Gels, pastes, smelly dyes, injections, and various other scents give the industrious crappie angler many options for tempting bites from reticent or pressured fish. Some swear by scents for crappie fishing, while others take a more situation-specific approach.
Here are a few options and strategies for how and when to use them in your crappie fishing.
Use pre-scented baits: YUM and Berkley offer crappie sized baits with various forage scents built in, while Wally Marshall’s Mr. Crappie baits are injected with old-school anise oil.
Toledo Bend Guide Jerry Thompson’s a big fan of accenting his live minnow rigs with Berkley Powerbait Crappie Nibbles — a tactic he calls “adding cheese to the burger.” Chartreuse is his favorite, but pink gets bit, too.
Use external applications: Just add an after-market scents in various forms to enhance your presentation.
- Gels — Pro-Cure Gel or Bobby Garland Mo Glo Slab Jam
- Pastes — KVD FishSticks (similar to a lip balm applicator)
- Sprays — Berkley Gulp! Alive, Spike-It Garlic Spray
- Dips – JJ’s Magic or Spike It Dip-N-Glo Worm Dye
Use internal applications: More viscous scent products like Kodiak Fish Attractant Paste squirt into tube bodies for slow scent dispersion.
A handy tool called the Bait Pump (thebaitpump.com) expands the injection concept with a short, fat body resembling a hypodermic needle and a narrow nose instead of a poker. Use the Bait Pump just like the scent products that come prepackaged in applicators, only fill it with your own scent paste.
Unscrew the cap piece, fill the pump’s chamber up to the cap’s thread lines with Berkley Powerbait Crappie Nibbles or any scented nuggets, replace the cap and then slowly tighten the cap to crush the soft pellets into a smooth paste. Squeeze the paste out the nose and into a tube body.
Gels and pastes, which adhere to the bait, stimulate bites with added attraction and and encourage fish to hold on longer so you don’t miss those light bites.
For his plastics, Thompson finds that gels reduce repetition. “It needs to be something that will stay with the bait. I like the jellies because they stick to the baits and you don’t have to put it on that often.”
Liquid sprays and aerosols, on the other hand, are made to attract fish by gradually dispersing from the bait, spreading throughout the water and attracting fish from afar.
“I think the slower you go, the better,” said professional crappie angler Bart Gillon. “I think you present a scented bait slower than a non-scented bait because if you just whiz it by the fish, your bait may be gone before they even know it’s there.”
Scents can help just about any presentation, but Gillon’s best tactics for maximizing scented and scent-added crappie baits are one-pole jigging and tight-lining trolling at approximately 3/10 mph.
When scents matter
We often joke that the best time to go fishing is when they’re biting, so it stands to reason that the best time to add scent to crappie bait is when they’re not. That being said, the more vexing scenarios of post-frontal blues, lackluster solunar periods and heavy fishing pressure definitely make this a more relevant strategy.
As spring progresses, we’ll see a fierce crappie bite suddenly yield to a more challenging time — one during which scent additives are more than a good idea — they’re a downright necessity.
“Prespawn is the best bite of the year,” Gillon said, “and I’m not as concerned with using scents because if you’re in the right area, they’re going to bite just about anything. But from post spawn through fall, the fish are worn out, they’re scattered and you just about have to bump them in the nose to get them to bite.
“That’s when adding scent to your baits can really help. You’re struggling to get that fish to bite and anything you can do helps you that much more.”
As Alabama crappie chaser T.J. Stallings points out, the year-round effectiveness of scents really starts to shine during the tough summer months. Notably, scent dispersion is strongest in warm water, so the whole picture kinda works together.
A couple other considerations:
Visibility — Crappie are primarily sight feeders, but when visibility declines (wind, rain or heavy boat traffic), scent products help direct them to your baits.
Fishing pressure — Thompson believes that as fish become increasingly educated to stationary tactics, trolling will become increasingly prevalent in coming years. To that point he urges trollers to dose up their baits with something smelly.
“Covering more water by trolling will spread that scent farther,” Thompson said. “If you’re using scent when you’re trolling, it will get those fish fired up when you pass through. And then you come back through the area, you’ll help yourself out.
“Anything you do to get you a few more bites in a day is worth trying. I’ve never seen a scenario where they wouldn’t bite something with a scent attractant, and they would bite the same bait without it, so it can’t hurt you.”