Walk into any tackle shop this time of year and you’ll likely be overwhelmed with choices of crappie jigs to use to tempt one of the country’s favorite gamefish. How do you decide which one(s) to buy and use?
Mike Bridges is a tackle distributor who handles hundreds of name brands and knows them all. On top of that, he is a crappie fisherman and has fished all over the country for these popular panfish and is adept at using nearly every tactic imaginable. He provided a run-down for crappie fishermen on how to pick the right jig for the job, as well as a few pointers to help anglers experience better success.
Crappie fishing tactics fall into two categories: moving presentations or static presentations. Moving presentations are pulling, long-line trolling, and casting, while static presentations are tight-line trolling, single-pole jigging, and drifting. Dock shooting often requires features of both camps.
The basis of the crappie lure is the jighead, a hook with leaded molded onto to with or without attachments.
• Round-head jigs. The round-head is used to provide a fluttering fall when fished. It is typically used with tight-lining, single-pole jigging or when shooting docks.
• Minnow-head jigs. Triangular-shaped jigheads lend their shape to swimming baitfish and are more hydro-dynamic, cutting through the water more efficiently. Minnow-head jigs are popular with long-line trolling and casting tactics.
• Pony head jigs. Sometimes referred to as Road Runner heads — after the manufacturer by the same name — pony heads employ small spinner blades on a swivel or split ring and add flash and vibration to the jighead. This is useful for stained water or other low-visibility conditions.
• Other shapes. Football heads, shad darts and other shapes see more limited use. Typically, the shape dictates whether the jig is designed to cut through the water or be more appealed when fished statically.
Jig bodies for crappie are typically either soft-plastic baits that are threaded on the hook by the angler or hair, feather or other synthetic materials tied to the jig body by the manufacturer.
• Tubes. Tube jigs are typically hollow body, with tentacles on the back end to provide static action. Tubes see more usage for slow, tight-line trolling or when single-pole jigging when the bait is presented vertically into structure to the fish.
• Curlytails. These plastic bodies are designed to be pulled fast enough through the water so that the tails flutter, providing action to the bait. Curlytails see more use in long-line trolling and casting or any presentation generally above one-half mile per hour.
• Paddletails. Paddletail usage is similar to curlytails in that the bait has to be moving forward to provide action.
• Straight-tails. Straight-tails, or stingers, mimic a static baitfish. Very streamlined, straight-tails see more use in dock-shooting, vertical-jigging, or other single-pole tactics.
• Creature baits. Similar to tubes, but designed to imitate specific, non-minnow type prey. Creatures are usually better suited for single pole tactics or for bream fishing.
• Hair jigs. This category encompasses all hand-tied baits using hair, feather, marabou, chenille or a variety of other synthetic material. The design allows the baits to pulse or breathe when held still in the water. Static techniques like single pole jigging, dock shooting, drifting, or tight lining work best with hair jigs.
Scores or articles can and have been written about choosing jig colors, both for jigheads and jig bodies. The basic rule of thumb revolves around water clarity and sunlight penetration. The clearer and cleaner the water, the better natural or opaque colors work. In stained, dark or muddy waters, brighter and/or darker colors get the nod.
Angler bias probably has more to do with color selection than fish preference. Successful anglers keep changing colors until they find one color that catches the most fish on a particular outing.
The deeper the strike zone, the heavier the jighead needed. Trolling anglers often go to great pains, using a gram scale bought at a local hardware store to measure weight in grams over accepting the weight, in percentage of an ounce, pre-printed on the package.
When trolling pony heads, the blade will cause the jighead to weigh more, but the resistance in the water of the spinning blade will affect how deep the jig runs. The type of blade, whether willow-leaf, Indiana or Colorado, will also affect the resistance and trolling depth a pony head will find.
Single-pole anglers typically want enough weight to keep contact with the bait in order to detect strikes, but not too heavy, as an overweight jig does not feel or act natural to the fish.