Fishing pole selection can be a very personal choice, but nothing is more important to crappie anglers than performance. On a recent visit to Florida, Muddy Water Baits pro staffer Kevin Jones was lamenting the fact that he didn’t bring his rods for power trolling,
“Coming to Florida and having all this water to fish is a planning nightmare,” commented Jones. “You plan and think you have everything necessary and you get to your destination and there is something else you need because of how the fish are biting. It does not always pan out the way you think it is going to.”
Jones and his fishing partner, Billy Don Surface, were in Florida to fish the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Florida State Championship. I caught up with the crappie fishing duo in Tavares on the Harris Chain of Lakes. There where 7 lakes that competitors could legally fish. These were lakes that Jones and Surface had never fished before. In fact, neither angler had ever fished in Florida before. The reference to a “planning nightmare” was starting to make sense.
Jones and Surface always pack their tackle boxes with Muddy Water Baits, but that is an easy decision. “The Muddy Water Baits are solid plastic with a built in garlic scent,” explained Jones. The tail produces plenty of action and they come in all different colors to fit the different conditions that affect color selection. Best of all, however, is the fact that the baits are completely adaptable to different fishing situations. We use them to shoot docks, spider rig, vertical jig, and long line troll. They work in all those situations.”
Jones explained the importance of narrowing down the available water before tournament day in order to plan equipment choices effectively. “I did a lot of research before we came, and narrowed the Harris Chain down to 4 lakes. Truthfully, you can’t fish 7 lakes, good, in a week of practice, let alone on tournament day. If you find one good spot, on seven different lakes, that won’t give you anything on tournament day but a headache. There is no way to go about doing that. We decided to stick to the 4 lakes we got the best intel on.”
When the practice days were over they had eliminated one more lake and narrowed their fishing waters down to 3 lakes. “We are going to fish Dora, Griffin and Beauclair. We will find as many spots on those lakes as we can. That’s going to be our plan.”
Even with the lakes selected, the first time to fish a new area brings up all kinds of other decisions. Among the more important decisions are which poles to bring to the party. Our discussion came back to the fact that they wished they had brought their power trolling poles. That led to yet another discussion of the various types of crappie fishing that would be possible during their trip to Florida.
The pair started talking about different methods of crappie fishing and the fact that they preferred different types of poles for each. The list included spider rigging, power trolling, pulling (long line trolling), one (or two) pole jigging, and dock shooting. “Even these methods will have variations and require different poles,” explained Jones, “
Spider rigging, also known as pushing or tightlining, is a favorite technique for catching crappie all over the nation. It is a process of fishing up to 8 poles out the front of the boat. Crappie anglers combine the method with sonar to cover a lot of water and locate fish. “When we catch a couple fish we mark it and then we go back over it,” said Jones. Those fish are there for a reason.”
“I would rather push than any other method,” explained Jones. “Pushing gives me more control over my baits and allows me to make turns quickly and follow bottom contours. I like my baits 14 feet from me, instead of 150 feet from me, because I have more control.”
Jones and Surface use the B’n’M BGJP most of the time when pushing. “It is really a jigging pole,” explains Jones, “Nevertheless they are very suitable for our way of fishing. The sensitive tip allows you to feel the action of the bait and alert you to the bite. I fish with a finger on each pole and can tell the difference between bumping a stick and getting a bite. When trolling open water 14 footers are easier to handle, they keep baits far enough away from the boat, and we can cover plenty of water.”
Fishing brush piles is a slightly different presentation and a shorter rod works better. “When we target brush piles or other small areas we use 12-foot rods because you can tuck them in tighter to the structure where the crappie are likely to be.”
Shallow water changes the choice of pole length too. “If we are fishing real shallow water we like to go to 15 footers just to get the baits out there further from the boat. The shallow water fish can be spookier and distance from the boat makes a big difference.”
There are applications where an even longer rod that delivers a stealthy approach would come into play. “I have fished 20-foot rods before when fishing shallow water, spooky fish. It is a lot of rod to handle and makes landing a little more difficult, but sometimes it is what you need.”
Jones gave an example of fishing lily pads in Reelfoot Lake, TN. “We were fishing in the lily pad stems. It is hard to move a lot when the vegetation is thick and the pads are coming up to bloom. We could set those 20 footers out, Power Pole down, and set in one spot. With 20-foot poles set around the boat we could cover 60 foot of water. We were using corks, so just setting there, even in the wind, allowed us to target some quality fish.”
If you get to your destination and find out the fish like a fast presentation it calls for a different pole to do it right. “Sometimes they like it faster, and that means power trolling,” said Jones.
Power trolling is pushing out the front, but faster. It is often used when the fish are not schooled, but scattered. Instead of pushing at .4 or .5 MPH, power trolling will be moving the bait at .8 or above. “We would be using bigger weights and stiffer rods,” said Jones. The B’n’M Pro Staff Poles are his rod of choice for power trolling.
The stiffer action of the Pro Staff rods will handle a heavier weight and keep the line vertical, even at the higher speeds. “If I am travelling at least .8 MPH I consider it power trolling. The Pro Staff rods still give me the sensitivity I need. I have used them successfully up to 1.4 MPH. You gotta ‘ give the fish what they want.”
Jigging in Lily Pads or Grass
If the fish are in the pads you are going to be holding a rod and reel all day long and you don’t want it to be too heavy. In fact, tournament anglers are likely to hold one pole in each hand. “We basically two-pole if we are tournament fishing,” said Jones.
“If the fish are in the pads a pole in each hand is the way to go. Fishing the lily pads with two jigging poles and catching 2 ½ pound fish is definitely an exciting way to catch crappie. We use 12-foot rear-seat B’n’M Buck’s Best Ultra-Lite poles for jigging.” The Ultra-Lite’s have a touch system that allows anglers to place their fingers on the blank and fee the lightest of bites.
“Holding 2 rods all day long can be tiring,” says Jones. “Those Ultra-Lites are, I think, the lightest jigging pole they make. You gotta’ have a light pole when you are holding 2 of them for for 8 hours.”
Long lining is another multiple pole strategy that catches a lot of crappie. In fact, where legal, many crappie anglers will push out the front and pull out the back at the same time.
The Jones and Surface American Ethanol wrapped boat is equipped with Tite-Lok rod holders to fish staggered rods out the back. Instead of a single length B’n’M rod this method requires 4 different lengths to keep the lines from tangling. “We use Pro Staff Trolling Rods in four different lengths. We place the longest rods on the outside holders and move in toward the motor with successively shorter rods,” explained Jones. My preference is to use 14-foot, 12-foot, 10-foot and 8-foot rods. This combination results in a nice separation, covers plenty of water and keeps tangles to a minimum.”
The Muddy Water team usually ties on a double jig rig, depending on how deep they want to fish. Then they use their Minn Kota trolling motor to control speed. “The bait is much smaller in Florida than other places we fish, a lot smaller,” said Surface. “You are always adapting to the conditions. In Florida we use two 1/32 or 1/16 ounce jigs. The double rig covers 2 levels in the water column. Back home those jigs will be bigger.”
Savvy crappie anglers know it is important to find the suspended depth of the crappie and then presenting your baits above that level. “Here in Florida we are catching most of our fish in 6 to 7 foot of water with the fish suspended from 2 to 4 feet deep,” noted Surface. “We are running along at about .8 or .9 MPH to keep those baits up where we want them.”
“We were finding fish on humps in deeper water,” explained Surface. “Sometimes you had to slow down and sometimes you had to speed up.” Jones chimed in saying, “The most important thing about long lining is speed. It controls the depth of the bait.”
Under the right conditions dock shooting can be very productive and an important part of a tournament strategy. Jones and Surface did not find a lot of crappie on the docks in Florida, but did find a few. “The good thing,” said jones, “we can hit docks pretty quick and determine if they are holding fish. If we can find a couple docks in practice where we can catch a couple good ones on tournament day it can help our weight.”
B’n’M pro staffer and originator of Muddy Water Baits, Travis Bunting, is an expert dock shooter. “We use a 6-foot 6-inch B’n’M Bucks Graphite Spinning Rod,” said Bunting. “This rod has a good backbone and a flexible tip to load and shoot. In the winter we spray a little Blakemore Reel Magic on our line. It helps peel that line off faster, which gives you more distance and accurate casts.”
Bunting begins his cast just like you would any cast with a spinning reel by opening the bail and placing the line under the index finger. “What I like to do is have the jighead about a foot above the reel without any tension on the rod. I grab the bend in the hook and pull it back behind the reel to load the rod. With the tension now on the rod you let the jighead go. As the jig passes your hand, release the line from under your finger.”
This procedure makes the bait skip across the water and up under the dock. He differentiates between skipping and jumping. A jumping lure rises higher above the surface. “You don’t want it to jump because it may hit the dock or even go up on top and you have wasted a cast.”
Poles are not the only important equipment for dock shooting. Humminbird Side Imaging allows anglers to run down the docks to determine which docks to fish. “You can say that one’s got em’, them three don’t,” said Bunting. “You know exactly where you are going to catch fish and it cuts your searching time in half or more than half.”
With all the special equipment available to crappie anglers it is almost ironic that it is really a simple sport that still works well with a cane pole and bobber. Like other sports, however, it has advanced with modern technology and the recognition that crappie anglers are passionate about their sport. They are interested in almost anything that will help them catch more and bigger crappie. Companies like B’n’M Poles has recognized that passion and have delivered what the crappie anglers want.
Given those various ways to catch crappie discussed above and the specialized equipment to match the methods, it is no wonder that Jones referred to the “nightmare” of planning a tournament road trip. If anglers carried just the necessary poles to fish the methods listed it would require 54 rods and that doesn’t count a spare or two, which most anglers carry, in case one breaks.
Jones and Surface are sponsored by American Ethanol, B’n’M Poles, Phoenix Boats, Minn Kota, Mercury Motors, Tite-lok Rod Holders, Power Pole, Quantum, Muddy Water Baits, Engel Coolers and the Missouri Goldfish Hatchery.