by Greg McCain
In many ways, pulling crankbaits looms as an intimidating technique for catching summer crappie.
With the conglomeration of rods, lures, electronics, and other boat accessories – plus the need-to-know details about fish location, depth, boat speed, and line length – pulling cranks can be something of a daunting proposition.
The process does not have to be that way, however. In fact, those fishermen who practice the craft suggest that with just a little experience, trolling crankbaits for crappie is one of the simplest approaches available, one that is particularly lethal on those fish that have settled into summer patterns.
Perhaps the finest example comes from central Mississippi, known as one of the ultimate destinations for catching crappie in the country. Practitioners of the crankbait art abound on the Big 4 lakes – Grenada, Enid, Sardis, and Arkabutla – along the I-55 corridor.
Tim Howell of Longbranch Guide Service is one Mississippi guide who longs for pulling cranks in the summer.
“It’s the easiest, most economical way to catch fish on these Big 4 lakes,” Howell said. “There is no rhyme or reason to it. Generally, you don’t have to know the lake. There’s really no technique to it. You can just put those poles out there and go. Pull from one end of the lake to the other, and you’re going to catch fish.”
Starting in late May and running through some point in August, Howell almost exclusively pulls crankbaits for Mississippi slabs. He breaks down the presentation, simplifying the steps with basic instructions.
He begins most trips by scanning the waters he intends to troll with his side-scan technology. If the fish present themselves in sufficient numbers, he begins to deploy his lineup of eight rods. He favors ACC Crappie Stix rods, using 16, 14, 12, and eight-footers, starting with the longest on the outside.
Using Shakespeare line-counter reels, Howell lets out the longest length of line on the outside rod and places it in the first spot in his Millenium rod holders, arranged at the back of the boat parallel to each side. On certain days, the line might be let out 75 feet while on other days, the length might be double that. The depth of the fish and the speed of the boat determines line length.
Howell uses Berkley Pro-Spec Chrome 10-lb. fluorescent orange mono, which provides optimal visibility.
“Normally what I do, I start with different lengths of line until I dial in where the fish are,” Howell said. “I work from the longest poles to my shortest poles, usually in 10-foot increments.
“It could be anywhere from 75 to 140. That length puts a 300 series crankbait eight to 10 feet deep at 75 feet. Double that – 16-18 – at 150. That’s about as deep as you are going to get. I have run them at 35 feet, four-five feet deep.”
Howell normally pulls with his trolling motor, seeking speeds of 1.2 to 1.8 mph.
“Speed up to go deeper; slow down to go shallower,” he said.
Howell pays particular attention to the type and style of crankbait he uses, mainly 300 series like the Bandit, while varying slightly if the crappie act like they want something else.
“Color is paramount,” he said. “Any other time, I’m not particular about color, but I am when using crankbaits. Every single day, one color will dominate.”
Howell said pink is a consistently effective color on the Mississippi lakes, whether on a solid bait or when paired with other colors. He also mentioned red, green, blue, and black as effective producers.
“It varies from lake to lake and also varies depending on water clarity, pinks, blues, greens in clearer water,” he said. “On cloudy days, sometimes I like a solid black or maybe a solid pink. If the sun’s up high, I like a chrome bait, like a chrome clown or anything with a sparkle in it.”