Trolling Crappie With Down Lines
By: Mark Romanack
The author (left) and his life long fishing buddy Dale Voice of Cadillac, Michigan enjoy targeting slab crappie. Trolling using down lines is one of more unique ways of putting bonus fish in the boat.
The author enjoys spending time in Florida during the winter trolling for slab crappie. Many of the trolling techniques used to target crappie in the south are equally productive on crappie found in a host of fisheries across the upper Midwest and Great Lakes states.
Long lining jigs presents these lures well out behind the boat. The idea with long lining is to use varying rod lengths to spread out the jigs and cover more water.
Trolling crankbaits with the help of in-line boards is also popular and presents these lures out to the side of the boat. The beauty of board trolling with crankbaits is an angler can set up a trolling spread that has two, three, four or even five lines per side of the boat!
A third option that crappie anglers should consider are known as “down line” rigs. A down line uses an in-line egg or bullet sinker, Snap Weight or diving planer such as a Tadpole Diver fished in combination with a short leader (three to five feet) and a small lead-head jig. Depending on how deep this gear must be presented to contact fish, the weight used could be as light as 1/2 and ounce or as heavy as two or even three ounces.
Using down lines is an easy way to add extra lines to any crappie trolling pattern.
A down line is normally presented right over the side of the boat using an appropriately positioned rod holder. The idea here is to get to depth with as little line out as possible. A couple down lines can be incorporated into a long line or in-line board trolling set up, adding bonus lines and lures in the water.
Think of the down line as a “poor man’s downrigger” that puts extra lines in the water and bonus fish in the boat. Down lines fish best at the slower speed ranges, so they are especially useful when pulling small jigs or spinners.
A down line is best fished in a conveniently located rod holder that makes it easy to lift the rod and fish into the boat in one smooth motion.
The ideal rod for fishing a down line is something with an ultra light tip, but enough backbone to handle trolling weights. The Daiwa Presso are ultra light panfish spinning rods that come in various lengths including 7’, 7’-6”, 8’, 9’ and 11’ models. The 11’ model has become a favorite among crappie anglers who use this rod for down line rigging.
The beauty of the 11’ Presso is the ultra light action tip makes it easy to detect hooked fish, yet the rod has enough backbone to literally lift hooked fish directly into the boat.
A small 1/32 ounce lead-head jig dressed with an action tail grub is commonly used in combination with a down line. This set up nicely matches what is commonly used for long lining jigs, but presents the bait much closer to the boat.
The benefit of a longer rod such as the 11’ Presso becomes obvious when an angler becomes involved in fishing down lines. “Down lines literally become bonus lines that produce bonus fish,” says Dale Voice an avid crappie angler who routinely trolls jigs and also crankbaits for these fish. “An angler can actually fish long lines, a couple planer board lines and a couple down lines all at the same time when targeting crappie. A lot of states have rod limits, but many do not setting up a situation where it’s possible for an angler to literally saturate the water column with baits.”
Small jigs work great on a down line set up, but there are other options to consider. Small stickbaits designed for panfishing applications can also be deadly effective on a down line. Anglers can also fish live bait on a single hook or use attractors like a Spin n Glo with a single hook and minnow. Panfish sized in-line spinners like a Rooster Tail can also be fished on the down line. The beauty of the down line is they are versatile and can be fished with a host of different lures and live baits.
A small 2000 or 2500 size spinning reel loaded with six pound test line works best for down line rigging. The leader should be 48 to 60 inches in length and tied using clear fluorocarbon line in the four to six pound test range.
Dale Voice (left) and Mark Romanack in their happy place the fish cleaning house! Crappie are not only a ton of fun to fish for, they are one of the best eating fish on the table.
When targeting crappie in shallow water, an egg sinker is hard to beat for down rigging. When the fish are found in deeper water an Off Shore Tackle Guppy Weight or a Tadpole Diver makes it easy to fish deep and still keep this presentation very close to the boat.
All across America both the white and black crappie can be readily caught trolling jigs, crankbaits, spinners and even live bait rigs. Second in number only to bass anglers, those fishermen who covet the crappie can be found in every corner of this great nation.