How to set up your boat to pull crankbaits

Ellis Bates of Brandon shows off a tournament-size crappie at a recent Magnolia Crappie Club event held in mid-September at Sardis. Note the size of the lure. That’s a 4½-inch long Bomber 7A.

I know we’re coming up on deer and duck seasons, and that we’re right, smack-dab in the middle of football season.

But, for me, baby, it’s crappie catching season.

What time is it? It’s crankbaiting time!

Yes, sir: Fall is the absolute best time of the year to pull crankbaits for monster slabs. Why is that?

Well, first of all, the water is clearer now than at any other time of the year. Plus, the fish are putting on the feedbag, just like a bear getting ready for tough, cold days ahead.

And, they are concentrated in large schools chasing shad all day.

More-aggressive fish per cubic foot of water equals more strikes per hour on my trolling poles.

At the time of this writing, it was the first day of October, and the fall feed was already on — big time!

My home lake is Ross Barnett Reservoir, and I’ve learned something new this fall. Actually, I found a new ledge, and it’s been wonderful.

The other day I was fishing with seven poles, pulling seven crankbaits. On multiple passes down my new spot, I had multiple fish on.

Believe it or not, on a few passes down the ledge, five of my seven rods had “wide-mouth” crappie on them.

The phone rang. It was my new doctor, a young man whom I’ve known since he was a boy.

“Mr. Johnson, it’s Dr. Cross. I’ve got your blood tests results. Got a minute?” he asked.

“John, can you call me back later? I’m kinda busy,” I replied while struggling to get a big one in.

“You must be on the lake,” he said.

“I am. Got four fish on right now,” I told him.

“What? Four fish on? You got room for me in that boat?” the young doc asked. “Don’t worry about these test results; everything looks great. You need to take me fishing.”

Boat setup

There are multiple ways to set up your boat to pull crankbaits or long-line jigs.

Lately, planer boards have started making their way South. The idea is to get the baits out from behind your boat — out to the sides so your boat doesn’t spook the fish.

The first time I ran into the planer plan was at a Crappiemasters tournament on Lake Lee just south of Greenville.

Crappiemaster competitors come from all over the country, including places from up north where they’ve been using planer boards for quite some time.

My son-in-law, Kris New, and I were out there pulling cranks and catching one every now and then. We were headed straight toward a big, blue-wrapped professional-looking rig, and it was obvious that we were both going to have to bear to one side or the other to avoid a head-on collision.

I bore left, enough to slide by — I thought.

The closer we got the more frantically the guy in the front of the blue boat started to wave us off. He hadn’t changed his trajectory, and he was frantically waving — like a mad man — for me to get out of the way.

I hung a hard left just in time to see this bright-orange object with a little flag on it swim by.

“What’s that?” I wondered aloud.

“They call those ‘planer boards,’ I think,” Kris replied.

I trailed around behind that big, blue boat for a while watching what they were doing.

You know the expression, “too much sugar for a dime?” It appeared to me that those planer boards were working the two fishing pros to death. They were constantly reeling the darned things in and making adjustments.

Didn’t see them catch a fish.

Some of my pulling buddies fish with different-length poles stuck out the sides of their boats: from 16-foot lengths staggered down to 8-foot lengths. Often these same fishermen have line-counter reels on those very long poles.

I can’t imagine the struggles they have when they get that “good one” on and it’s 90 feet back on a limber-ass 16-foot pole.

Just doesn’t work for me.

I use matching 6-foot, 6-inch baitcasting rods with regular baitcasting reels mounted on them.

I’ve built two rod racks that together stretch across the full width of the stern of my Ranger. I’ve got one rod rack on each side of the outboard.

My setup allows my six rod tips and, therefore, the crankbaits, to be spaced a good 2 feet apart. I can get away with eight poles by going to a couple of 7-foot, 6-inch poles — one on each side — and placing them on the floor under the rod racks.

Fishing from the back of the boat is made possible because of my remote-controlled trolling motor — an absolute must if you’re ever going to be doing this by yourself.

Rather than use those bulky line-counter reels, I fill my Abu Garcia Black Maxes with 50 handle turns of 12-pound mono. Then I tie on 100 feet of 12-pound orange braid (yep, I step it off on the bank under the shade tree — got the stop and start spots clearly marked).

On top of that I tie 100 feet of 12-pound yellow braid. On top of that I tie 100 feet of 12-pound blue braid.

The maximum distance I can drag my baits behind my boat is 100 feet, and I rarely do that. Usually, I cast the braid out to the first knot, and then reel in 10 to 12 handle turns.

If I want to fish closer to the boat because of shallower depths or tighter turns, I’ll carefully count the turns on the reel handles, keeping them all the same. My setup takes up 2 feet of line per handle turn.

And, yes, rarely do I have problems with baits and fish getting together behind the boat — even when I’ve got four or five fish on at the same time.

My 9-year-old granddaughter, H.B., mastered the technique of keeping stuff from messing up behind Papaw’s boat in less than half a morning.

But, she is exceptional. It might take you a couple of trips to the lake to get it down just right.

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