Slow Trolling For Crappie

by Phillip Gentry

Upstate Outdoors
February 27, 2020 - 12:04 pm

With the promise of the coming spring, both crappie and crappie anglers are preparing for the coming spawning season in a few weeks.

This time of year, casual observers may note an angler or two, sitting in the front of a boat with a multitude of long fishing rods sticking out in all directions. The appearance of these rods gives the boat a water bug-like appearance when viewed from above. When fishing, the angler detects a bite by the observance of the slightest movement of one of the rods, then sharply lifts the rod to set the hook.

 Slow trolling, also referred to as tight lining, emphasizes baits presented horizontally to the fish by pushing rods forward with the boat, using a ¼ - 1 oz weight to keep lines vertical.

It could be argued that the fathers of modern slow trolling are 7- time National Crappie Championship winners Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman. The pair are arguably the best known names in the crappie business and have made slow trolling the most popular crappie fishing tactic in the country.

“It’s actually pretty simple,” said Ronnie Capps. “From the fish’s perspective, he’s down there hanging out on a brush pile or a stake bed or hanging on the edge of a creek channel and suddenly here comes 16 baits right in his face.”

The benefit of slow trolling is absolute depth control. Because the line is vertical in the water column with heavier weight used to keep the line at close to 90 degrees when moving, the angler can dial in the depth of the bait.

In order to keep the line and baits at precise depths, standard slow trollers typically don’t move much faster than about .5 mph without whipping the lines back underneath the boat. Some anglers will use heavier weights and bump up the trolling speed in order to cover more water in less time but the basic idea is the same.

According to Steve Coleman, slow trolling works best when the boat is following a known crappie travel route, such as the edge of a creek or river channel, and the angler is targeting the drop-off and structure related to the drop-off. It’s well known that crappie use contour lines when traveling from place to place, so slow trolling along a contour line is a great way to intercept fish.

“When we first started using GPS, Ronnie and I would place a waypoint on the GPS whenever we would catch a big crappie,” said Coleman. “At the end of the day, whether we were trying to follow the creek channel or not, most of the biggest fish came off the drop. That changed a lot about the way we trolled. Now we almost always follow the contour line.”

One of the mainstays to the success of slow trolling is the rig that is used. Capps and Coleman employ a two hook minnow rig that offers a live minnow at two different depths on each rod. By varying the depth of each rod, the pair can quickly figure out what depth the fish are biting best at, then concentrate their efforts at that level.

“The cool thing about this rig is if you hang up, the light wire hook can be pulled loose and re-straightened with a pair of pliers and you’re right back to fishing,” Capps. “They work well with straight live bait or you can tie a small jig head to the end of the line and tip that with a minnow. Either way will catch loads of slab crappie.”


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM, 101.5 in Anderson, and recently added 95.1 FM in Seneca and Pickens.

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