Huckabee goes Heavy to Tackle big Crappies

What’s the number one thing an angler can do to catch more crappies? Switch to bigger and stiffer gear, according to guide and pro angler Todd Huckabee of Eufala, Oklahoma.

“Use heavier jigs, heavier line and stiffer rods,” Huckabee said while at the Let’s Go Fishing Show at Collinsville, Ill. “You have to do all three to be effective. If you get a stiff rod and you put light line and a little jig on there, you’re going to break your line or rip that small hook out of the crappie’s mouth.”

“Using a heavy jig on a light rod won’t work well, either,” Huckabee added. He said he uses at least 10-pound-test line, and more often 12 to 14 pounds. He called braided line useless for crappie fishing and said the only reason anglers ever needed braid was because they didn’t have good rods.

“If you’re using a rod that is parabolic, or a light-action rod, the rod absorbs the shock of the bite, so you need braid to transfer that sensation back to you so you can feel it. If you have a good, stiff rod, you’re going to feel it instantly. If you’re using a heavy enough jig and heavy enough line and a stiff rod, you’ll feel the bite. You don’t need braid.”

Huckabee’s clients often say the fish at Eufala bite harder than they do at home.

“No, they don’t,” says Huckabee. “It’s the same everywhere. It’s just that people have been using these extremely flimsy rods with foam handles, light line and light jigs. You can’t feel anything doing that.”

Huckabee said he doesn’t believe heavy line frightens fish.

“A crappie doesn’t know what fishing line is to be scared of it,” he says. “Most crappies have never been caught until you catch them. It’s not like a bass that’s been caught 40 times and becomes wise. Line doesn’t even frighten a bass.”

Huckabee said he prefers copolymer line to fluorocarbon because it has less memory in cold water. He said he prefers baitcasting reels to spinning reels because most of the time he’s vertical jigging rather than casting.

“My job is to get as many fish as possible in the boat. A spinning reel is very susceptible to human error, and I’m dealing with humans.”

He sets the drag on the baitcasting reel so tight that the client can’t backlash it. Because line comes off a baitcasting reel in a straight line, there is less line kink than a spinning reel produces, he said.

“I want my line straight. If you have kink in the line, it will wrap around the tip of the rod. A crappie won’t break heavy line,” Huckabee said.

“When I set the hook on a crappie, I’m trying to jerk it in the boat. If you’re using a jig that has a 2/0 hook, you’ll catch the fish right in the skull, not on the edge of the mouth where it’s thin.”

Huckabee said a crappie fisherman doesn’t need a net if he’s using a big enough hook.

“You’ll land more fish with a big hook. I use a 2/0, but I use big baits. I never use small baits.”

Jig color matters only about one percent of the time, Huckabee said.

“I’ve seen very few times when it mattered—but it did matter. If you’re in stained or murky water, anything other than crystal clear, they don’t see the jig until it’s right in front of them, and it’s strictly a reaction bite. A crappie never wakes up and plans to look for blue and white jigs. You’ll catch more fish with the wrong color jig in the right spot than you will with the right color jig in the wrong spot.”

Dark colors are best in muddy water and a bigger bait is easier for crappies to see, Huckabee said.

“They have to see it to eat it. They don’t have lateral lines like a bass and they don’t have monitors like a catfish.”

Huckabee said he never uses minnows.

“My job is to be efficient. A minnow takes away from that, and you don’t need it. If I ever have to resort to using live bait, I’ll quit. If you’re in an area where you have to use live bait to get bites, you’re not around enough active fish. You need to move.”

He gives each spot four to five minutes, at most, before he moves.

“I might move 10 times before I find a spot where there are enough fish that we should give it a legitimate shot.”

Huckabee said 95 percent of his fishing is in open water.

“I’ve got on two 1/4-ounce jigs about 14 inches apart and a rod in each hand. We’re slow-trolling breaklines. I’m moving so slow that there’s really no angle to my lines.”

He targets fish in shallow areas.

“The deeper the fish, the longer it takes to catch those fish. You have to get down there and reel them up. It takes a lot of time.”

Huckabee said crappies like muddy water.

“Your best lakes are always muddy or stained. Any lake that is crystal clear will have smaller fish in it because they can’t catch those bigger baitfish. The shad see them and get away. To me, the perfect water is so muddy that maybe you couldn’t farm it, but you could track a coon across it. You can make 10 times more mistakes in muddy water and still catch fish.”

When water gets more than stained, crappies want to relate to something, Huckabee said.

“It can be a stump or a bridge pillar or a brush pile or a rock. They can’t see very far and they want to know where they are, so they don’t roam around. That’s why trolling isn’t very effective if it gets super muddy.”

In extremely muddy water, crappies will be hard to catch because it’s difficult for an angler to get a jig into the cover, Huckabee said, adding that when he fishes around cover he uses only one jig.

Asked how he starts a day of fishing, Huckabee said, “Here’s a good rule of thumb. When you launch your boat and start idling to wherever you’re going, you’ll start to see a pattern on your graph. Most of the action will be at a certain depth, no matter the depth of the water you’re in. If it’s at 6 feet, you want to be in 5 to 7 feet of water. Most of the time those fish in open water early are inactive. The ones that are active that you can catch are the ones where the bottom is at that depth.”