With its Plain Jane appearance, the plastic tube bait hardly looks like a lure diverse enough for anglers to catch crappies in a variety of ways.
However, savvy anglers know the nondescript plastic tube has more to offer than meets the eye. Manufacturers have turned the tube bait into a more versatile lure by creating an assortment of sizes and styles. What does that mean? You can catch crappiec under any condition with tube baits. I caught up with a couple crappie pros to talk about selecting the correct tube bait and presenting it the right way based on the condition. Here’s what they said.
Both the novice and the serious crappie angler benefit from an assortment of plastic tubes, says Kent Driscoll, a top competitor in the Crappie Masters Tournament Trail. They also benefit from understanding the differences between the two species of crappie.
Black and White
“Crappies are different in every lake and there are two species (white and black) that are two totally different fish,” says Driscoll, who guides for crappies in Mississippi. “A black crappie lives more in the shallow water most of its life and is really cover and vegetation oriented. Some of their favorite foods are little crustaceans in the vegetation, such as grass shrimp, crawfish, small minnows and fry from a gamefish. Black crappie also have a smaller mouth and typically eat smaller baitfish or forage fish.”
“On the other hand, a white crappie has a much bigger mouth and is very nomadic. They will stay in shallow water during certain times of the year and then they move out into deeper water where they suspend sometimes around cover. They tend to eat larger forage such as threadfin and gizzard shad.”
Different location and eating habits for different species, you say? Driscoll adjusts the size and style of tube bait based on the type of crappie he’s targeting. He generally opts for a smaller tube (1 to 1 1/2-inch) when keying on black crappies and selects bigger tubes ranging from 1.75 to 3 inches for white crappies.
“It depends on the time of year, too,” advises Driscoll. “During the spring and early summer there are a lot of fish hatched out, such as minnows and shad, so you try to match the hatch as best as you can then. To me one of the best ways to figure out what these fish are eating and what size bait they want is to filet a few fish out of the local lake and get into their stomachs to see what’s in there.”
Muddying the Waters
Water clarity also dictates which tube Driscoll selects. “The clearer the water, the smaller the tube I use,” Driscoll says. Black crappies prefer clearer water and, given their smaller mouth and baitfish habits, makes the smaller tube the prime choice for this situation. White crappies reside more in murky to muddy water, so Driscoll selects a bigger and bulkier tube that presents a larger profile and generates more vibration.
Bulky 2-inch Southern Pro Crappie Magnum and 3-inch Midsouth Tackle Super Jig tubes produce for Driscoll whenever he trolls or dips tubes in the dirty water lakes of Mississippi. “I wouldn’t dare use one of those super-sized tubes at Reelfoot Lake or Kentucky Lake or anywhere there is some water clarity,” says Driscoll.
The Southern Pro Umbrella Crappie Tube is another magnum-sized tube Driscoll relies on when he wants a slow presentation in dirty water. “The beauty of that specific tube is that it does fall a little bit slower and gives a bigger profile when you are trolling it so the fish sees it better.”
When he wants to jig around cover with a single pole, Driscoll frequently opts for a Bass Pro Shops Crappie Ringer, a tube-style bait with a cylindrical shape but a solid body. “It's just a lot softer than a regular tube and when a fish grabs it, it has a more lifelike feel,” says Driscoll, noting that the solid bodied lure also falls faster, which triggers more reaction strikes from crappies hiding in the cover.
Another Angler, Another Approach
Alabama guide Brad Whitehead also favors tube-shaped baits with solid bodies for his tight-lining tactics and shooting docks. He prefers a 2-inch Yum Vibra King Tube because the lure’s solid body stays on his hooks and jigheads better than a hollow tube. “When I’m shooting a jig 15 to 20 feet under the docks I want something solid that will stay on the hook better,” says Whitehead, who matches his tube with a 1/16-ounce Southern Pro jighead.
Whitehead usually trolls his tubes with a spider-rig setup to cover as much water as possible. Spider-rigging requires the ultimate in stealth. Whitehead carefully hovers his boat over shalllow-water crappies with long rods extended in each direction, dropping a jig right in front a crappie. This presentation excels in dark water with heavy cover, where jig placement takens on extra importance.
After a cold front, Whitehead scales down to one rod and the drop-shot rig. Yum tubes are ideal for a drop-shot rig that Whitehead employs for vertically presenting a single lure into cover.“The fish seem to like a little bit slower presentation when I’m targeting a specific piece of cover like that,” he says.
His drop shot rig consists of a Yum Vibra King Tube attached to a Daiichi Walleye Finesse Standout Hook with a 3/4-ounce weight set about 18 to 20 inches below the hook. He occasionally rigs two tubes about 14 to 16 inches apart whenever he feels the fish are scattered at different depths.
Matching the correct size jig head with each style of tube will guarantee better action from the lure and a more solid hookset. “If you are using a small tube you want to use a small jig head,” advises Driscoll. “A 1/48- to 1/16-ounce jig head works well in that 1 to 1 1/2-inch tube range. When I move up to the 2-inch tube I like the 3/32- and even a 1/8-ounce jig head. Any time I use above a 2-inch tube, I need a 1/8-ounce or 1/4-ounce head.” The bulky Crappie Umbrella Tube requires either a 1/8- or a 1/4-ounce jig head equipped with a #1 hook. Driscoll says.
Although it looks pretty simple to the average angler, the plastic tube bait offers a lot of diversity when it’s placed in the hands of a panfish expert.