Straight-Line For Allatoona Crappie

When the fish are holding tight to cover, straight-lining jigs and minnows keeps your bait right in front of the crappie.

Don Baldwin | March 2, 2005

We were gliding along near the mouth of Kellogg Creek with eight long rods sticking out in all directions over the side of the boat. Four rods were in bow-mounted rod holders and four were in holders along the stern. This is not an uncommon site during March on Lake Allatoona north of Atlanta. Water temperatures are beginning to rise from the frigid levels of winter, and along with the warm up come the crappie.

During March these prolific fish respond to the change in the weather and head to shallow water looking for a place to spawn. When they do, they are as big as they are likely to be all year and schooled up in plentiful numbers. One of the best ways to catch them this time of year is trolling small jigs slowly over likely staging and spawning grounds.

I was on Allatoona with Tim Little of Acworth. Tim is an Allatoona regular and a bass and crappie tournament angler. Tim knows as much about crappie fishing on Allatoona as anyone around. I met Tim at the ramp at Kellogg creek in mid February, and we headed downstream slowly to our first spot.

Tim Little says straight-lining, a modified version of trolling with all the rods out the front of the boat and the jigs or minnows held “straight” down with a heavy weight, is an efficient way to present baits when the fish are holding tight to cover.

“We’ll start out trolling jigs and see if we can find a few fish,” said Tim. “The water temperature is still lower than it needs to be for the best action, but we should be able to pick up a fish or two.”

When we got to the first spot Tim wanted to fish, he went over it slowly, keeping an eye on the electronics. He explained that he was looking for the depth at which the fish were suspended.

“Once we can find the right depth we’ll know what speed we should troll the jigs to get them into the strike zone,” Tim said. “Ideally the jigs should run at or just above the level that the fish are holding. Crappie almost always feed looking up, so a jig running below them will seldom produce.”

Tim spotted a few fish suspended at about eight feet as we motored across the relatively shallow flat. Turning off the big outboard, Tim put down the trolling motor and started moving us slowly across the area heading into the slight breeze. We each set out four rods equipped with various-colored 1/16-oz. Jiffy Jigs. If he is fishing extremely shallow water, Tim will drop down to 1/24-oz. or 1/32-oz. jigs.

Since the water was murky, Tim had a variety of color combinations that were either dark, like black/brown, or bright, like orange/chartreuse.

“If the water was clear we would be using lighter, more translucent colors to better represent natural bait,” said Tim. “But in the dark water these bolder colors are easier for the fish to see.”

The jigs were tied to 6-lb. test line on light spinning tackle with rods of various lengths to allow for staggering the baits and limiting fouling lines.

We cast the baits out about 30 to 40 feet and began trolling them through the area. It didn’t take long to get our first fish, a small but feisty crappie. The fish hit on a black/brown jig with a yellow head. Within a few minutes we got another small fish on the same color combination.

“Looks like they like the black/brown today,” said Tim. “I believe that crappie are the most color sensitive of all fish. Sometimes they won’t hit but one color combination and ignore everything else. The next day they may be on a completely different color for no apparent reason.”

Tim swings in a fish caught on a straight line without having to reel up line. When he has removed the fish, the jig drops straight back to the correct depth.

Tim tied the black/brown jig onto another couple of rods to increase our odds. After making a few more passes through the area with only another strike or two, Tim suggested that we pull in the lines and head up the lake.

“I like to fish in the area around the mouth of Little River and Sweetwater Creek,” said Tim. “There seem to be better numbers of fish there early in the season, and we might have a little more luck.”

We settled the boat down off the pad on the east side of the lake just upstream of the mouth of Little River and went through the drill again. Like before, we were fishing in about 16 feet of water, and we saw fish on the flasher suspended at about eight feet.

After trolling for about 30 minutes without much success, Tim said he was going to show me a slightly different but highly productive method for boating a few slabs.

“Since we aren’t picking up many fish on the troll, I think we should try our luck with straight lines,” said Tim.

We pulled in all of the trolling rods, and Tim began to reconfigure the boat. He removed the rod holders from the stern and re-mounted them on the bow across the front of the boat. The side-mounted rod holders he had attached near the bow for trolling were removed and put away in the rod locker. He also removed the single pedestal seat from the bow and installed a custom made, double-mounting rig to allow both swivel seats to be mounted side by side in the bow.

“With the straight-lining method, all of the rods will be pointed forward from the bow, four on each side of the trolling motor,” said Tim. “In most crappie tournaments only eight rods are allowed to be used by the two-person teams. This set up allows two anglers to fish eight rods very efficiently.”

Straight lining is a modified method of trolling where the jigs are tied on the line about a foot or so beneath a 1/2-oz. egg sinker. The heavy sinker holds the jig straight down at the desired depth and prevents it from lifting up under the boat as it is dragged through the water. Tim doesn’t tie the sinker to the line but simply loops the line through the sinker about four times to hold it in place.

This is a very controlled method of fishing and is really catching on with serious crappie fishermen, particularly on the tournament trail. At the end of the line Tim uses two-inch tube jigs of various colors on a 1/32-oz. or 1/24-oz. jig head. Tim chooses jig heads with a No. 2 hook because he feels that the wider gap gives him more successful hookups.

The rigs are fished on limber 12-foot rods to get them well out in front of the boat. With the rods mounted in the holders, Tim moves around very slowly with the trolling motor. Since the baits are weighted down with the egg sinker, he can actually move the boat forward, back, and side-to-side giving much more flexibility in the presentation of the jig.

“This method is particularly effective when the fish are holding close to structure like brushpiles, docks or bridge pilings,” said Tim. “Since we aren’t picking up many trolling, they may be a little tighter to the cover. If so, we’ll have a better chance of catching a few straight-lining. Also I will usually pick up bigger fish, on average, straight lining than I do trolling.”

It didn’t take long for Tim to be proven right. Within a few minutes we each had boated a nice slab on the straight lines. We had the baits staggered at different depths at first, but zeroed in on about six feet after catching the first few at that depth.

Tim explained that one of the most productive ways to catch fish that are tight to cover is to position the jig at just about the top of the brush and move in slowly. Once you have passed over the brush simply back over it and make another pass. This way you can cover a brushpile very effectively in a relatively short time. If you were trolling the area you would have to make wide swings to get the baits back over the brush, wasting a lot of valuable time. Also when trolling if your speed drops a little the jigs can drop down into the brush and hang up. If you try to troll around brushpiles you’ll spend a lot of your time re-tying jigs after hanging several at a time in the cover.

While straight lining you can cover a piece of structure thoroughly, pull in your lines, and move to the next one quickly. This allows you to keep the jig in front of active fish for much more of the day than you typically would if trolling.

Since these pre-spawn fish are generally aggressive, Tim doesn’t usually use live minnows this time of year. If a strong cold front comes through and the fish get sluggish, he will sometimes tip the jig with a minnow for added attraction. This jig/minnow combination offers a larger bait profile, attracting fewer but bigger fish. Tim will also sometimes place a dropper line about the same distance above the egg sinker as the one below and add a second bait. When things really get going, double hook-ups are not unusual. Later in the spring Tim will use the same rig with two minnows instead of the jigs.

One thing to note, when Tim is minnow fishing with the straight lines he goes through a lot of minnows.

“Most weekend anglers buy their minnows by the dozen,” said Tim. “When I am going to fish a tournament I buy two pounds of minnows for a day of fishing, and my partner and I often go through all of them.”

A pound of minnows is 15 to 20 dozen depending on the size.

Tim says that while this straight-line method is particularly effective in the prespawn period during March, it can be fished very effectively throughout the year. While the average depth of water to fish in March is around eight to 12 feet, the 1/2-oz. sinker will allow you to fish jigs over brush in as much as 30 feet of water or more during the summer. There just isn’t a way to do that with conventional trolling.

Another thing that is nice about the straight-line method in the spring is the simplicity in landing fish. Since most of the fish will be suspended in eight feet or less of water, the 12-foot rod will allow you to land a fish without touching the reel. Just lift the rod out of the holder and swing the fish aboard. Just like a cane pole. Then you can drop the jig back overboard and place the rod back in the holder without having to readjust the depth.

A tip that Tim gave me is to arrange your rod holders so that the rods are parallel, with the tips at the same level.

“Strikes are often subtle this time of year, and it helps to have the rods aligned so you can spot a slight movement in any of them,” he said.

I tried it and it really helped detect the strikes.

We fished a half day and had good success with the straight-line method. We boated about 30 crappie, most on the straight lines, and we were still in mid February with low water temperatures.

So this month grab a few jigs and minnows, and head out to Allatoona for some nice slabs. Troll if you like, but I highly recommend Tim’s “straight line” method. It’s an easy and productive way to fish. I think you’ll be glad you tried it.

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