It’s true that subtle, patient presentations can prove very valuable to fishermen. We’re often told that “Slow-and-steady wins the race.”
That kind of thinking will put crappie in the cooler, but there are times when success comes from stepping on the gas.
For example, when crappie run deep during summer’s swelter, anglers can up their game by ditching the creeping pace of traditional tight-line “spider rigging” in favor of a more aggressive tactic called “power trolling.” It combines stouter tackle with faster speeds too produce a go-get-’em technique that can turn the dog days into a howling good time.
Keep it close
For perspective, crappie pro Les Smith of Senatobia compares power trolling to long-lining, another popular technique for presenting a spread of baits at a brisk pace. But power trolling, he said, allows him greater control and precision.
“If you think about long-liners, they’re basically using the same fishing technique we are; they’re just doing it behind the boat and away from the boat,” Smith said. “The big difference is that long-liners have to make big turns, just like crankbaiters, because they have the lines so far out behind them.
“We’re doing something similar to a long-lining technique, but we’re doing it off the front of the boat, like spider rigging. You can see, on your graph, where your drops need to be, so you can keep all of your baits in the strike zone.”
Fishermen who power troll use rigs similar to those used by spider-riggers, with an in-line or slip sinker holding a jig or minnow rig holding vertically. Smith’s basic rig comprises a 4-foot piece of 10- to 12-pound clear monofilament leader coming off 15-pound main line, with a 1/8-ounce jig on a 6-inch dropper and a swivel at the end connecting the upper leader to a second leader with a 1/4-ounce jig at the bottom.
Traditional leadhead jigs work just fine, but for extra flash, and vibration, Smith likes an underspin-style head called a Fin Spin. He’ll rig the Fin Spin with curlytails, rarely using minnows.
To hold the rig vertically, Smith adds a slip sinker to the top leader before tying to the swivel. Another option is replacing the swivel and slip sinker with an in-line sinker sprouting tie-offs at both ends.
By comparison, spider riggers might use a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce sinker, while power trollers need 1 to 3 ounces. Trolling speeds are significantly different: power trolling at about .9 to 1.4 mph, compared to tight-lining at .3 to .5 mph.
“The fish will tell you, more or less, what they want,” Smith said. “Sometimes you’ll catch fish on the outside of a swing, and that tells you they want the baits faster. If it’s on the inside of a swing, they may want it slower.”
When and where
Smith said power troll is best used on bodies of water with lots of creeks and outlets — the same kinds of places you might tight line, but with a peppier pace.
“After the crappie’s spring spawn is over, those fish are moving back out and concentrating on the mouths of creeks, ledges, drop-offs, those sort of things,” Smith said.
Good examples include Mississippi’s four flood-control lakes: Sardis, Enid, Arktabula and Grenada.
Don’t assume that all contour changes are equal in their attraction. Any prominent area might very well meet a crappie’s basic location preference, but Smith points to a key ingredient: food.
“I’m looking for great amounts of shad, because those fish are coming out and feeding up after the spawn,” he said.
Following his charts, Smith said he’s specifically looking for what he calls “tight contours” — areas with quick, 10- to 12-foot drops. Crappie seem to like these nearly vertical profiles, so locating them can mean hitting the jackpot.
Of course, every rule has its exception, and while sharp drops are most consistent, Smith said he also employs power trolling on an open flat.
“As summer goes on, these fish are heading for deeper water,” Smith said. “We usually find them off the side of something.”
While focusing on the contour variances generally ends up being his bread and butter, Smith said it’s not a bad idea to slide onto an adjacent flat to take a peek around. Maybe it’s a slow period; maybe you just need to break up the monotony. At any rate, diversity benefits the bottom line.
Consider the physics of heavier weights, faster trolling speeds and the combined influence on your rods. In short, if you try and power troll with the same light, sensitive rods you use for spring spider-rigging, it’ll look like you have a full house of hookups, and you’ll likely miss any actual bites.
Power trolling requires a stouter stick and, about a year ago, Smith consulted with B’n’M Poles to help create the Pow-R Troll crappie pole. Built from high-density graphite, with 14-, 16- and 18-foot models available, these rods provide the balance of strength and sensitivity needed for the power trolling technique.
Preferring the 16-foot Pow-R Troll rods, Smith loads a B’n’M Pro 100 spinning reel with high-visibility 15-pound Stren gold catfish line. The glowing line stands out so he has an easier time detecting the light bites.
“Even with 2 or 3 ounces of lead, this pole doesn’t even (bend) until about 2 feet off the tip, so you have a really straight presentation,” Smith said. “B’n’M built this pole with a really sensitive tip so you can still see your tip move with those light bites, but they have a lot of backbone to handle those bigger weights and get those fish in when you catch them.”