Trolling For Roosevelt Crappie

By Margie Anderson

Although a determined angler can catch crappie all year long, it's especially fun and easy to catch them in the spring. March and April are the prime months for shallow crappie because when the water temperature gets into the 60s, they start moving up to spawn.

This process takes some time, and it varies all over the lake, so the crappie bonanza goes on for weeks at a time.

We went out right after that big, strange snowstorm in March with Leroy Price, a bass and crappie guide from Globe. The snow still blanketed the mountains, and we had to use caution on the icy passes over the mountains.

We were seriously afraid that the fishing would be awful so soon after a cold front. Wrong!

Although the water temperature had dropped a few degrees and was hovering around 56 degrees, the crappie were still up in the river and hungry. Leroy put in at Schoolhouse and went up the Salt River by the mud cliffs and began to troll.

In no time, we started getting bit. Leroy kept the boat in about 24 feet of water, but kept the lures running at about 10 to 12 feet deep. He uses two 1/16-ounce jigs on each rod, tied from 18 inches to 2 feet apart.

On the top jigs were 2-inch John Deere Kalin grubs (green and yellow), and on the bottom hooks, he was running a grub that was black, blue, and chartreuse. Leroy rigs the grubs so that the curve of the tail is opposite the curve of the hook. It gives them a whole lot more action in the water.

Leroy keeps thing pretty simple. No line counters, no fancy rods and reels. He lets out about 30 feet or so of line, and runs the boat at .8 to .9 miles per hour. He does use a GPS unit to track his speed, since it's so crucial to getting bit.

Way back in October, Leroy started trolling for crappie in the Tonto end of the lake, out toward the middle. "The fish were over 40, 50, even 60 feet of water," Leroy explained, "but they were only about 20 or 25 feet deep."

In January or so, Leroy moved to the Salt arm and when he first started, the fish were more toward the main lake, but still just to the main-lake side of Schoolhouse. He's been following them down the river ever since.

Every now and then he'll switch colors, and when the crappie are really shallow, he fishes in the brush for them with marabou jigs. With a marabou jig you can just about keep it in one spot and still get some action from it, because every little wisp of current makes that feathery marabou wave around.

A friend makes his jig heads for him, and they have bigger hooks than most small crappie jigs. Big crappie have big mouths, so he likes the bigger hooks.

If he needs the jig to be a little lighter, he'll just clip some lead off it. He also removes the little barb on the neck of the jig so it doesn't tear up his grubs.

To find crappie, Leroy simply looks for the river channel. Early in the year he starts in the main lake, but this time of year you can pretty much find the crappie simply by looking for the crappie fishermen.

We shared our stretch of the river with about a dozen other boats, all of them full of cordial fishermen who aren't too shy to ask questions. It goes the other way, too: If you aren't catching fish, you can always ask somebody who is.

Usually, you're fishing too deep or too fast. Crappie feed up, so it's better to be too shallow than too deep.

Leroy's Tips:

  • When you're trolling, don't hold the rod. Put it in a rod holder or set it down. When you hold the rod, every time you move you change the depth or speed.
  • Keep your eye on the graph. When we went out, the crappie were hanging out right on the edge of the channel. If you don't get your lure through the school, you won't catch any crappie.
  • Adjust for the wind. We were trolling one little stretch over and over. When Leroy turned around and went into the wind, he had to kick the trolling motor up to keep his speed the same. Use a GPS for the most accurate speed control.
  • Once you catch some fish, turn around and fish back through that school again.
  • If you're getting bit during turns, notice which rods are catching fish. If the outside rods are catching fish, you need to speed up. If the inside rods are getting bit, you need to slow down.
  • Speeding up will make your jigs ride higher in the water and slowing down will make them drop. Using rods with the top jigs tied on at varying heights will help you determine the right depth.
  • Small crankbaits work well when trolled for crappie, too.

Bass N' Crappie Guide Service is Leroy's business. In the summer, he does guided night fishing trips.

He can do full- or half-day trips, and kids under 13 fish free with a parent. You can call Leroy at (928) 425-3037 or (928) 701-2179, or visit his Web site at www.cybertrails.com/~mlprice.

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