Trolling for Crappies

    Crank up summer slabs using these tips and tactics.


    — Text and Photos by HSM Outdoors

    locations in the spring and fall can be predictable as they prepare for the spring spawn as well as the fall feed. Crappies often use the same basic areas for each of these two seasons, and once you figure out those trends, you can be prepared for each.

    After they finish spawning, however, crappies can become the ghosts of the lake, and finding their summer haunts can be difficult. So, what do anglers do, and how do they prepare in their search for some summertime crappies when waters are warm and the fish are no longer shallow.

    If it isn’t evident right away that these fish are going to be easy to locate and catch, an angler may choose to fish for another species and wait till spring or fall rolls around to fish for crappie again. But for persistent anglers trying to fill their need to catch crappies in the warm summer months, the questions become where do they find them and what are they using to get them into the boat.

    Trolling Gear for Crappies

    There are many ways to fool crappies, and trolling crankbaits during the summer months is an effective way to find active fish.

    During summer, crappies will hold to the weed lines, which can be deeper or shallower depending on the area. Trial and error play a big role in finding out which weed lines are more productive than others, as well as learning which specific weed-line features help hold fish.

    For starters, where weed lines make an abrupt turn or create a corner are spots that can hold fish on a regular basis, as these locations consistently hold baitfish. Understanding your electronics and how the weed lines run as you follow the shoreline will go a long way toward finding fish, and a few passes along these weed-line areas will give you a good understanding as to where the fish are congregated.

    When it comes to choosing a crankbait, using a 1-inch or 13/8-inch Salmo Hornet can be lethal on crappies. These baits are the smallest Hornets offered and have a single treble hook that allows for trolling through the weeds a bit easier.

    These cranks are available in many colors, and it usually pays dividends to change color combinations until you find one the crappies like. This can change daily, so prepare to offer a full menu of colors.

    Small crankbaits with a single hook, such as the Salmo Hornets picture here, are ideal for trolling weed-line edges for crappies. It’s wise to cycle through a variety of color options until the fish tell you what should be on the menu that day.

    Fishing line will play a big part in how deep these lures run, and the heavier the line weight you use, the shallower the bait will go. Using a lighter line will allow the bait to run deeper with less resistance being trolled through the water. Along most weed edges, 4- to 6-pound test will keep cranks at a good depth that relates to the zone where fish are most likely found.

    Rod selection also has importance for trolling these baits and helps determine the depth at which they run. Medium-light action rods that are 7 feet long or longer allow for more control and have enough forgiveness in the action for solid hook-ups when fish hit the bait. We’ve had really good luck using St. Croix Triumph rods.

    When trolling with a few people in the boat at the same time, longer rods like these work better for those fishing out the sides of the boat, giving them more reach out away from the boat and more control over where and how deep the bait runs. If you’re trolling weed lines, especially if they run somewhat parallel to the bank, it’s a good bet the baits will be running shallower on one side of the boat than the other.

    Trolling Variables

    Trolling speed is something that needs to be fine-tuned each time you head out fishing, because fish relate differently to presentation speeds as each day passes with varying weather conditions. Speeds should also be determined based on how thick the weed edge is that you are trolling, as 0.7 mph works well when the weeds are thicker and 1 mph works well when weed edges are thinner.

    If the weeds are on the thicker side, going too fast will drive the bait deeper into the weeds, causing the hooks to be constantly filled with weeds. By slowing the troll down, the bait won’t dive as deep, and, as a result, it will ride somewhat higher toward the tops of the weeds, staying more free from weeds.

    If the weeds you’re trolling are on the thinner side, you can troll at higher speeds and cover more shoreline edges. You will have to experiment with the trolling speed and adapt to what the fish are looking for and the color combination they desire.

    You can run your boat to set up your trolling patterns where the inside line is trolled just inside of the weed edges, while the outside line runs in deeper water. It shouldn’t take long before the crappies start dictating which depth range they prefer that day.

    Discovering which weed types crappies are relating to in a body of water is also important. Weed types common in the Midwest are stringy grass versions, as well as coontail and cabbage. Most importantly, however, is making sure to troll along weeds that are very green and healthy, as these types of areas hold plenty of baitfish while offering predator species such as crappies plenty of ambush locations.

    Trolling can be intimidating to some anglers until that right combination of speed, bait color, line weight and rod action are matched up. However, once you start getting all the pieces figured out and working together, there isn’t another way or style of fishing that can outproduce trolling on any given day.

    Trolling for crappies can be intimidating, but it’s hard to find another technique that can match its slab-catching potential during the summer months.

    Even though we are talking about targeting crappie with this technique, it also has the potential to catch a wide variety of other fish species on each trolling pass, such as northern pike, bluegill, perch and, of course, bass. With that in mind, trolling can be a great way to get kids involved in the sport while catching some nicer fish, which means they’ll most likely want to go fishing with you more often.

    About the Authors: Kevin Dahlke and Chad Peterson from Hook Set Media Outdoors create content, videos and articles for their partner companies. For more information, go to