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Thread: Trolling Crank Baits for Black Crappies!!!

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    Default Trolling Crank Baits for Black Crappies!!!

    So letís get one thing straight right off the bat. Iím a guy that likes to troll. I grew up doing it on the pristine waters of Northern Ontario, the Manistee River in Michigan, the Great Lakes, and many inland lakes, rivers, streams, and tributaries. If there is a way to catch fish trolling, rest assured that Iím going to try and find a way to do it!

    Just because I like to troll (okay, maybe I love to troll), doesnít mean that I canít and donít fish by other methods. Yes, I like fishing with a bobber or float, I like jigging (to an extent), casting, pitching, flipping, and all the other stuff that goes along with fishing. I would even go as far to say that I am pretty good at it. All that being said, I still like/love trolling more than all of those fishing techniques combined.

    If I had to put my finger on why I like/love it so much, I would have to say that, for me, it is visual. Some guys like to feel the bite. For me, I like to see it. Whether it be a salmon ripping a line out of a downrigger release, a fish peeling line off from a dipsy diver, or an Off Shore Planer Board flag dancing and the board falling out of line, I like/love it all. I have done it so much that I can usually tell a bite long before others even see it. Iíve stared and studied these techniques for so long that I am not looking for a bite, but rather something that is different compared to the rest.

    Another reason I like/love trolling: You can fish with a ton more rods and equipment which helps you narrow down what the fish are looking for. Casting a jig only gives me one option at a time. In Michigan we can use 3 rods per person. That gives me three different presentations to help narrow down what the fish are looking for. I can cover a ton of water trolling and zero in on active pods of fish much quicker than I can with a slip bobber and minnow. Did I mention that I like/love trolling?

    Iím always amazed at the amount and size of crappies that guys are catching while pulling, pushing, or trolling crank baits. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of those fish are of the white crappie variety. Something that Michigan waters is lacking to say the least. Iíve asked numerous trolling guys about black crappie trolling and I always get similar answers. Yes, you can catch them, but they are far tougher to target than white crappies. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know what it took. I wanted to beat the system. Heck, I just wanted to troll. Did I mention that I like/love to troll?

    Last year I was preparing for a walleye tournament on an inland lake. While studying the days catch results with our sister team, we both came across something that seemed odd, different, or out of place. We both had caught one or two crappies. Black crappies to be exact. And these were no slouch fish either. Mind you we were targeting walleyes with rather large crank baits. Over the course of the week and the tournament days, we boated a few more crappies here and there. For a while, I shelved the information for a later day.

    While doing some shopping at a bait and tackle store, I came across a display of small Berkley Flicker Shad. Size 5 to be exact. To tell you that I have a crankbait problem would be an understatement. Did I mention that I like/love trolling? Unlike some people that might see it as ďjust another baitĒ I look at things as an opportunity. What problems have I had in the past that these baits might eliminate? What could I do with these baits that I couldnít do with other baits in my arsenal?
    My mind was drawn back to walleye fishing that one particular lake. The walleye were seeking shelter and cover inside heavy vegetation. Our strategy for the week was to pull crankbaits next to and overtop of weed edges. A strategy that had both of our boats in the top 15 (one in the top 8) on day one and both of us finishing strong in the top 20. The problem we had was that many of our baits were much too large for this body of water. They were sizes that the fish were not used to seeing. The other and bigger issue was that our baits dove much too deep. We spent countless hours cleaning weeds off from baits to keep them running. Could these baits be the answer to the problem? Did I buy them?

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    When it was announced last fall that we would be going back to the exact same lake for our 2018 spring/summer Michigan Crappie Camp, my mind was transformed back to those baits that I had safely tucked away in my box for future use. Could I go out and target black crappies using the same strategy that I used to catch walleyes and a few accidental catches of black crappies? I didnít know the answer to that question but I aimed to find out!

    One thing I have noticed over the years as a tournament walleye angler and an avid crappie fisherman is that both species tend to reside in the same location regarding inland waters in Michigan. Unlike white crappies that might be spread out over top of deep water pockets, river channels, and vast flats, black crappies associate with structure. Sunken trees, submerged weed beds, and floating vegetation to name a few. Iíve played around with trolling jig heads and planer boards next to floating vegetation and had pretty good success but Iíve never really found a way to buzz the top of submerged weeds to coax crappies out and bite. At least while trolling. Did I mention that I like/love to troll?

    On our first night on the water we set out to an area we utilized the previous year in a tournament. This was not the area were we caught any crappies the previous year. We started out our trolling program with these tiny little crank baits pulling them behind Off Shore Tackle OR12 Planer Boards equipment with tattle flag systems. It didnít take us long to find the walleyes:

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    Surprisingly, we also found the crappies. There were there the whole time the previous year. We just never caught them due to the size of our baits. My plan was working:

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    At the end of the evening (about 2 hours) we ended up with a decent number of different species of fish. All of them were caught utilizing my trolling system of Off Shore Planer boards and Berkley Size 5 Flicker Shad. We had so much success with mixed bag trolling during our week long stay that I had enough data, photos, and information to write a different article for another publication.

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    On our second day on the lake, we set out to the area we had previously caught our ďaccidentalĒ crappies the year prior. Were the fish there? You bet they were there. And they were hungry. They would come out of the submerged vegetation and smash those tiny little crank baits! They were hiding in the exact same structure as pike, walleye, bass, perch, and many other species.

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    Over the course of our week long trip we put several black crappies in the livewell. The fun thing about this style of fishing is that we were targeting crappies, but we were also targeting many other varieties of fish. All of which hit while using this system.

    Sometimes, tournament fishing isnít about what you learned while pre-fishing an area, but using the knowledge you have gained while fishing over the course of your lifetime. If I wouldnít have caught those crappies while preparing for a tournament I never would have figured out how to target them in the future. Additionally, I never would have had the idea to purchase smaller diving baits to run over top of weeds. A new tactic that will pay huge rewards in future walleye tournaments. Yes, I had an idea that it would work for crappies, but I was also testing and evaluating tactics for the future. I think I keyed on something!

    Can you catch black crappies while trolling? Heck yes you can! You just have to know where to go to target them, how to get your bait to the right location, and the right presentation. Black crappies love structure. Donít be afraid to try different shallow diving baits to run over top of submerged vegetation. Use planer boards to get your baits right up to the side of floating lily pads or over top of submerged logs, trees, or other structure. The black crappies WILL hit a crank bait. You just have to find the right size bait for the area you intend to fish. Your running speed will depend on how fast the fish want the bait or how far you want them to dive. I can tell you that I caught them trolling speeds under 1mph and in excess of 2.2 mph! If they want it, and they are hungry, they are going to hit it!

    Did I mention that I like/love to troll?

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    I have OCD "Obsessive Crappie Disorder"

  2. #2
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    Interesting reading.

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    Very cool. Thanks for sharing. I bought the number 5 flickers for the same reason (plus some Arkies and Bandits). We caught two crappie on Houghton with the flickers last weekend. I'll be on my "home lake" the entire first week of July where I will more specifically target crappie. I typically have success trolling shad bodies, tubes, and other styles of jigs but this year I'm going to give the cranks a fair shot. I'll post back with results and findings. I'd be great to have a refined black crappie crankbait technique.

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    The attached map is a couple of our hotspots on this lake.

    The part with the two red lines is out infront of the DNR south launch out of down town. We call it the sunken islands because of all of the island locations. This is the best spot I have found for trolling crappies.

    The hole in front of the West launch (one red line) is a great one for walleyes but has been good for crappies the last week or so. I was meaning to get over to East Bay to try some cranks but never got around to it. I know that more crappies hold up over in that area.

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    I have OCD "Obsessive Crappie Disorder"
    Likes "D", Just Steve LIKED above post

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    Good job! Great read! Thanks for sharing!

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    Great read. Thanks for sharing rich.
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    ​Great post and pics, thanks Rich.
    Pass the "Sportsman Baton" on before you're gone, promote values for others to hunt and fish upon.

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    Thanks Rich. That was a nice write up and great sharing. But mostly I enjoy seeing that cute daughter of y'alls growing up. Abbey is adorable. Mae says hay and we look forward to seeing you guys again.
    Member Team Overalls....Traveling Chapter

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    Thanks Danny. There are not very many photos of me floating around on crappie dot com (there are a few). But, as you have said, you can pretty much watch my daughter grow up in front of your eyes if you search back at all the pictures of her! That last picture was taken with intentions. Notice the product placements! You "might" see that photo in a publication soon
    I have OCD "Obsessive Crappie Disorder"
    Likes "D" LIKED above post

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    Quote Originally Posted by wicklundrh View Post
    That last picture was taken with intentions. Notice the product placements! You "might" see that photo in a publication soon
    Let us know if it does, I'd lie to see it.

    Good article Rich
    2017 MiCDC fall crappie guide of the year (FCGOTY)
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