Summer like weather across the nation has some folks thinking about summer fishing. If they are, their thoughts may go to crankbaits for crappie. More and more anglers are turning to the crankin’ critters to catch crappie.
It may be winter, but John Harrison will talk about crankbaits any time you ask. Harrison is a 45-year veteran of Grenada Lake crappie fishing. He operates JH Guide Service on Grenada, Sardis and Enid Lakes.
The B’n’M Poles pro staffer has been guiding crappie anglers on Grenada for the past 15 years. When asked his favorite months to fish he named January through December, but when pressed for favorites he named July and August, pulling Bandit 300 crankbaits.
Grenada Lake used to be a summer fishery according to John Harrison. “When I started fishing with my grandmother in the early 70s it was summer and spring fishing. Nobody fished in the winter, they was all huntin’. My grandma and me would just walk out on the riverbank and fish with cane poles. We had it all to ourselves.”
Harrison describes the Grenada watershed as unstable with fishing depending on water level. The impoundment is a flood control lake constructed and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “In the spring of the year the rains come and the lake comes up,” states Harrison.
“They try to keep the water pulled down to what they call summer pool, which is 215 feet above sea level. They will let it get a little above it, maybe 216 or 218 feet. If it gets any higher they start pulling it down to keep it in line with that 215 until August 1. The first day of August they start what they call the winter draw down. They will open the gates and pull the water down to the winter pool at 193 feet above sea level. That is pretty dry, you will see mud flats all over.”
Water level, water temperature and food source are three variables in Harrison’s crappie catching formula. Water level determines what cover is available, water temperature determines how deep the fish will be and food source determines where they will congregate.
When the water level is low you can identify the timber that will be under water when the water is higher. “We have a lot of stake beds, all man made,” says Harrison. “Most of the natural wood is up the Yalobusha River and the Skuna River. There used to be a lot of snags and sticks, but there is not very much of that left anymore. Man-made stuff is basically what you have for the crappie.”
The food source is doing well at Grenada. “We have a lot of algae bloom and run off that gives the fry a good food source,” explains Harrison. “It all starts right there. The small fish I have been catching, those little 8 and 10 inchers, are fat and healthy. There is more shad in the lake than I have seen in my life. If this lake were calm and we bumped the side of this boat they would shower out there as far as you can see.”
Harrison’s explanation of the fertile waters of Grenada Lake make it perfectly clear why it bears the moniker, “The Home of the 3-Pound Crappie,” and why folks travel from miles around for the opportunity to catch a trophy fish. “Grenada is a great place to fish if you want to catch a big crappie,” adds Harrison. “No one can guarantee a 3 pounder, but if you want to catch one this is a good place to try.”
Those early days of fishing with his grandmother instilled a liking for all types of crappie fishing, but over the years he developed a penchant for catching crappie on crankbaits. “This is my favorite fishing, especially in the summer, because you can cover a lot of water and catch a lot of fish. I have had a lot of good days pulling crankbaits. Maybe they weren’t all keepers, but catching more than 100 crappie a day is just plain fun.”
After years of trial and error Harrison has the crankbait technique down pat. “The secret to crankbait fishing is how far back you troll the lure,” instructed Harrison. “Fishing depth is controlled by how much line you let out. The more line out, the deeper the lure runs.”
Harrison uses B’n’M Pro Staff Trolling Rods. “Crankbait rods need to be a little stiffer than spider rigging rods,” explains Harrison. “I use two 8s, two 12s and two 16s when fishing two anglers. All you are allowed here on Grenada is 3 poles per person. All are set in Driftmaster Rod Holders. To begin trolling I put the short one out first and run it at 125 feet. Next I set the 12-footer at 100 and the 16-footer at about 75 feet. Now, it is trial and error. If I catch a crappie on the 100-foot drop I will change the others to match it.”
Attached to his B’n’M rod is what he calls the most important piece of equipment for crankbait fishing. “I use a line counter reel spooled with 10-pound test Vicious fishing line. I like the hi-vis line because it helps me see that bite a lot better. You are controlling depth by the amount of line you have out and you can be pretty precise with a line counter reel.”
No line counter means guessing to Harrison. “If you don’t have a line counter reel you are just throwing it out there and guessing. When you catch one at a certain distance you ain’t never gonna’ get the bait back to that precise depth. With a line counter reel you can. I want to know how much line I have out there and at what speed I am trolling so I can duplicate it once I catch a fish.”
Harrison generally fishes faster when crankbaiting. “When I am spider rigging I like about .8 to 1 MPH trolling speed, but with crankbaits I like about 1.7 with one exception. When the water gets stained, like it does in the fall and winter you have to slow your presentation way down, maybe to about .3 MPH.”
Color selection may be the most difficult part of Harrison’s equation. “I have found solid black or pink and black to be good colors, but as far as colors go, they might be hot one year on pink, the next year on black and the next year on orange. You can never have enough colors of crankbaits.” Color selection is a trial and error process. It the bite is not happening he advised anglers to change colors until they find the one that works.
He normally pulls the Bandit 300 Series in10 feet or more of water. He ties a snap swivel on the mainline to make experimentation with colors and changing sizes easy. “When I see those fish at 10 feet and less, I go to pulling a 200 series because I don’t have to be so deep. Catching crappie is all about the depth of the fish which you can generally determine using sonar. If you don’t have sonar you vary the depth you are fishing until you start catching them.”
Harrison has one other trick up his sleeve to control depth. “Sometimes, when I need a little more depth, I will use a ¼-ounce Road Runner about 24 inches above the crankbait. The Road Runner will keep that crankbait down there just a little deeper and may be the difference between fishing and catching. It also presents another option for the fish to bite and once in a while you catch one on it.”
Water clarity is another important factor to Harrison. “As a rule of thumb, if I can see the prop on my motor it is clear enough to catch em’ on crankbaits. If the water gets stained really bad it becomes much harder to catch them on crankbaits.”
Like so many other types of fishing, high winds make it difficult to fish crankbaits. “Speed has to be controlled,” says Harrison. “Wind can make it hard to fish. I have 2 log chains that I drag out the back to cut down on the speed of a drift when it’s windy. You either have to do that or get a store-bought wind sock to slow you down.”
As a final piece of advice Harrison reminds crappie anglers to be patient when landing a crankbait caught crappie. “Crappie are often hooked in soft tissue. Take your time and bring them in slowly. The result will be more crappie on the dinner table.”
Harrison’s sponsors include B’n’M Poles, War Eagle Boats, Southern Pro Tackle, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Minn Kota, Blakemore Road Runners, Vicious Lines and Cannon Motors. He can be reached at 662-983-5999 on a phone that stays on 24 hours a day. He can be emailed at email@example.com.