Darrell Taylor column
“I’ve got a fish – but it’s not a very big,” said Erin Young. We were trolling small bass lures for white bass or walleye in an area known to hold both species.
Soon the fish came into view and Erin said, “Hey, it’s a crappie, a nice keeper, but why did we catch a crappie here, especially on a lure we use for white bass and walleye?”
It seemed odd that a crappie would be suspended 8- or 10-feet deep off the end of a submerged bar over open water, and that it bit a lure we normally used for white bass. But there were shad in the area and I had caught crappie here before while trolling.
We wrote off the experience as an accident – a quirk of nature. The incident didn’t seem to warrant any more thought or to be worthy of recording it in a fishing log.
That is, until last weekend when a television fishing show, sponsored by G3 Boats, featured Stockton Lake guide, J. R, Oldham, who regularly trolled for crappie using small bass lures.
As the program unfolded, the anglers caught numerous slab crappie while trolling in coves well away from the shoreline. Slowly the cobwebs cleared and memories of crappie I had caught while trolling ‘for anything that would bite’ began to emerge.
While fishing with family, we often use the electric motor to troll small bass-sized crankbaits from the mouth of our cove to our dock. The expectation is to catch an occasional white bass looking for a hapless shad but sometimes we caught a crappie suspended in front of the docks.
These memories plus the television experience triggered a call to Oldham, guide and owner of Anglers Midwest Lodge.
“I’ve been trolling crankbaits to catch crappie for years, it’s a method I use much of the year”, said Oldham. “Most people don’t realize how much they suspend over open water of coves.”
He is convinced trolling open water yields larger fish for two reasons. Fish in open water tend to feed on shad that are larger than typical minnows plus, during the prespawn and spawn the larger females suspend waiting to move shallow to spawn.
Oldham believes the depth they suspend is determined by the water clarity; on clear lakes like Stockton, they may hold 10- to 20-feet deep. Oldham recommends using natural shad colors for clear water and colors with purple or brown hues or maybe chartreuse for stained or turbid water.
“They suspend in the cove to feed on shad or mayflies when they hatch,” said Oldham. His go-to lure was a Frenzy Diver but Berkley discontinued their Frenzy products. “Fortunately I have a good supply laid away, but there are other lures that work well like Rapala’s Shad Rap,” he continued.
In fact, the list of lures that catch crappie trolling includes Bass Pro Shops’ Nitro Medium Crank, Bomber’s Model A, Norman’s Deep Baby N, Rapala’s Shad Rap, Rebel’s Wee-R and Deep Wee-R, Storm’s Wiggle Wart and Strike King’s Series 3.
“I’ve even caught crappie on bass jerkbaits in shallow water during the spring,” said Oldham. A claim borne out at Lake of The Ozarks where crappie regularly strike small Bass Pro Shops’ XTS Minnow, Rapala’s X-Rap XR-8 and Smithwick’s Suspending Super Rogues while anglers fish for bass.
There are times, especially during high water, that Oldham Carolina-rigs his lure to get it deeper. The rig is similar to Carolina-rigging soft plastics – a bullet weight followed by a barrel swivel then about 40-inches of line in front of the lure.
“When I troll a lot I’m using braided line like (Spectra’s) Power-Pro; for crappie I like 8-pound test. I don’t use a monofilament leader when trolling because the crappie are reacting to a lure instead of taking the time to look it over. But, if the water is really clear I go back to 6- or 8-pound test monofilament,” said Oldham.
When summer comes, he moves over deeper water but typically fishes about the same depth. If the depthfinder shows the fish are suspending deeper, he Carolina-rigs the lure to reach their depths. Also, he might use a kicker motor instead of the bow-mounted electric during this time because can be more aware of his clients needs if they are in front of him.
Oldham trolls for crappie during the prespawn, spawn, postspawn, summer and fall, up until the water temperature drops to the low 60s or upper 50s.
When asked about his favorite rod and reel for trolling, Oldham laughed and replied, “That’s easy, my favorite rod is the Outlaw Crappie Pole. I liked it so well I bought the company. And, for reels, nothing beats the U.S. Reel from St. Louis. Their spinning reel is the best on the market, bar none.”
You can see the U.S. Reels at Osage Tackle in Laurie or www.usreel.com and see Oldham’s website at www.anglersmidwest.com for Outlaw Rod dealers. Also, check out his lodge and guide service for anglers at the same website.