Trolling for crappie is a great way to catch crappie in the summer. I grew up mostly fishing for crappie with a bobber, gold hook and a tuffy minnow. Brush piles in the spring and then throughout the rest of the summer with a little drifting which helped get those suspended crappie that were scattered throughout the lake. Recently, since relocating to the mid-west, I have found that many of the small lakes are often structureless. Crappie are structure oriented and that structure can be many things. Points, drop-offs and ledges often hold piles of Crappie.
In my search for hidden structures I was noticing large schools of baitfish suspended in the deepest part of the lake. With these suspended baitfish, shad in particular, was following packs of fish. I finally decided to try to catch some of these fish and hopefully have fresh crappie for dinner. I got my gold hooks out and bought some tuffy minnows and quickly found that most of the fish I was seeing on the depth finder were indeed crappie with a few white bass thrown in. The trouble was I was catching lots of small crappie and many of them were stealing my minnows which can get expensive when none of the crappie are big enough for the box.
The other problem was staying with the constantly darting baitfish. I had observed that there were several balls of bait in the area but to try to stay with one was aggravating. There had to be a better way. I finally decided I would try to troll for crappie through the area with the baitfish. Most crappie anglers have heard of or did some sort of trolling for crappie which usually means spider-rigging or just slowly moving around with the electric trolling motor. This is essentially what I was doing when I was chasing the bait with my gold hook and tuffy minnow. I remember trolling for crappie with my dad in the summer, when the crappie was suspended. I also remember well the size of the crappie we caught on those Hellbender plugs, always a giant slab crappie. I decided to downsize the bait from those old days and start trolling. Today, trolling for crappie is even better as you have many choices in sizes, depths and colors to choose from in a crankbait.
My set-up starts with an 8hp kicker motor and GPS for keeping the correct speed. I have found that speed is a factor when trolling for crappie and you need a way to regulate it as current and winds will effect that speed more than you think a GPS is the only accurate way to monitor your speed since it is not effected by those things. I have had crappie bite at 1.5mph all the way up to 2.2mph. You can use your electric trolling motor but at these speeds I just prefer to run the kicker to save the batteries.
I start by locating schools of baitfish on the fish finder. They can be along the shore but you will find them suspended in open water. The depth can be 40 feet and the crappie may be at 6 feet. I have actually been trolling for crappie so shallow that the kicker motor was spooking them and I had to let out a lot of line to get the crankbait back far enough that the fish had time to recover before the crankbait got to them. I have yet to do it but I plan to utilize side planers in the future to help with this problem. Don't think that crappie aren't shallow in the winter. I just went out a few weeks ago, mid-november, and was trolling for crappie in four feet of water. It can be difficult to figure this out when you are marking fish at 10 feet and nothing shallower. What happens is the boat spooks these shallow crappie and you won't see them on the fish finder. If you are dragging 8 and 10 foot running crankbaits through those fish but are not getting bites then on the one rod with a 4 foot running crankbait begins to get bites the deeper fish may not be feeding and you need to change all your baits to a little shallower. I usually leave one rod with a deep running bait because those deep crappie might turn on and besides that I like to have a chance at a nice Walleye while I am at it.
Rod holders are a must so you can test various depths and colors to narrow down the winning combination. When trolling with crankbaits an ultra light rod just isn't enough. You need to go with a medium light at least and maybe even a medium weight rod with at least 8lb test. I have landed many types of fish while trolling for crappie to include some pretty big catfish so you want to be prepared for anything. Trolling for crappie has drastically reduced the small fish that was always stealing my bait or just too small to keep which to me is a waste of my time when I could be catching keeper crappie instead and trolling for crappie has allowed me to do that.
When trolling for crappie you should experiment with colors and depths as well as speed and amount of line behind the boat, all of these factors can play a part in your success. When you are trolling for crappie look for a color and/or depth that is continuously getting more bites and set up the other rods to match and have fun filling the livewell with nice crappie and remember the location as it more than likely will produce over and over again year after year. Good luck my fellow crappie anglers and give trolling for crappie a try this summer..
Trolling For Crappie Advantages
Crappie spend a lot of their time suspended over deep water. Sometimes they are relating to cover like standing timber or stumps but oftentimes crappie are found to just be cruising and relating only to baitfish. Whether the crappie schools are relating to cover or not trolling can be the best way to catch these suspended crappie. Many times as you are trolling and catching crappie you stumble upon multiple schools of crappie. This is great because you can actually be catching crappie from several different schools in a relatively small area. The advantage of this of course is the fact that when you hook one crappie you just keep trolling to your next school. This proves to be very efficient, much more so than having to circle back to troll through the same school each time you catch one. Another advantage is that when you catch a crappie out of a school they tend to scatter and it might take a couple passes to get another bite. With multiple schools the crappie will scatter but will have time to school back up while you catch crappie from the other schools.
There are a few little tricks to trolling for crappie that will help you catch more crappie and I would be glad to answer any of your questions just drop me an email with trolling for crappie questions and I will be glad to help. Trolling for crappie is effective during the entire season except maybe during the spawn and can help you to continue catching crappie all year long even when others have given up.
Trolling For Crappie Electric Or Gas Power
Trolling is a great way to catch crappie and there are many ways to troll whether it be with electric motor or a kicker motor. I like to troll for crappie with a kicker motor because I don’t like to run my batteries that hard. One way to easily troll with a kicker motor (a small auxiliary motor on the back of your boat independent to the main motor) is to lock the kicker straight ahead and use the trolling motor to steer. Minn Kota leads the way in technology which allows you to steer your trolling motor either by a wired remote foot control from the back of the boat,up to 18 feet standard, and steer the front of the boat by turning the trolling motor with this remote. You can also use a wireless remote but even more impressive is the Minn Kota GPS technology that allows you to lock in a track and troll the same route over and over. This is a great way to troll hands free and tend to those slabs that often accompany this type of fishing. You can use the Minn Kota trolling motor alone to troll for crappie and it would be a lot more quiet and I would say more enjoyable as well. Trolling for crappie is just like any other fishing technique you have to do it to learn the many aspects involved.
I wanted to pick your brain a little about trolling for crappie.
First, is this anytime of year or just summer and winter? Those are the times I would expect to find crappie in water 40 ft. deep.
Below is a chart for your use. It shows the depth that a bandit crankbait will run given the amount of line you let out behind your boat. The chart is based on 10LB test line at 1.6 MPH so depth will vary with line diameter and boat speed but this will get you started with trolling for crappie with crankbaits. This chart covers the Bandit 200 & 300 series crankbaits.