A veteran long-liner, crappie tournament pro Mark Williams likes to mix things up and dial in what the fish want.
So, when a friend asked him to try his locally produced crappie umbrella rig, Williams obliged — and quickly discovered the power of pulling four to six bait clusters behind his boat.
Targeting the spring aggregations of spawning crappie, he said, is always a good bet.
“I troll my rigs at .5 to .7 mph,” Williams notes. “We let (the rigs) out until they just touch the bottom, and then reel up until they’re just off the bottom.”
Williams has also fared well by pulling mini-umbrella rigs down creek channels for suspended post-spawn crappie. In either scenario, he finds that jig and tail selection play a big role in the mechanics of the rig’s presentation.
Angled swim-style heads that cut through the water with minimal resistance are the common choice for most umbrella rig-casting scenarios. But for long lining, Williams knows that the faster his rig sinks the closer to the boat he must keep it.
For optimal presentation, he goes with round 1/32-ounce Mr. Crappie jigheads and Mr. Crappie curly tail grubs.
“The extra drag and the lift that those (active tails) create help keep the baits higher in the water,” Williams said. “That enables you to keep your bait up, and it allows you to pull your baits farther back.
“I think that’s the reason long-lining is effective: You’re keeping those baits farther away from the boat. The boat has gone by and they’re not hearing trolling motor noise, the boat slap.”
Elsewhere, Pickwick Lake guide Brad Whitehead has found great success by pulling two-armed crappie rigs with a tactic known as “side trolling.”
Essentially, he mounts his trolling motor to the side of his boat rather than the common positions at the bow or stern. This enables him to position anglers at both ends of the boat and pull the tandem-style Blakemore Reality Shad Buffet Rigs across broad swaths of water.
Whitehead said he keeps a couple of Buffet Rigs tied on year-round, but the side-trolling technique seems to excel from late winter through the spring.
And deploying as many as 10 rods over a common depth range gives the crappie lots of options, while the boat’s lateral progression gives anglers at the bow and stern equal opportunity.
The key, Whitehead notes, is a brisk trolling pace of about .5 to .9 mph.
“This is a very productive way of presenting these baits,” he said. “It just ups your chances because the crappie have that one split second to decide, and they usually bite so they don’t miss (a meal). Having (up to) 20 baits in the water is pretty good odds.
“I’m covering so much water and, in my head, my odds of catching active fish are greater than sitting over them with one jig.”
Whitehead pointed to another benefit: Due to that now-or-never premise, crappie tend to hit trolled baits harder than they do static presentations, so strikes are more easily detected.