By Darl Black

Troll Bandits.

Those two words perfectly describe Tennessee fishing guide Jim Duckworth’s late spring/summer crappie fishing plan. Once slabs filter out of the shallows, the legendary guide knows that no other tactic puts more big crappie in the boat.

“On Tennessee reservoirs like Percy Priest where I guide, once the water temperature climbs into the 70s the crappies follow baitfish to open water. Schools of crappies simply shadow young-of-year gizzard shad moving across the bays, large coves and flats, and they’re not associated with any cover or structure.

“I can quickly tell whether a bay or cove is worth investigating by making a pass with my side scanning sonar set at 100 feet off to the sides. If I do not see large bait schools, I leave the area immediately. However, if I discover bait, then I slow down and dial duckback the side scan to 60 feet on either side to look for crappie schools.”

When Duckworth sees what he believes to be crappies on the side scan, he puts out five trolling rods, each with a Bandit 200 Series. He establishes a grid-trolling pattern while running three windows on his sonar: side scan, down scan and a lake map. The lake map helps him avoid long shallow points while making trolling passes.

“One of the most frequently asked questions from customers revolves around the size of the crankbaits I use,” says Duckworth. “Clients, especially those from up North, ask if the cranks are too big for crappies. They are accustomed to throwing Bandits for bass, but not for crappie. I explain that the small shad that crappies eat are roughly 3 inches in length – the same size as a Bandit crankbait.”

After his clients start catching crappies on the Bandits, they quickly realize size isn’t an issue.

“However, some of my clients will want to know how come they are not catching schooling largemouth and white bass, which typically hang around the bait schools, too. Well, the secret is the colors I choose from Bandit’s “Crappie Series” options. I will use any color as long as it’s pink!”

“Bandit is known for producing a tremendous number of color patterns, and a lot of them catch crappie, but there’s something about pink that crappie can’t resist.  It’s funny because bass and other freshwater predator fish don’t seem to have the same affinity for the color. By running pink baits I don’t waste time catching other species.”

Duckworth says he can’t explain why crappies love pink. Bandit features other colors in the Bandit Crappie Series, but those chartreuse and white versions also catch bass and other species, and Duckworth is all about crappie.

Crappie Series bait feature two red treble hooks. While Duckworth has long been a proponent of using red hooks to draw more strikes, in this instance he removes the back red treble and replaces it with a black one.

“I don’t want crappie hitting the tail hook,” he said. “You lose too many soft-mouth crappies on the tail hook. I leave the front red hook in place because that’s where I want the fish to focus the strike.”

Duckworth’s custom-built boat is equipped with a Driftmaster Trolling Bar near the transom. The bar has five rod holders. Sixteen-foot BnM Trolling rods are placed in the two outside holders, with each rod angled at 90 dpinkegrees from the gunnel of the boat.  About 18 inches in from each outside positon is another rod holder. A 14-foot rod positioned at 45-degree angle goes in each of these holders. A fifth rod, an 8-footer, goes right over the top of the motor. This set-up gives him a 38-foot coverage area.

“My reels are spooled with 20-lb braid, which has the same diameter as 8-lb monofilament,” continues Duckworth.

He lets out 100 to 150 feet of line, which puts a Series 200 Bandit in the 12- to 15-foot range when trolling. At times he runs a Series 100 bait on the shallow side of the boat. That bait runs 6 to 9 feet deep on the troll.

“I troll the Series 300 Bandits throughout hottest part of summer when crappies go deep in search of cooler water. The 300 Series trolls at 14 to 17 feet on 20-lb braid.”

Trolling speed is critical when it comes to crappie, and Duckworth bases his speed on water temperature. Right after the spawn when water temperature is 65 to 70 degrees, he trolls at 1.8 mph. With water temperature between 70 and 75 degrees, trolling speed is 2.5 mph. Above 75 degrees he maintains a trolling speed of 3 mph.
Trolling with his 150 horsepower 4-stroke outboard, Duckworth can troll as slow as 3 miles per hour. However, to get the boat speed down to 1.8 or 2.5 mph, he hangs a Lindy drift sock under the bow of the boat.

Each rod holder is numbered, so if Duckworth spots a strike but the customer does not, he simply calls out the specific rod number.

Guests sitting near the transom trolling bar grab the rod and reel in the fish until about 5 feet of line remain. Then they swing the rod forward alongside the boat where Duckworth reaches out with a 10-foot net to land the fish.

“I always recommend using a net when trolling crankbaits. You save those lightly hooked fish that may otherwise fall off.”