When it comes to crappie, most anglers are going to assume the only way to catch them is with rod-in-hand presentations. Actually, these panfish are very susceptible to trolling tactics and that goes double for adult-sized fish. Both species of crappie are aggressive predators that are commonly found in large open water schools. Targeting these fish with “pint sized” panfish trolling rigs can be the fast track to success!

Understanding Crappie

Crappies are unique among panfish in that these popular species inhabit a wide range of waters and habitat types. In bodies of water that feature pelagic forage species, crappie are as likely to be found suspended in the water column as walleye!

Some of the most abundant pelagic forage species found in the Great Lakes region include emerald shiners and gizzard shad. Both of these forage fish commonly find their way into the stomach contents of white and black crappie.

Crappie will typically suspend below schools of shiners or shad, forcing these bait fish to the surface where escape is limited. Often, the baitfish will be found boiling on the surface. Gulls and other water birds routinely give away the location of these bait balls as they gather and dive for an easy meal.

Sonar Tips

Because schools of bait and crappie are often found near the surface, traditional broad beam sonar isn’t the best way to search for fish. Side imagine technology such as Garmin’s SideVu does a better job of locating both bait and fish when searching for productive fishing spots.

Side imaging transducers can be located at the back of the boat, but mounting side imaging to a bow mounted electric motor is one of the most efficient methods of scouting out prime fishing waters. Using the electric motor to silently slip along while studying the water on both sides of the boat is one of the most efficient means of locating suspended bait and panfish.

It’s important to note, however, unlike broad beam sonar that will mark fish at fairly high rates of speed, side imaging works best at normal trolling speeds.

Jig Trolling

In many places where crappies are common, anglers refer to jig trolling as “pulling” or “long-lining.” Regardless of the name used to describe this presentation, trolling small jigs is one of the simplest yet effective ways of targeting crappie.

A bow mounted auto-pilot style electric motor is the ideal tool for long-lining crappie jigs. Not only are electric motors the most stealthy approach, most models make it easy to facilitate small and very accurate changes to trolling speed. Auto-pilot electric motors are also useful in holding a course heading, to duplicate productive trolling passes or to drive to a desired waypoint.

The majority of crappie are going to be caught using three different jig sizes, including 1/32, 1/16 or 1/8 ounce models. These jigs should feature a long shank and plastic keeper of sorts to hold soft plastics securely in place on the hook shank.

The most popular plastics include 2-inch twister tails and paddle tails, but a host of other small plastics will catch fish. To facilitate running multiple rods, some creative rod holder set ups are used. Banks of rod holders mounted near the back of the boat make it possible to fish 2, 3 or even 4 rods out the back of the boat from each side of the boat.

An eight-rod spread will catch lots of fish, but many avid crappie anglers run 10 or more rods by staggering the length of the rods used to help create more separation between each line and also to cover a wider swath of water with each trolling pass.

Because long-lining presents many different lines in close proximity to one another, it helps to spool up with a high-visibility monofilament line. Using a high-visibility line makes it easier to set lines and fight fish without getting tangled, but it’s not a good idea to tie a high-visibility main line directly to the jig.

To create an invisible jig-to-line termination, a five or six-foot length of clear fluorocarbon line is added to the end of the main line. A double uni-knot is a good means of tying clear leader material to the main line. For most crappie long-lining situations, a six-pound test main line is ideal. Monofilament line is preferred for long-lining because when tangles occur, and they will, monofilament is more forgiving than super braids that, once tangled can be nearly impossible to untangle.

For those anglers who are wondering how deep a jig will fish on various lead lengths and trolling speeds, the Precision Trolling Data phone app includes invaluable data for the most common jig sizes and trolling speeds.

Crankbait Trolling

Diving style crankbaits are another popular lure for targeting crappie. The beauty of crankbaits is they can be used to easily target a wealth of water depths simply by manipulating lead lengths.

A host of different crankbaits will catch crappie. Just a few of the baits that consistently work well include the Berkley Flicker Shad, 5, 6 and 7, the Rapala Shad Rap No. 5, the Yakima Bait Mag Lip No. 2.5 and 3.0, the Vexan Rattlin’ Wasp 4 and Wasp 5, the Salmo Hornet 5 and the Johnson Crappie Buster Shad 5 and 6.5. All of these lures are compact and feature great action at slow to moderate trolling speeds.

All of these lures are best fished on 10-pound test monofilament and in combination with in-line trolling boards like the Off Shore Tackle Awesome Crappie Board. The Awesome Crappie Board was designed with crappie trolling in mind. The modest size of this popular board is ideal for trolling smaller baits and also allows anglers to fish using spinning tackle instead of traditional trolling rods.

Another advantage of trolling with these “pint-sized” in-line boards is they make it easy to tell when a fish is hooked. Even a modest fish will pull on the board, making it obvious that a fish has been hooked.

Once a fish has been hooked, a quick snap of the rod tip will trip the line from the OR10 line release mounted to the tow arm of the board. This rigging configuration makes it easy to release the board from planing, while keeping the board attached to the line thanks to the OR16 Snap Weight Clip mounted to the back of the board.

During the fight, the board and fish are reeled in together until the board can be removed from the line. Affordable, lightweight and easy to use, in-line boards are a useful tool for crappie trolling.

Summing It Up

Crappies are one of those species rarely associated with trolling. Ironically, crappie are aggressive predators that are especially vulnerable to trolling tactics. Getting started trolling for crappie is easy.
A modest assortment of jigs and soft plastics, some diving crankbaits, spinning rods and a few in-line planer boards is all it takes to put the hurt on some slab crappie.