By Steve Heiting
It has been nearly 50 years since Mister Twister introduced its curly-tailed grub to the fishing world, yet some anglers have not accepted that a soft-plastic bait is often a better option than live bait when seeking crappies.
I was just a boy fishing from shore on a lake near my hometown when I spotted a pink jig with a white plastic grub threaded on its hook lying in the grass. I surmised somebody had lost it, so I picked up the lure and placed it in my tackle box. It was the first Mister Twister grub tail I had ever seen, and I figured correctly that it would catch crappies. A week later, I was “up north” at my grandparents’ cabin, and although my grandfather called the lure an “abomination” or something of the like, I outfished him that evening for the first time.
The next day, Grandpa and I went to town to buy more.
Today, I still love chasing crappies. They’re fun to catch, quite tasty to eat, and every one I boat takes me back to those wonderful evenings with my grandfather. And rarely do I buy minnows to catch them because I do so much better with plastics.
Why plastics? They’re just so much more efficient, and I catch more crappies with them. Instead of needing to stop every day at a bait shop to fill a bucket with minnows – and then try to keep them alive – you simply buy packs of plastics from the same bait shop as needed. When a crappie bites, the natural texture of the soft-plastic tail makes the fish hang on much like they do with a minnow.
If you miss a hookset, a minnow usually tears free of the hook, but a plastic almost always stays in place. This can produce another chance at a missed fish, and second-effort crappies tend to hit with a vengeance.
And, after you’ve caught a crappie and unhooked it, there’s no need to plunge your hand into a bucket of cold water to grab a net and fish out another minnow. Adjust the plastic so it’s straight on the hook, and cast again.
Rigging is simple. Tie a jig head weighing 1⁄16-, 1⁄24-, or 1⁄32-ounce to 4- or 6-pound-test line and thread the plastic of choice onto the hook. Then, place some kind of float – a small, round bobber works fine – a couple feet above the jig so the offering hovers just above shallow weed and/or wood cover. A slip bobber works if crappies are deeper.
After casting the rig, the plastic will wiggle as the jig settles. If there’s a ripple or slight chop on the water, let the bobber bounce in the waves for a moment to move the jig. If nothing happens, pull the rig toward the boat a foot or two and repeat. Each time you pull the bobber toward you, the jig/plastic will rise up and follow, and then swing downward as the bobber settles.
Just as with using minnows, the crappie bite may be as subtle as the bobber simply standing straight up or as direct as the bobber diving away sharply. Reel the line tight and set the hook, and it’s fish on.
Crappies are sometimes called “papermouths” because their fragile mandibles can tear easily, but the upward-riding hook of the jig tends to hook them a little farther back in the mouth so fewer fish are lost.
While color offerings and the names for plastics are almost as numerous and humorous as those offered for Great Lakes salmon fishing, my selection is much less complicated. I prefer unpainted or black jig heads for clear water, and pink or orange heads for stained water. My plastic tail choice is even more simple. I prefer anything that looks like a shiner, or a shiner with a blood line, whether I’m fishing clear or dark water.
Casting the rig requires a long-ish light- or medium-light action rod. I use a 9-foot, medium-light rod. The extra length makes casting a breeze and helps steer bigger crappies away from potential snags. Meanwhile, the medium-light action will give you a chance if you hook something bigger. The same jig/plastic rig will not only catch bonus bluegills and perch, but also bass and the occasional walleye, northern pike, or muskie.
I’ve become so accustomed to catching crappies on plastics that the only time I buy live bait is when I’m planning to fish for ultra-shallow crappies in clear-water lakes, where the swing of the jig and the splash of a bobber are too intrusive. Typically, these crappies are woven between the stalks of last year’s dead rushes, hidden beneath the washed-out roots of stumps, or tucked under the branches of fallen trees.
Such crappies require stealth tactics, and in these instances I usually rely on a single No. 6 hook threaded through the eyes or lips of a minnow and fished without weight or bobber. The 9-foot rod produces longer casts with such a lightweight presentation.
As those crappies move out to deeper weeds in front of the ultra-shallow cover, extreme finesse is no longer required, so I return to a jig and plastic.
If you’ve been considering soft plastics for crappies, there’s no better time than now.