Trolling For Crappie: Pushing Versus Pulling
Phillip Gentry
Two crappie anglers who have revolutionized the tactic of tight line trolling are B’n’M pro-staffers Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman.
Pro staffers Rod Wall and his son Braxton are fans of long lining jigs from the back of the boat.
In tight lining, lines are “pushed” from rods held out in front of the boat and is frequently used to target fish holding tight to cover.
Long lining is reminiscent of age old trolling tactics where baits are pulled behind the boat and targets scattered fish

Newcomers to crappie fishing often hear two of the most popular fishing tactics used as Tight Lining and Long Lining, sometimes referred to as Pushing or Pulling. Both are trolling tactics that involve multiple rods, rod holders, and give the boat that water bug-like appearance when viewed from above, but what’s the difference between pushing lines out the front of the boat and pulling them behind the boat and how do you choose which one to use?

We could argue that the fathers of modern tight line trolling are B’n’M’s own Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman. The two would argue that a similar type of trolling for crappie has been used on Reelfoot Lake, where both crappie pros grew up, for years prior to their involvement in the sport, but it’s hard to deny the pair have definitely popularized and revolutionized the tactic.

“It’s actually pretty simple,” said Ronnie Capps. “From the fish’s perspective, he’s down there hanging out on a brush pile or a stake bed or hanging on the edge of a creek channel and suddenly here comes 16 baits right in his face.”

The benefit of tight lining is absolute depth control. Because the line is vertical in the water column with heavier weight used to keep the line at close to 90 degrees when moving, the angler can dial in the depth of the bait.

In order to keep the line and baits at precise depths, standard tight line trollers typically don’t move much faster than about .5 mph without whipping the lines back behind the boat. Some anglers will use heavier weights and bump up the trolling speed in order to cover more water in less time but the basic idea is the same.

According to Steve Coleman, tight line trolling works best when the boat is following a known line, such as the edge of a creek or river channel and the angler is targeting the drop-off and structure related to the drop-off. It’s well known that crappie use contour lines when traveling from place to place, so tight lining along a contour line is a great way to intercept fish.

“When we first started using GPS, Ronnie and I would place a waypoint on the GPS whenever we would catch a big crappie,” said Coleman. “At the end of the day, whether we were trying to follow the creek channel or not, most of the biggest fish came off the drop. That changed a lot about the way we trolled. Now we almost always follow the contour line.”

It’s hard to argue when long lining first came into existence. Fishermen have been trolling hooks behind the boat for ages. To reduce trolling to long line trolling probably came about with the advent of long rods to space the offerings out and give crappie a variety of baits in the wake of the boat.

B’n’M pro-staffer Rod Wall of Ninety Six, South Carolina fell in love with the tactic and points to it as his go-to tactic anytime crappie move from one pattern to the next.

“Long lining works best when fish are in transition,” said Wall. “Long lining also works better when crappie are relating to roving schools of baitfish than when specifically relating to structure.”

Like tight lining anglers, long liners may follow a contour line but most likely would be trolling the expanse of a flat. This allows the angler to cover more water as the average boat speed is twice that of tight lining.

“Crappie will follow a contour line, like a creek channel and that’s a great place to look for them, but active, feeding fish are often be all over a flat chasing baitfish. That’s the best situation to find crappie when you’re long lining,” said Wall.

Wall indicated that the depth of presentation when long line trolling is a function of boat speed, amount of line out, jig weight, and line diameter. Each of these factors play a part in how deep jigs will swim and whether you reach the level the crappie are suspended at. Since this is Long Lining 101, Wall referenced trolling a 1/16 oz jig head pulled on 6 pound test line an average cast distance (40 – 50 feet) behind the boat. The variable then becomes boat speed.

“To be good at depth control means you spend a lot of time pulling jigs,” said Wall. ““Find a 10 foot flat with a level bottom then experiment with different variables to find what combination would put you occasionally skimming bottom, then work from there on works best in your boat, your baits, and your setup.”

Whether you’re a fan or pushing or pulling, B’n’M has got the crappie fishing rods you need to help you fish like a pro. Visit us online at bnmpoles.com or on Facebook at B’n’M Poles