Your bait will pendulum back to you when you flip it out that far," Culpepper explained. "That might be OK for fishing the outside edges of a bunch of cypress trees or a pier, but it won't work if you want to get a bait up in there on that second, third or fourth row of trees that nobody else is fishing or way back under a pier where nobody is fishing.

"It might work if you just want to get it in there, but it won't work if you want to get it in there and keep it there."

The Magnolia Crappie Club tournament team's solution was to dedicate themselves to perfecting the technique of pitching corks for crappie because pitching corks allows them to put their tube jigs way back in a cypress swamp where they will stay until they get a bite.

Pitching corks for crappie has served Culpepper, from Bay Springs, and Thornton, from Eagle Lake, well the last few years. They've caught a ton of crappie during the spring when the technique is at its best in the cypress trees, and they won an MCC event at Eagle Lake last tournament season by pitching corks around piers and boathouses.

If pitching a cork with a length of line tied to a tube jig under it sounds just a little bit unwieldy, that's because it is. Culpepper and Thornton say that's why they use slip corks to present their baits to the fish way back in the thick stuff.

"A slip cork tosses better because it all balls up at the end of your line," said Thornton. "If you had a cork set at a certain depth, it would be hard to pitch, and you wouldn't be as true or precise. A slip cork sliding down to the bait keeps everything compact and easy to manage. You're a lot less likely to get hung on a limb or brush when you pitch with a slip cork."

This team uses a Lindy Thill sliding cork that is specially made for crappie fishing. The neat thing about this particular cork is that each is designed to float perfectly with certain jig sizes. For example, the one rated for a 1/16-ounce will float perfectly at its lateral line with a 1/16-ounce jighead.

"We generally stick with the 1/16-ounce version," Culpepper said. "You can get them for 1/4, 3/8 or whatever, but we want a lighter jig and a smaller cork because it makes less splash in the water and doesn't spook the fish."

The Thill cork they use also has the ability to show even the lightest of bites. Crappie are notorious for mouthing a bait without doing much else to it, and those kinds of bites are extremely difficult to detect.

This kind of bite is why many veteran crappie anglers fish with high visibility line. It allows them to see the slack created in their line when a fish bites like this.

"This Lindy Thill cork does the same thing," Culpepper explained. "It's chartreuse on bottom and pink on top. If you have it rigged with the correct weight, you won't see any chartreuse, only pink. If a crappie mouths your jig and bumps slack in your line, the cork will rise just enough for you to see some chartreuse. If you see chartreuse, you've got a bite."

Because these corks serve as strike indicators, high-visibility line isn't nearly as important when pitching corks as it might be with some other techniques. However, Culpepper and Thornton stick with 8-pound-test Vicious HI VIS line to help them keep their jigs and corks away from potential snags like limbs and cypress knees.

Both anglers pitch their corks with 12-foot ultralight crappie poles with the bottom reel seat, which they use only for line storage and not as a means to reel in a fish. Rather than use the reel, Culpepper and Thornton pull off about 16 feet of line. Since that puts their jigs about 4 feet longer than their rods, they grab the line in front of their reels and pull out on it while they lift their rod tips.

"Whenever we hook a fish, we just bring in the line the same way," Culpepper added. "To reel in a fish, we just pull two or three pulls of line with our left hands to get the fish out. With a 12-foot pole and 16 feet of line, we can get 28 to 30 feet back in the cypress trees."

Fishing under the shade of cypress trees all day forces the team to use jigheads and tube jigs that are highly visible to the fish. Even if the water isn't stained due to spring rains, these bright colors help attract fish in the reduced light of the shade.

"We generally stick with 1/16-ounce orange heads and tube jigs with chartreuse tails," Thornton said. "And the addition of some kind of scent attractant stuck in the tube with the Bait Pump completes the package."

The key to reducing headaches when pitching corks is to fish your tube jigs as shallow under your cork as you can get the fish to bite. Spawning fish are aggressive, and the males especially will come 2 or 3 feet from a tree to hit a bait they can see.

Keeping your bait as close to the cork as possible while still attracting crappie reduces snags and other problems that would come with a deeper set.

"Start out about it only about a foot below your cork," Culpepper suggested. "Then you can move deeper from there up to about 20 inches.

"Start out shallow and only go deeper when it's necessary to get the bites."

If they're using a minnow, Culpepper and Thornton can just let their corks sit still. But when they switch to fishing jigs, they have to give a little life to their baits. Sometimes the waves can give the baits enough action, but most of the time they've got to impart it.

"You've got to retrieve it a little bit," Culpepper said. "Give it a little twitch every now and then to make that jig bounce a little. The males will come to it if they're around. And you need to keep moving until you get in a group of fish. You may go a long way without a bite then catch a bunch of fish in a small area once you find them."

Finding a likely spot to pitch corks into cypress trees isn't that difficult. Just remember that just about all the active fish on the outside edge of a line of trees will get picked off under increased fishing pressure.

You could simply follow the boats targeting the easy fish and pitch farther back into the trees, or you could idle around until you find a group of cypress trees so thick you just know they're holding fish that haven't been pressured at all.

Culpepper pointed out three spots at Lake Washington just south of Greenville that are perfect examples of what you should look for. There is a cypress swamp on the west side at the middle of the lake; there is a good cypress swamp across from Cordell Landing and across from the Glass House.

"Those are the sort of cypress trees that boats can't get into," Culpepper said. "And a lot of fish in those trees don't get fished for because if you aren't pitching corks, you can't get to them."

So if you want to catch more crappie this spring, put your baits where other anglers cannot or will not by pitching corks for crappie. This technique may not turn you into a fishing hero, but it just might make you the leading man in your next crappie tournament.