Four of the Midwest’s top crappie fishing pros were assembled over the weekend at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show where they were the keynote speakers at an “Ask the Pros” panel. I was fortunate to moderate the panel, because I’m an avid crappie angler myself and I had a front-row seat for the fishing clinic these guys provided.
Regional favorites Phil Rambo of Indiana and Russ Bailey of Ohio were joined by national crappie fishing celebrities Kyle Schoenherr of Illinois and Tennessee’s Ronnie Capps, who fielded questions from a hard-core crappie-fishing audience. Over the course of an hour they answered everything from where to hook a minnow to where to hold a jig when drawing back for a dock shot.
“Lightly, through the lips, always,” was Capps’ reply to the minnow-hooking question, while Bailey responded to the jig grip by advising: “Only by the head, or you’ll be sorry!” while holding up his thumb and forefinger to show the audience he had no scars to show as a result of his recommended method.
Not all agreed on certain crappie-catching subjects: Schoenherr sang the praises of braided line in certain applications while Capps could hardly sit still waiting to get in his two cents’ worth on the matter.
“I never, ever use the stuff,” said Capps about braid, adding: “unless I actually want to pull the hooks out of their mouths!”
All four panelists did agree that monofilament line was the “go-to” choice the majority of the time, mainly for its casting and stretching characteristics.
Rambo demonstrated the proper way to weight his favorite stick bobbers. “Use just enough split shot so they remain vertical, yet lay over when taken by a crappie coming up from beneath.” Meanwhile, Bailey discussed his favorite “corks,” which are so small that some are actually strike indicators used by fly anglers, can be used with jigs to shoot docks and, despite their rotund shape, still indicate when a crappie has taken the bait on the rise. “You just have to watch ‘em real close,” he explained while holding one of the jellybean-sized, foam floats aloft.
Schoenherr chimed in on the bobber subject by advising the use of string bobber stops instead of rubber stops on the line when using slip bobbers over cover. “The rubber ones can catch on branches; string stops slide right on over,” he explained. The Illinois-based angler also said that flat-sided marker buoys are better than round ones for marking brush piles. “The flat ones don’t keep unwinding with wind and waves and seem to stay in place better.” While on the matter of markers, Schoenherr stressed the importance of dropping markers and anchoring off the cover far enough to avoid spooking the crappies while close enough to allow the angler to work the entire brush pile with precision.
Capps said that side scanning sonar has “dramatically” changed crappie fishing, and is an “amazing” tool that every serious crappie angler needs. Capps added that the challenge to crappie anglers using the technology for the first time is learning how to interpret the images shown on their screen. His advice is to practice by side-scanning over waters with structure the angler knows, to help show them how the bottom features they are familiar with appear on the screen.
All four crappie panelists agreed that as ice-out occurs in local waters, crappie anglers need to run their baits as slow as possible. They also concluded that prospective crappie-catchers should target upper reaches of lakes where dark bottoms allow the sun to warm the waters to draw the first pre-spawn fish of the season—which, depending on your latitude, could be happening any day now.