Pulling For Cold Water Crappie
Phillip Gentry
For B’n’M pro staffer Stokes McClellan, long line trolling is a way of life, especially during the winter.
Crappie trollers fall into one of two camps, either pushin’ or pullin’, also known as long line trolling.
In the months before pre-spawn, crappie often suspend over deep water to take advantage of warming trends.
Spreading out baits can be achieved by using different length rods when long line trolling.

Pushin’ is a slow trolling tactic where lines are kept mostly in the front and to the sides of the boat, the lines stay vertical in the water and that determines the precise depth the bait is presented at. The boat eases around and over the top of underwater structure. The tactic is more commonly known as tight-lining.


 Pullin’ is a faster trolling tactic and more akin to what most consider as trolling. In long line trolling, single or double jigs are cast out to the side and behind the boat and are trolled to the rear. Speed, weight of the bait, and the amount of line out all combine to determine the depth you’re fishing. For B’n’M pro-staffer Stokes McClellan, long line trolling is a way of life when fishing for crappie, especially during the winter. McClellan claims long lining allows him to achieve the proper depth of presentation for crappie, which is often the difference between catching fish and just freezing your tail off.


Question: Stokes, what is it about long lining that works so well during the winter?


McClellan: During the weeks leading up to the pre-spawn, crappie will leave their deep water haunts and begin to suspend over deep water, taking advantage of warming trends at the surface. Baitfish will also be found in these locations, maximizing whatever warmth they can find. Trolling light weight jigs a great distance behind the boat is a great way to target crappie holding relatively shallow over deep water. Marking sporadic pods of baitfish means predators are keeping the bait from “layering up” and marks a good location to begin trolling. Follow the edges of major tributaries where they intersect with the main river channel or follow the main river channel in locations that offer holding structure such as sharp bends or drop-offs into deeper water.


Question: One of the things that amazes me is that you do all of your long lining with only 4 pound test line. Why four pound?


McClellan: I know all my boat speed, jig weight, and line out ratios based on 4 pound test line. Trust me, four pound test can handle big fish. My record is a 27 ½ pound flathead catfish that I caught a few years ago. I’ve also caught a number of 15 pound or better land-locked striped bass on just 4 pound line. A properly set drag and a long limber rod will absorb a lot of pressure and keep you from breaking off. One of the things I discuss in the seminars I give at Bass Pro Shops is to be consistent. If you’re not comfortable with 4, then go to 6 but don’t mix lines. That will definitely mess things up in terms of crossed lines and incorrect depth.


Question: Can you give an example of where you’d find pre-spawn crappie in the late winter?


McClellan: One of my favorite winter lakes is Lake Wylie on the North Carolina/South Carolina border.  Lake Wylie crappie will suspend in the water column while it’s still cold. I often find them within 6 feet of the surface over 40 feet of water and that’s a perfect set-up to long line for them. Crappie also orient to the edge of river and creek channels. When you troll down the edge of the main channel, you’re crossing a series of ups and downs on the bottom where ledges come into the channel. I catch a lot of crappie over the tops of high spots. The fish are typically suspended over the drop.


Question: It seems you have specific recipes combining boat speed, line out and jig weights to reach various depths of water. Can you share those?


McClellan: Of course, but keep in mind that this is what works from my boat. There are often major differences in how each boat is set up.


From 5 – 7 feet below the surface, I’ll troll 1/32 oz jigheads at a distance of 60 – 70 feet behind the boat. My average trolling speed is 1.1 – 1.5 miles per hour, but I’ll reduce that down to .7 - .9 mph to achieve the right depth.


To reach crappie that generally suspend in the 8 – 10 foot range, I troll 1/16 oz jigs about 75 feet behind the boat and run just under 1.0 mph.


The recipe for long lining really deep, say from 15 – 17 feet down, is to run 1/8 oz jigs 90 feet behind the boat. At a speed of .7 miles per hour, the slowest I can run and still make any kind of plastic swim, I can reach deep winter crappie at those depths.


Question: Which rods work best for you for long line trolling?


McClellan: I run eight B’n’M rods from the rear of my boat, a Ranger walleye boat with a tiller steer outboard. I increase the rod lengths from the motor out on each side of the boat. These are Sam’s Sensitive rods in 9, 10, and 12 foot lengths occupy the first three Driftmaster rod holders while a Pro Staff trolling rod, in a 14 foot length, is used on each flank. Varying lengths helps me to spread the baits out as I troll.


B’n’M Poles makes crappie rods for every application, tactic, and season. To see our line up of crappie-catching poles and equipment, request our new 2011 catalog or visit us online at www.bnmpoles.com.