Here in the Midwest we tend to associate trolling with game fish like walleye and muskies; seldom do we ever consider panfish. Sure, every once in a while you may hook a White Bass or Crappie with eyes seemingly bigger than its stomach, but that's about the extent of your contact with panfish. Well, what if you downsized your tackle to specifically target those panfish? Would it work?
Madison Angling Experience Guide Dustin Murphy with a spring Crappie
Trolling for Crappies is an especially popular technique in the South. Using a combination of spider rigging and running flat lines/planer boards one can cover a LOT of water to help narrow down concentrations of scattered fish. Up here, the Crappies tend to follow secondary (deep) weed edges prior to moving into the shallows for the spawn, making them very predictable. By trolling, one can cover large stretches of weed edges with staggered depths and multiple different offerings to narrow down the hot presentation.
Madison Angling Experience Guide Noah Humfeld with a Crappie caught jigging in an area of concentrated fish found by trolling
The real beauty of this trolling application is in the tackle itself. Generally speaking when fishing with planer boards the ideal rod is between 7 and 9 feet long, medium power, with a line counter reel. Tack on a planer board and you are looking at some serious $$$. For spring crappie trolling you can get away with using your favorite 6.5' to 7.5' spinning rod spooled with 6-8lb test monofilament and an Offshore Tackle OR35 Mini Planer Board. Since the primary presentation is trolling jigs, there is no need for heavy tackle!
Offshore Tackle's OR34 Side Planer is a more "budget friendly" option
On the business end of the lines comes the most simple part of the whole rig: a jig. By far the single best jig for Crappie trolling, especially in and around weeds is the Bait Rigs Slo-Poke, tipped with either Berkley Gulp! minnows or a live Fathead/Crappie minnow. The size of the jig will depend on your speed and desired depth at which you want to run the bait. At around 0.5 to 0.8 mph a 1/8oz Slo-Poke can get down to about 10 feet with 30 feet of line between it and the mini planer board. Also, if you find that you are dealing with excessive line twist, employ the use of a small barrel swivel a few feet above the jig.
Bait Rigs Slo-Poke jigs
As with most inline planer board trolling, when the fish hits the bait the board will "drop back". Simply pull the rod out of the holder (if you aren't already holding it) and with a long, wide sweeping motion slowly set the hook. Don't set the hook TOO hard as Crappies have very delicate mouths. Maintaining consistent pressure all the way to the boat is key to keeping these fish hooked up. Once the board is to the boat, un-clip it and fight it in like you would any other Crappie. It's that easy! This is also a great technique for locating schools of crappies on outer weed edges so you can go back and hammer them by jigging or slip bobbering. Want to try something new that will blow people's minds this spring? Give this technique a shot!