By Cory Schmidt, Z-Man
Even among the nation’s best bass anglers, whispers of words like big crappies attract a captive audience, every time. When tournament seasons end, plenty of bass fans go hot on the trail of their favorite panfish—silvery, palm-stretching wraiths known evocatively as “hubcaps.” Prospects of hundred fish days and flaky-white fillets—battered, seasoned and sizzling in a skillet—prompt even the most jaded anglers to drop what they’re doing and beeline for the nearest crappie hole.
It should come as no surprise then that while driving home from his last big bass derby of the year, Major League Fishing competitor David Walker found himself daydreaming about his local crappie lake and the makings of an epic fish fry. “After a long season of bass tourneys, I love coming home and catching a boatload of crappies with my daughters,” says Walker, a wizard with a small jig and softbait.
A lifelong panfish pursuer, Walker has discovered something big in the arena of soft plastic baits for crappies, perch, and bluegills—an idea that occurred to him while fishing a bass tournament.
“When I first started throwing ElaZtech softbaits for bass, I quickly learned an almost magical advantage of the material, which was that panfish and other nuisance fish couldn’t peck the tails off the back of your bass jigs. While bass fishing with traditional soft plastics, it’s always been a headache and major time waster when you’ve got perch, sunfish and other tail-pecking fish in the area. But using these new wave softbaits, I realized panfish could peck them all they wanted. I could stay in the game, non-stop, without constantly grabbing and re-rigging a new bait.”
All the while, Walker knew that ElaZtech’s advantages held tremendous panfish potential. “ElaZtech is wonderfully soft, making it easy to activate, so it moves and undulates fluidly in the water,” he notes.
A few days after the finish of a bass tourney season, Walker found himself on his favorite crappie lake. He spotted the aqua-blue packs of Z-Man baits lying on his boat deck and a light bulb ignited. “I picked up a pack of Slim SwimZ— a little 2-1/2-inch paddletail swimbait— and put it on an 1/8-ounce panfish jig. Almost immediately, it became my favorite crappie bait.”
Walker noticed that the bait’s tail was so easy to activate—even at slow retrieve speeds. The Slim SwimZ is one of those rare crappie-sized swimbaits whose tail will wag and thump even as it’s falling. Too many traditional crappie baits require excessive speed to activate them—and often, that’s too fast for crappies, especially in colder water.
Walker began wielding a small pair of super-sharp scissors for a bit of minor ElaZtech surgery. “I’d cut a quarter inch off the Slim SwimZ’ head for a slightly shorter profile—or just enough so the bait maintained its original size after rigging it on a jighead. I also started thinking about ways of altering tail action with a snip here and a slice there.”
The softness, action and buoyancy factors further moved Walker to think about altering the tail side of the bait. “Once the water gets cold and I’m fishing more vertical, I like a bait whose tail quivers and quakes with the slightest movement of the rodtip or line. The 2” GrubZ is a classic twister tail that’s an exceptional fish catcher right out of the bag. That bait works for casting or vertical jigging without any alteration.
“But the more I looked at the Slim SwimZ, the more it struck me that I could snip off the boot-tail and create a sword-tail effect. Lay the bait on its side and follow the angle of bait’s underside, cutting at a slight upward angle. You want to taper down to a nice thin sliver of material, which helps get the most movement out of the tail.
“First time I did this and put it in the water, I couldn’t believe how little effort was required to achieve that super-subtle tail-kick. In fall and winter especially, the best way to trigger a big crappie is to hover a jig a few inches to a foot above them and barely quiver the soft plastic tail. If you glue it to your jighead with something like Loctite Gel Control, you create a “permanent” lure.”
One other tip for triggering cool-water crappies, says Walker, involves the sniff test. “Crappies and scented baits are key. It’s the final factor for triggering bites, especially big fish in cool water. But not all scent attractants work the same.
There’s a natural connection between oil-based attractants and ElaZtech baits. Pro-Cure Super Gel Crappie & Panfish formula, for example, sticks to ElaZtech like glue. Walker likes to marinate baits by squeezing a decent amount of the goo into bags of GrubZ or Slim SwimZ. Let it sit overnight or much longer. After fishing a bait for an hour or so, when you no longer feel or smell the sticky stuff, simply drop it back into the bag, spread it around, and you’re back in business.