As usual, one change leads to another

Cool, muddy, high-water conditions in Wolf Lake didn't stop Magnolia Crappie Club member Tom Cox from catching crappie “as big as they grow.”

The New Year is right around the corner, and with ’10 upon us, I find myself experimenting with my crappie fishing, trying some things new to me.

One of the biggest changes in my crappie fishing came as a result of tournament fishing with some really good anglers who have perfected pulling crankbaits and jigs on long lines. Beginning in early summer, I made the move to learn as much as I could about long-lining.

Starting with my equipment, I had to change a few things. I had been crappie fishing out of a 20-foot Bass Cat with a 24-volt cable-drive, foot-controlled trolling motor. The first thing I had to commit to was a trolling motor with auto pilot.

I tried pulling crankbaits from the front of my boat using my foot-controlled motor, but I couldn’t figure out how to keep from running into myself with every turn of my boat or with every good fish caught. So I bit the bullet and ordered a new MinnKota Terrova. They were on sale at the time.

Although I eventually got my boat set up like I wanted for pulling baits behind me, it took a while and was more trouble than most folks would endure. After installing the Terrova, I learned about “amp draw” and “amp hours” — two terms with which I had no understanding at the time of my purchase.

Let me break it down for you this way. Deep-cycle batteries are like a gas tank for your trolling motor. They hold only so much juice or “amp hours,” and when you run out of gas, or in this case “amp hours,” you’re done.

A trolling motor, especially my new one, is like a big four-barrel gas guzzling muscle car. It drinks lots of juice. In fact, after installation, I read the back couple of pages of the trolling motor brochure, and learned that the model I bought draws at least 20% more amps than any other trolling motor that MinnKota sells.

So? What does that mean? It means that my amp-guzzling motor was using up my two deep-cycle batteries in about three hours. That’ll never do. Crappie tournaments run for seven to eight hours.

Enter two more deep-cycles with their very own on-board charger.

Big boat, no problem — there ought to be some place I can put these two new batteries, right? There was — as long as I didn’t mind giving up my largest dry storage space under my front deck. Now, here comes the tricky part — how to wire these suckers so that I don’t start a fire or damage my new motor. I learned what series and parallel wiring meant real quick.

Once I had the batteries and the wiring and the battery charging figured out, my new set-up required a completely different mindset for catching crappie. I committed to long-lining for a couple of reasons. One, I was getting my butt beat badly by the long-liners on T-Day. Two, I’m one of those guys who enjoys trying something different every now and then.

Crappie fishing the same way all the time becomes common-place, almost boring, to me. Challenging myself to learn something new about the pastime I love is good medicine for me. The actual catching of fish comes in a distant second (I keep telling myself).

So I committed to long-lining, and spent the next couple of months figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of my new fishing technique plus my own strengths and weaknesses in this regard.

Long-lining is certainly different from jig fishing or even slow trolling minnows from a spider rig. For one thing, long-lining covers a lot of water. That’s good, especially on practice days before a tournament. I covered areas that I have never fished before on lakes that I’ve jig fished for years. Found new drop-offs and deep holes and other fishermen’s secret brush tops.

Plus, all the action is at the rear of my boat now instead of on the crowded bow. You have to know that two guys sitting side-by-side on the very front end of a boat gets crowded quick. Fishing from the back deck of my boat with an auto-piloted trolling motor allows some room to move around inside the boat. You’re not tied to that cable-driven, foot-controlled trolling motor all day.

And when the action is good, long-lining is really a lot of fun. I have just as much fun, if not more, seeing a huge slab come to the top of the water a hundred feet behind my boat with a mouthful of crankbait as I do feeling that tick on the end of my jig pole.

Other changes include the rod/reel combinations that I think work best for long-lining. For me, it makes much more sense to use baitcasting reels and light- to medium-action 7-foot rods than to try long-lining using jig poles and spinning reels. I quickly found that using baitcasting reels reduced dreaded line twists and that I wasn’t changing line every trip or two.

Additionally, on advice from successful long-liners, I broke down and bought some braided line instead of using monofilament on my long-lining poles. For me, braid gives a better rod tip action, and I can tell instantly when one of my lures picks up some trash or isn’t running true for some other reason.

After making fun of GPSs and guys who use them, I finally bought one. MPH is a term I’ve learned to love, and my GPS measures it in 10ths. A 10th of an mph ain’t much, but it does make a difference.

Finding the right speed makes a huge difference in catching fish versus just riding around in the back of my boat. Is there a magic number?

No is the quick answer. Every day is different, and I have to find the magic number every time I go to the lake. It tends to be from 1.5 mph to 2.0 mph. A GPS, even if it’s just a $99 hand-held job like mine, is a must for a long-liner.

So, I’ve outfitted my boat with the newest in trolling motor technology, new rods and reels, new lures (lots of ’em), new rod racks, new fishing string and, now, I even own a GPS.

O.K., O.K., did all this gear help my crappie tournament results? Well, the Magnolia Crappie Club had its first 2009/10 tournament on Lake Ferguson recently. Score one as big as they grow — that’s right, one. But it was an awful tournament for everyone. My one fish put me in the Top 10 for the tournament. Shoot, I’m in ninth place overall and climbing.

Where’s my danged jig pole?


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