Small crappie baits can produce big catches if you use the best fishing techniques. Learn about 5 proven approaches.
“Something’s changed,” avid crappie angler Gary Rowe said, as he watched another fish on his Garmin LiveScope follow and then shy away from the jig at the end of his line. Just minutes before, the Oklahoma angler and Bobby Garland pro staffer was telling me this was the very spot where he and his son had quickly finished out their summer crappie limits the day before. The crappie weren’t cooperating today, though.
Having witnessed the same scenario at two other places where Rowe had caught them the day before, I politely suggested “let’s go explore some new areas.” After all, I knew this long-time friend had more than 1400 crappie fishing waypoints on Fort Gibson Lake – from which he lives just a block away.
“Okay, but humor me for just a second,” he said, turning to grab another rod. No longer than it took for his new offering to reach the 10-foot cover, Rowe was snapping a hookset and lifting a crappie from the same brush we’d been fishing for the past 20 minutes. Grinning, but saying nothing, he admired the 10-incher and then gently tossed it back. On each of his next three drops, the results were the same: a keeper crappie coming aboard.
He proudly displayed the bait doing the catching, a Bobby Garland Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R, in his favorite Fort Gibson color, Bone White/Chartreuse. “I love this bait!,” he commented. I already knew that, and that was the reason I was along. I wanted a deep look into his Itty Bit tactics and the crappie rigs he uses to deliver his baits.
Rowe’s fondness for the three 1.25-inch soft plastics in the Itty Bit series – Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R, Itty Bit Slab Slay’R, and Itty Bit Swim’R – is no secret. He was one of the first local anglers I gave a handful of the tiny baits to try when we first introduced them at Bobby Garland a few years ago. Since then, I can say he’s spent more time fishing the series than anyone else I personally know.
“They just seem to always work, any day, any season,” he says. And he’s converted many fellow crappie anglers with similar on-the-water proof, including to another Fort Gibson home-towner, Bass Fishing Hall of Famer and fishing legend, Tommy Biffle. “Tommy’s an Itty Bit fan now, too,” he said proudly.
Rowe mused, “I don’t know why I ever fish anything else, but I guess that’s what we crappie anglers do.” Then he went into the details I was after, beginning with what he was doing at the time, clam shotting, a technique comparable to split shotting, but with a clam-shaped crimp-on weight, instead of a round split shot.
Here’s what he had to say about that technique, along with tips about four other Itty Bit tactics, in no particular order of priority. All are strategies that Gary Rowe can back with crappie-catching success.
The clam-shotting designation comes from the clam-shaped Bass Pro XPS crimp-on weights that Rowe prefers for fishing Itty Bit baits. He says he believes the shape allows the weight to come through brush and other cover better than does traditional round split shot. Most often he uses a #5 size, which is comparable to a 1/16-ounce jighead. He crimps the weight to his line 6-8 inches above his jig.
For the jighead, he opts for the Bobby Garland Itty Bits Jighead. It’s an unpainted ball head with a down-facing bait keeper that “fits and holds the meaty part better.” He’s not particular in choosing between the two available sizes – 1/64- and 1-48-ounce – both of which use the same #8 Eagle Claw hook, saying the jighead is more about holding the soft-plastic lure than providing weight with this crappie rig, since the clam shot does the latter.
Rowe says he always, with a heavy emphasis on “always,” ties the jighead to his line using a loop knot. “It presents the bait more naturally, and also allows the lure to navigate better through cover.”
His top bait choice is the Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R because of its bulkier profile and unique swim tail. For the presentation, Rowe prefers to stay off the cover and cast or pitch to it, as opposed to getting directly over it. “I think doing so allows me to pull more fish from a single spot,” he said. He’ll work both sides of the cover first, and then swim the lure across the top next, “picking off the more aggressive fish first.”
Then he’ll fish deeper into the cover, working in and around it all, from top to bottom, while always keeping contact with the lure on a tight line. “If you lose contact, one of two things will happen: You’ll miss a bite, or you’ll get hung up.” He says you must always “feel” the bait to maximize success.
Rowe uses this technique year-round, and for all depths when conditions allow.
In the truest sense of jigging, Rowe will fish an Itty Bit on a single jighead. He’s tying his line directly to the jighead, again using a loop knot, and usually goes with a Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle Jighead for this technique. The computer-balanced head hangs horizontally on a loop knot, and features a “sickle” style hook. These hooks, with their special bends, are stronger and bigger hooks, size 6s, yet come in the Itty-Bit-friendly 1/48- and 1/32-ounce jighead sizes.
The bait he likes for this technique is the Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R. Rowe’s approach to cover and presentation of the lure are similar to how he fishes the clam-shot rig, but the jighead/bait combination puts the entire focus on the business end of his line. It is a tight-lining technique that also serves a variety of fishing scenarios, especially vertical or near-vertical dissection of cover.
The double-jig rig is exactly that – two jigs tied onto the same line. Rigging this way allows presentation of two different lure styles and/or colors at once. Rowe additionally likes it because: 1) he can use a heavier jighead for one of the jigs, making it the weight; 2) by putting the Itty Bit at the end of the line, he gets an entirely different action from the little bait. The Itty Bit trails behind on the fall, and then comes swinging down last. By then, the combo typically has a fish’s attention, and the Itty Bit is the easier bait to catch and eat.
For this tandem rig, Rowe typically ties a 1/16-ounce jighead on top, attaching with a loop knot either a Crappie Pro Mo’ Glo or Crappie Pro Overbite Sickle head in that size. He then attaches a 1/48-ounce jighead to the line’s end, using either an Overbite Sickle or Itty Bits jighead.
“I use the double-jig rig mostly in early spring, and again in winter, because natural bait sources can be both sizes at those times, plus you’re getting the benefit of the finesse tactic for finicky moods.
When fishing deep, or in wind or river current, Rowe fishes his Itty Bit on a drop-shot rig. Similar to how the rig works in bass fishing, a weight, whether a true drop-shot style or a simple bell sinker is affixed to the end of the line. But first, a jighead is tied directly to the line 1 to 2 feet above on a loop knot. Again, since a heavier weight is being employed elsewhere, the Itty Bit jighead size isn’t critical.
Rowe really likes the Itty Bit Slab Slay’R for this presentation. He usually makes a cast or short toss beyond the targeted cover and then “drags” up to it. He lightly shakes his rod tip to give the bait tantalizing action.
In the heat of summer, when forage is small and shade at a premium, Rowe finds dock-shooting an Itty Bit into the boat dock darks spots to be especially effective. Crappie commonly gather in sizable numbers in slips and under boat lifts and swim platforms.
Rowe uses his same 7’ 4” crappie rod, one with some backbone and a fast tip, for this and all his Itty Bit techniques. For the jighead, he likes the Crappie Pro Head Dockt’R that’s made for dock shooting, preferring the 1/24-ounce size. First, he lightly files down the baitholders on the Head Dockt’R for an ideal fit and hold of the tiny Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R.
To shoot, he holds the hook between his thumb and forefinger and then draws the line back toward the reel flexing the rod tip, “aiming” toward the target and then releasing to send the jig flying and skipping along the water’s surface. “I’ve found the slow fall rate of this Itty Bit combo to be too much for even the most finicky of suspended crappie to resist,” he told me while reeling in a fish.
Gary Rowe’s Top Itty Bit Tips
Use a sensitive rod with a fast tip and a decent amount of backbone. Not whippy. You will catch some big crappie on these little baits.
Go with quality, small diameter fishing line in 6-pound test. I like Seaguar fluorocarbon; fluorocarbon sinks and that helps with these finesse presentations
Strategically select your jighead to the application, considering head weight, bait holders and hook sizes.
Use a loop knot, because doing so provides a more natural presentation and better lure action