Flipping Indiana Slabs with Ron Bilbrey
By Phillip Gentry
Crappie fishing on Indiana’s Salamonie Lake, located about halfway between Wabash and Bluffton, Indiana, is full of ups and downs. In the summertime, the lake sees a good bit of recreational boat traffic which relegates the best fishing times to early in the morning and late in the day. As a flood control reservoir in the US Arms Corps of Engineers program, the lake also sees a dramatic fluctuation in water levels between summer and winter pool of as much as 25 feet between the months of December and July.
B’n’M ProStaff Ron Bilbrey, a noted crappie tournament angler from nearby Anderson, Indiana, takes all of these ups and downs in stride and for the most part, flips his way to catching slab crappie on Salamonie nearly year-round.
“It can be tough fishing during the summer with all the boat traffic,” said Bilbrey, “but there are areas of standing timber that are idle speed only and you can fish those during the day after the morning bite is over.”
Using two sickle hook jigs, Bilbrey will adjust the arc of the swing to connect with suspended crappie.
Bilbrey said the main lake flats on Salamonie are hard to beat during the summer. His favorite tactic is to chase suspended white crappie on these flats where the water depths are 10 – 12 feet deep and the bottom is littered with stumps.
Like most serious anglers, he’s relying heavily on his sonar, Garmin Livescope, to both find and catch fish, but his methods are a little different than most.
“I set my search range out to 40 feet and look for bigger fish,” he said. “The average size white crappie on Salamonie is 10 – 11 inches but a good one will be in the 14 – 15-inch range.”
The transducer for his Livescope is mounted on a stand-alone pole that is right by his off hand. Bilbrey fishes for crappie from a seated position in the front of his 21-foot Ranger Z5 boat and can precisely line up the fish he’s targeting on the Livescope screen with the mounting pole at his hand. From there he’s going to flip a crappie jig to the fish and let the bait swing on the best trajectory to tempt it to eat the bait.
Lake Salamonie, located in the northeastern section of Indiana, is a flood control lake that fluctuates as much as 25 feet between summer and winter pools.
“It may not look like it from an outside perspective, but the presentation is very precise,” he said. “I flip the jig out to about 20 – 25 feet and then I’ll adjust the line so that the bait swings directly across the fish’s path.”
“The jig” is actually not correct in the context of Bilbrey’s tactic because he flips using two jigs tied inline on 6-pound Slime Line to tempt crappie into biting. His typical rig is a 1/8-ounce jighead tied to the end of his line with a 1/16-ounce jighead tied on a small one inch or less loop knot about a foot to 18 inches above the heavier jig.
The jigheads are both manufactured by one of his sponsors, Big Ken’s Jigs, made with pill-shaped heads and sickle hooks. His go-to jig body is a Leland Lure’s Crappie Magnet in 1 ½ inch and his hands-down favorite color, on Salamonie or just about any lake he fishes, is a color called Butla Gold.
He credits his B’n’M rod of choice with much of his consistent accuracy when flipping to suspended crappie. He uses a 10-foot Russ Bailey Signature Series rod. He said the longer length and additional stiffness of the rod makes it easier to pitch the jigs with better accuracy.
The Russ Bailey Signature Series rod features a smaller eyelet and stainless-steel guides, perfect for flipping small jigs into tight spots. During the design phase, Bailey said he was excited about adding the smaller diameter rod tip eye and stainless-steel construction guides on the redesigned rod.
Bilbrey will chase suspended fish but also targets crappie orienting to Salamonie’s standing and submerged timber during various times of the year.
Along with the additional weight, Bilbrey said the second jig solves the dilemma of having crappie hit the inline weight that many LiveScope anglers add to their line to get their baits down to the fish quickly. The second jig also makes his presentation easier to see on the screen and allows him to adjust the arc of the swing to meet the fish.
“A lot of fish will pick up on the bait during the fall and ideally hit it then, but a lot of fish also follow the bait a bit. It seems more natural to let it swing past the fish then reel or dead stick although some days they either want it moving or they don’t,” said Bilbrey.
Fishing during the winter pool on Salamonie, which is Bilbrey’s favorite time to fish the lake, is nearly the same except with a 25-foot reduction in water level, nearly half of the lake has been drained and this concentrates fish into the deep-water structure near the main lake basin and main channels of the lake.
“Stuff that was 40 feet deep in the summer is now fishable in the 15-to-20-foot depths,” he said. “I’m still going to pitch jigs to fish that are more oriented to structure, but it might be two 1/8-ounce jigs if I’m fishing deeper than 15 feet.”
Bilbrey added that much of the old structure in the bottom of the lake doesn’t get a lot of fishing pressure and wintertime fish move in and provide a lot of good action before the lake starts to ice over around the middle of December and again in early February when the ice goes out.
Summer 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.