THE ULTIMATE CRAPPIE LURE
by Jim Porter
"That’s a good one," stated Harry Stressel, as he set the hook into another slab Crappie. "I’m telling you, you better change over to one of these jigs before I catch them all."
My long-time friend (who also preceded me as the host of the Alabama Outdoors television series) was ribbing me pretty good at this point, having boated seven nice fish while I was yet to get a strike. While the Crappie is one of the tastiest of our fresh water table fare, I, usually, consider him to be one of the dumbest fish that swims. Normally, he will hit most any small lure thrown his way and will do so year round. However, on this given day, he seemed to have a specific jig in mind and nothing I did would change it.
We’d started out for a day of North Alabama bassin’, both of us being very familiar with Lake Guntersville. Visions of Springtime surface action and red, flaring gills had been on our minds all week and Harry had finally managed a break in his schedule to go. After some three hours of flailing the water without so much as a strike, Harry asked, "Why don’t we forget this stuff and go catch some spawning Crappie? They are up in the grass beds and extremely aggressive right now."
A few minutes and a couple of miles down the lake found us setting off the side of one of the giant beds of milfoil grass Guntersville has in such abundance. Switching over to ultra-light outfits, with six pound line, we began casting to the edge of the matted vegetation. As previously noted, my partner started off with a bang, while my small in-line spinner lure seemed totally jinxed. By the time I had finally managed to connect with a pair of the silver-sided fighters, Harry was well on his way to a full live well. The only difference between the two of us was the jig, and I have since found out why my partner was doing so well. Harry Stressel was casting the ultimate Crappie lure.
Since being introduced to the Crappie jig, I have found it to be the most consistent and versatile method for taking these fish that has ever be devised. Additionally, it has become quite clear that this dynamite bait is no secret to many dedicated Crappie anglers. Take a close look at your local fishermen who are continually successful with this fine fish and I’ll bet a used minnow bucket that the jig is their overwhelming lure choice.
Unlike many other artificial lures, the jig is not seasonal and normally produces year-round. The location it is fished and the manner of presentation vary according to the time of year, but the lure, itself, is consistent.
Crappie jigs come in many styles—some made with hair, others of synthetic fibers, and a large variety consisting of a formed plastic body. This latter type has consistently proven to be the better of the styles, particularly those with a ribbon-like tail providing a lifelike, swimming appearance. These, we refer to as ‘twister-tail’ jigs. Those with a short, solid tail (‘beetle-spin’ style) also work well when a smaller version is needed.
As might be expected with any fishing lure, jig color is a lively and strongly debated topic. Significant experience has shown that green, chartreuse, white and yellow, in that order, are the more productive colors. However, it should be noted that water clarity seems to have a decided impact on a color’s effectiveness. In clear water, for example, chartreuse seems to be the top producer, while for stained or dingy conditions, yellow and white are the choices. After a rather lengthy discussion with my partner, Harry, that fateful day, it was concluded that color preference may be more a factor for the fisherman than for the fish. Given a vote for one year round color, however, the lime green would win.
Equipment selections for fishing the Crappie jig can be critical, in that a keen sense of touch is often required to detect the soft strike of the fish. Light spinning gear and four to six pound lines are suggested, with line size being chosen to match the weight of the lure configuration and the wind conditions. The new fused lines (Berkeley’s Fireline and Spiderwire’s Fusion) are extremely well suited for this light lure fishing. I use the Fireline in the 10-pound test (4 -pound monofilament equivalent) and it lets be cast with the ease of a small line while assuring I will not lose fish nor lures due to any line breakage.
Ultra-light, graphite rods are preferred for sensitivity, with the explicit comment that too soft a rod will interfere significantly with being able to detect the strike. We would strongly recommend using a high visibility line, even to the point of the high contrast, such as gold-colored Stren. Line watching plays a very important part in fishing the jig for Crappie. A LARGE percentage of the time you may not feel the strike, and the only indication will be a sudden slackness in the line or a movement to one side or the other. Persistent line watching will put many more fish in the boat. Another major point to be emphasized is that the rod and reel combination should be as light in weight as possible, in order to enhance the angler’s ‘feel’ of the lure and the fish.
Presentation methods for the Crappie jig vary with WHERE and WHEN you are fishing. When rigged with a standard jig head, weight is a prime consideration. The most commonly used head size is one-eighth ounce; however, this depends on the depth being fished and the wind conditions. In very shallow areas, 1/16th ounce, and even as small 1/32 ounce, are often appropriate. (If you are using the small 1-inch beetle tail-less body, you will probably find the 1/16th best.)
In the Winter, when the Crappie are deep and rather slow, a one-quarter ounce head may be the standard in order to keep it near the bottom. When the Crappie are found in the thicker cover areas, such as during the spawn, the twister-tail plastic body is more often affixed to a safety pin-style spinner, a la ‘beetle spin’ configuration. This, it is noted, allows the lure to be reasonably weedless and make its way through the cover successfully. Another point for the spinner rig is that it seems to attract the aggressive spawning fish more readily than the jig alone.
Additionally, when the plastic body is placed on the jig head, the curl of the tail (if it is a swimming tail version) should always be in the UP position. There were two reasons for this. First, it helps to make the lure a bit weedless when falling through the cover. Second, and most important, as the lure drags across obstructions, the fragile tail, in the up position, is less likely to snag and be broken off.
Actual placement of the jig during casting should be as close to the cover as possible. Ideally, if the cover is sufficiently open, we should cast beyond or into it. Bumping the cover during the retrieve can be a real turn-on for the fish, drawing many strikes as the lure comes over the obstruction and then starts to fall. Crappie relating to brush and grass during their spawning season will get deep into it, to the extent that the flipping technique, as done in bassin’, can be very effective. The twister tail jig is well suited for this due to the swimming action of the tail as it sinks. When using this form of presentation, we are advised to use a very light jig head to slow the fall of the lure and to watch closely for the strike while the lure is descending.
In evaluating the types of retrieve deemed most effective, a slow and steady method is the overwhelming choice. It is strongly emphasized that the jig should be given no angler-induced action whatever. The flowing, ribbon tail of the twister jig body provides an excellent, lifelike appearance and requires no other input from the fisherman. The lure is allowed to sink to the selected depth and then slowly brought back to the boat in a steady manner. The drag created by the fluttering tail provides the angler the necessary degree of contact with, and control of, the jig. Close attention should be paid to the lure while it is sinking, in that many of the strikes will come at this time. The normal indication of a strike, whether on the drop or steady retrieve, will either be a slight bump followed by a sudden slack line, or simply a gradual tightening and movement of the line. In either case, set the hook with a light, quick snap of the wrist.
While the slow and steady retrieve is employed the vast majority of the time, there is a suggested variation for Winter fishing in deeper waters. Using a heavy jig head, the lure is allowed to sink to the bottom, paying close attention for a strike on the fall. It is then retrieved with short, upwards strokes of the rod, allowing the jig to fall back to the bottom after each. In nearly every instance, the strike will come as the lure is dropping back to the bottom and the heavier jig head and a sensitive touch are, therefore, required.
While the live bait purists may scoff at using artificials, the fact is that the jig catches many more Crappie. One specific reason is its versatility, in that it can be effectively cast to a target area, is not normally damaged by snags, and saves the time otherwise devoted to re-baiting the hook. Another is that we can cover the water more rapidly and efficiently until we locate the fish. For those of us on a budget, the twister tail jig is also a lot more economical than buying a big bucket of minnows every outing.
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