Pulling or pushing – Crankbaits are on the menu this month

Author Paul Johnson shows off a couple of huge Barnett slabs caught pulling Wiggle Warts at Ross Barnett last fall.

We’re finally coming into my favorite time of the year to crappie fish. Trust me: You’ve got it all wrong if you think spring is crappie season.

Oh sure, anybody and everybody catches fish in April. But, friend, the best overall catches of some of the healthiest, heaviest fish come during the fall, especially if you pull crankbaits.

OK, I know you know that I know how to catch crappie pulling crankbaits from the rear of my boat.

I’m still learning how to pull jigs, spinnerbaits and bladed jigs (i.e., Roadrunners). Some fishermen call this technique “long-lining,” but for the purposes of this column, you’re pulling if your lures are behind your boat and you’re pushing if your lures are in front of your boat.

And, some folks (including yours truly) have started pushing artificial lures lately.

Let me explain why you want to learn both techniques: Each has its own unique advantages.

Pulling gets the lures farther away from the boat, and some days that’s very important. Clear water, crowded fishing conditions and spooky fish are some of the reasons pulling baits 90 to 100 feet behind the boat works better than pushing them within the distance of the length of your poles from the bow.

Pulling allows you to spread your baits out more on the vertical as well horizontal fishing-holding planes of water you’re fishing.

Look, I pull up to eight poles behind the boat. I don’t use planer boards — yet — but those who do can have as much as an 80- to 100-foot horizontal spread of lures behind their boats.

And if you’re not sure the depths you need to fish, pulling gives you easier-to-use depth changes in your lures just by running different-sized lures.

Example: Bandit Lures make three popular sizes for catching crappie. The 100, 200, and 300 series pull at different depths behind my boat — from 4- to 15-fot depths spread over these three lures.

Oftentimes, I’ll start with more than one depth-running bait just to determine the sweet spot.

Or, if I’m pulling a steep drop, I’ll have shallow-running baits on top of the ledge and deep runners on the deepest part of the ledge.

Rarely do I pull in wide-open, same-depth water. I look for humps, ledges, and submerged creek or river runs to pull cranks.

That requires the ability to run lures at varying depths to match the underwater terrain.

And, yes, you certainly can adjust the depth of your lure when you’re pushing. But, in my opinion, you start to limit just how deep a pushed bait can run without it literally being under the boat.

That being said, pushed lures have the advantage of precisely targeting certain depths — up to about 8 feet.

When I push lures, I put a 3- to 4-ounce egg sinker about 2 feet above the lure. I’m actually controlling the depth of the heavy sinker, not the crankbait.

But, friend, the best thing about pushing cranks is that I’m fishing more precisely or exactly where I want my lures to run. If the fish are holding tight to cover because a weather front just cleared, push those baits rather than pull them because you can put them exactly where you want them, bumping the cover that’s holding fish.

Pushing vs. pulling gear

I believe you need to use different equipment to successfully employ both techniques. I’m going tell you what works for me.

Let’s work with the boat setup first.

In my opinion, you need two separate, independent-of-each-other rod-holding systems: one for the stern and one for the bow.

I do not put baits out the sides of my boat with long rods. I’m either fishing from the front or from the rear, but not from the sides of my boat.

On the rear of my boat, I have two rod holders — one on each side of the outboard — that can handle four rods each. I use 7-foot-long medium-heavy bait casting rod/reel combos. They’re all the same, not some hodgepodge of four different lengths of long poles stuck out the sides of the boat that bend double when you pull a Bandit 300 at 1.7 mph.

My cranks are spread over 20 to 22 feet horizontally behind my boat, and they might be covering depths from 3 to 15 feet vertically, depending on which lures I am pulling. Simple math tells us the lures I am pulling behind my boat are spaced about 2.5 feet apart on the horizontal plane.

Of course, that means that when I get bit I’ve got to get that fish on the surface and “ski” it to the rear deck of my boat without letting it cross over the other trailing lines.

It’s not as hard as one might think. The trick is to get the fish on top quickly, and wide-bodied slab crappie naturally come to the surface when they’re being pulled at over 1.5 mph.

Hey, my 10-year-old granddaughter, H.B. Johnson, is really good at it. I’m thinking you can handle it, too, bubba.

For pushing from the front of the boat, again I have two rod-holding racks that can handle four rods each: one on each side of the trolling motor.

My favorite pushing rods are from Lew’s. The Walley Marshall 16-footers are the stiffest long rods I’ve found.

And, for my money, the stiffer the rod the better for pushing lures. Look, you just don’t realize how heavy a 4-ounce weight is on the end of a long rod until you try it. A 4-ounce weight bends most long poles double, reducing a 16-footer to an effective length of only 8 feet or so.

You need that heavy weight to accurately control your depth.

Practically speaking, fishing lures any deeper than 8 feet deep means I’m pulling, not pushing.

Friend, think about it: You’ve got a 16-foot-long pole stuck out in front of the boat and you let out enough line to fish 15 feet deep. By the time you let out enough line to get that deep, taking into consideration the angle of your line, your pole is bent double and your lure is somewhere under or even behind your boat.

So why not just fish from the back?

Hey, I know, I think I’ll start using my pushing poles to pull my baits from the rear of my boat!

That’d work, wouldn’t it?

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