The 20-foot rod seemed certain to slip the holder and drop into Lake Washington as a large crappie struck the Pico crankbait at the other end. Fortunately, a bolt in the rod handle snagged part of the rod holder and held fast.
“When pulling crankbaits, I want the rod to go out as far as it can so I put a small bolt with a nut in the rod handles,” said James Callaway, a professional crappie angler. “The bolt catches on the holder and stops the rod from sliding out when a fish pulls the line.”
For decades, bass anglers caught numerous big crappie on crankbaits designed to attract largemouth. Eventually, lure companies started making hard-plastic baits designed to entice crappie. Anything that might interest a 3-pound largemouth would attract crappie of similar size. Both species love to eat shad.
“Many crankbaits that we use look just like bass lures,” Callaway revealed. “Crankbaits will catch anything that will eat a shad and that’s practically everything that swims. As the water warms in the spring, crappie get more active and start chasing shad or other baitfish. That’s a good time to catch big crappie with crankbaits.”
One of the best crappie lakes in the Magnolia State, Lake Washington covers about 5,000 acres south of Greenville. The ancient oxbow no longer directly connects to the Mississippi River, so water levels remain relatively stable all year. The lake averages about eight to 10 feet deep, but drops to 22 feet in places.
Sitting in seven to 10 feet of water, we slowly pushed forward with the trolling motor. Our crankbaits dove down about five feet. To widen the spread, we used planer boards, essentially brightly colored floating plastic blocks specifically angled to run either to the left or right when pulled. With planer boards, anglers can cover huge swaths of territory while running multiple baits in various colors at different depths.
“When fishing a shallow lake like Washington, the boat will scare the fish,” Callaway commented. “When the boat passes over them, crappie flare out away from the boat toward the planer boards. I usually put out eight rods from 14 to 20 feet long. Sometimes, I put as many as 14 or even 16 rods out at one time. “I like my baits to run just a little off the bottom.”
Crankbaits come in a dizzying array of colors with crazy names, but anglers can’t go wrong by sticking with something that mimics a threadfin shad, a preferred food for crappie. Some baits almost look like they would swim away if dropped into the water. Generally, anything white or pearl with a gray or black back should work just about anywhere crappie live.
“Different colors work on different lakes,” Callaway said. “I like to use lures that look like the dominant baitfish where I’m fishing because that’s what crappie will be eating. I mostly use Pico Crankbaits, but I also use some special-order baits from Delta’s Custom Crappie Cranks in Jackson. He does custom paint jobs. He painted some special ones for me called Callaway’s Ninja Perch. Some of them look so pretty, I hate to put them in the water. I’ve had days on Lake Washington where I’ve pulled more than 100 crappie out of the lake by cranking.”
Pulling crankbaits offers an excellent way to introduce children to fishing. They don’t need to do any casting. They just need to watch the lines and begin reeling when a fish hooks itself.
For more information on Pico Lures, see www.picolures.com.