Fall Long Line Trolling with Stokes McClellan
By Phillip Gentry
Even during November, spring like temperatures put crappie anglers in the mood to long line troll for their favorite fish. And why not? Fall is a time of transition when crappie are moving from deep water summer patterns to shallow water fall patterns, then will quickly reverse and go back to deeper water for the winter.
Add to this recipe the fact that crappie are also highly interested in feeding up for the winter. This means spending more time out in the open, shadowing migrating schools of baitfish and it just makes sense that a boat dragging anywhere from 8 to 16 curly tail baits behind it would be a great tactic to put some hooks in the mouths of those fish.
Enter Stoke McClellan from Huntersville, NC. McClellan is a long time B’n’M pro-staffer who specializes in the art of long line trolling. McClellan relates that as far as the fishing goes, fall in the Carolinas and Georgia, where he does the lion’s share of his tournament fishing, is pretty similar to spring patterns with a few exceptions.
The presence of baitfish in the area you are fishing is the number one factor in successful long lining.
“The first thing is we don’t have the drastic cold fronts in the fall like we do in the spring,” he said. “We do get cold fronts, but they rarely dump cold temperatures on us and that makes crappie fishing patterns much more dependable. When you find fish, they’re likely to stay in that same area for several weeks.”
McClellan said the biggest factor for him in knowing where to long line troll on lakes such as Jordan and High Rock in North Carolina and Murray and Santee-Cooper in South Carolina is finding migrating baitfish.
“I don’t like to see big even waves of baitfish,” he said. “I want to see them balled up in lots of smaller groups. That means something is messing with them.”
McClellan said patterns will vary from lake to lake, but for the most part in the clear water lakes he fishes, he will expect to see baitfish near the surface in water that runs anywhere between 5 and 25 feet deep in the fall. The baitfish typically hold 4 – 5 feet deep and the crappie will hold a few feet below that.
McClellan prefers larger curly tail baits in the fall to match the size of baitfish that crappie are feeding on.
“Generally speaking, I’m targeting fall crappie at 8 feet deep, but I’m not going to run all my baits at that depth, I’m going to stagger those baits until I can locate the preferred depth for that day.”
McClellan runs 16 rods from his Ranger Deep V, a testament to states with no rod limits. With this arsenal of various B’n’M Poles, McClellan will cover depths starting at 2 – 3 feet all the way down to 18 feet.
As long lining depths result from the sum of bait weight, boat speed, line out, and line diameter, McClellan has a lot of variables to keep track of. He has a matched set of Driftmaster rod holders spaced around the stern of his boat. Eight per side. The farthest holder points perpendicular to the boat and holds a 16-foot B’n’M Pro Staff Trolling rod, the old kind, with 30 feet of line out on a 1/48 oz jighead. The next in line, moving toward the stern, is a 14-foot Pro Staff rod with 30 feet of line and a 1/32 oz head.
“I like the stiffness of the old pro staff rods,” said McClellan. “It helps with steering crappie away from the other rods but sensitive enough to see and get bites.”
The next 4 spots are two 12 foot and two 10-foot Sam Heaton Super Sensitive Rods with 30 – 50 feet of line and each with a single 1/16 oz jighead.
“I don’t run doubles, ever,” he said. “If you get a catfish or striped bass on one rod he’s going into the others. It’s a mess with single jigs, it’s a nightmare with doubles. Too much lost fishing time. People run doubles to get deeper. I get deeper by using heavier single jigs.”
The last two rods, which make up four straight across the transom, are Roger Gant Difference rods. These rods have 1/8-ounce jig heads with up to 80 feet of line out.
“The side rods will easily bend when you get a bite. I like the Difference rods because they are pointing at the fish and it’s easier to see even the slightest wiggle in them,” he said.
Using up to 16 rods with a variety of jig weights, McClellan trolls a swathe through the water to tempt crappie into biting.
There are several constants in McClellan’s long lining tactic. The first is always 4-pound test clear monofilament line. The second is boat speeds between .9 and 1.0 mph. Never less than .7 mph and rarely faster than 1.3 mph. The third is he never tips with minnows. Minnows add weight and throw off the dynamic and that affects the depths he’s fishing in an unpredictable way.
“I use a lot of larger curly tail plastics when I long line,” he said. “Plastics won’t ripple at less than .7 mph, so that’s as slow as I ever go. If I need to add scent in colder weather, I use an attractant called Pro Cure. It works just as well at getting bites and I’ve never had a tube of it die and leave me without bait.”
Finally, McClellan had some advice about jig color. In muddy or dinghy water, he’s going with bold color contrasts-orange and brown, black and blue. In clear water he’s going lighter – chartreuse, whites, pinks or laminates with combinations of light colors.
“If you only take away one thing, it’s follow the bait,” he said. “I’ve caught fish suspended above cover and fish out in the wide open but rarely caught any crappie at all when there weren’t baitfish in the vicinity.”
Fall is here and the fishing is hot. Make sure you stop by your local B’n’M Poles retailer and stock up on all the gear you need before you hit the water. Visit us online at bnmpoles.com.