Crappies: The Need For Speed

Speed is relative. The right speed pays big dividends when controlled for certain species of freshwater fish. How do you choose?

OK, I'm a speed freak.

It's not that I feel the need to skip across the water at 75 mph in my Ranger.

I need to feel the right speed when I'm trolling for walleyes or even crappies. It's often a key factor in narrowing down a productive trolling plan.

Simply put, the right speed is the fastest you can troll before the bite starts to drop off or the size of the fish you are catching begins to diminish.

Ideally, I like to troll as fast as I can, although speed can be dictated by the lures I am running, current and/or wind and wave action. The way I see it, if I can troll at 2 mph instead of 1 mph, twice as many fish will see my baits.

Experience has also taught me that the "right speed" usually falls within a window of .03 mph.

When I set the world record of 15 walleyes for 138.28 pounds during a 2002 pro-am on Lake Erie, that window was 1.4-1.6 mph. When I won the Professional Walleye Trail's Erie tourney out of Dunkirk, N.Y., in 2003, the hot zone was 1.6-1.8. And just over a year ago at the Crappie Masters Championship on Lake Grenada in Mississippi, our winning speed range fell between 0.9 and 1.1 mph.

That's not to say you won't catch fish outside those ranges, but what those three events, among others, have proven to me is that getting the most out of a trolling bite is often a matter of fine-tuning and consistency.

Fortunately, modern technology has given us a lot of tools to work with.

First of all, our GPS units display our precise trolling speed so we can figure out what the right number is on a given day.

Then, there are a number of small adjustments an angler can make to keep the boat within that .03 range.

Maybe it's as simple as opening or closing a windshield. On windy days, it might be a matter of standing versus sitting. Maybe dropping the bow-mount trolling motor down or lifting it up will do the trick. If you aren't using your big engine to troll, shifting it into gear even when it's not running will create resistance against the non-turning prop.

Drift or trolling socks or just a 5-gallon bucket or two can get you in the zone. Running the bow mount in reverse in conjunction with the kicker motor is another option.

Two more tools the help satisfy my need for the right speed are my E-Tech 15 hp kicker, which has a speed control feature that allows me to increase or decrease RPMs by 50 with the touch of a button, and the use of Power Pole Paddles that I can deploy to different depths for different speed reductions. They also reduce the surging effect that comes with rough water.

Sometimes, all it takes to get in the most productive speed zone is choosing the right trolling direction, whether that's with, against or quartering the wind and waves.

And of course we've all experienced those situations where trolling in S curves triggers strikes and provides valuable speed data, especially when using planer boards. Often those bites come on the side that speeds up, but sometimes the side that stalls out gets bit.

To quote Maverick and Goose from the movie Top Gun ... "I feel the need -- the need for speed."

I need to feel the right speed.

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