John's Journal...

Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers

Day 2: Why Sonny Sipes Believes Slow Trolling Is the Best Way to Catch Crappie

Editorís Note: Gilford ďSonnyĒ Sipes of Moody, Alabama, is one of the nationís top crappie fishermen. He and his brother, Shannon Sipes, just have won the Alabama State Championship on the Alabama River near Montgomery, Alabama, on the Crappie Masters tournament circuit. His first partner was Coy Sipes. He won the first Crappie Masters championship in 2004 in Grenada, Mississippi. His two-day catch of 20 fish weighed 37.88 pounds, the heaviest ever weighed-in for a Crappie Masters tournament. In the Alabama 2013 State Championship, Sonny and Shannon Sipes weighed-in 14 crappie, a total of 27 pounds and a few ounces. They also caught the biggest fish in the tournament, a 3.01-pound crappie.

Click for Larger ViewClick for Larger ViewI slow troll about 99.5% of the time. If Iím slow trolling with multiple poles, I can catch my limit of crappie and be back at the house before lunch if I start at daylight. You donít have to fish all day long to catch all the crappie you want. When Iím guiding, Iíll often catch my limit, and my customers will catch their limits (30-fish each) in a half a day of fishing. My favorite places to troll are underwater flats that have an old creek channel running through them or that have some type of depression or depth change, especially if Iím hunting big female crappie. They generally will be holding during the spring time in those little depressions or small creek channels in spawning flats. The worst place for me to troll is where there are a lot of underwater structures like trees, limbs and bushes. If the crappie are holding tight to that structure, my jigs and minnows will get hung too often. But I know Iím not going to catch the crappie if Iím not getting hung on the structure.

During the crappie spawn, Iíll troll in water depths from 2- to 6-feet deep, depending on the lake Iím fishing. In some lakes, crappie spawn deeper than they do in others. One of the ways I can determine where the crappie are spawning, especially on a new lake, is by using my Humminbird Side Imaging depth finder. Youíll need some time to learn how to use this side and down imaging depth finder, but itíll definitely help you find more crappie. I like the Humminbird 997, because it has both side imaging and down imaging capabilities. If Iím using the depth finder on flats, Iíll be looking for suspended fish, because when crappie get ready to go to the bed, theyíll usually suspend up off the bottom. I believe they come up and suspend to get their bodies accustomed to less atmospheric pressure, before they move into that shallow water to spawn. Before the spawn Iíll find crappie suspended in 2 to 4 feet of water when the bottom is at 30-feet deep. Most people donít consider the possibility that they can catch crappie in the middle of a river, a creek or a cove in 30-foot-deep water.

Click for Larger ViewClick forLarger ViewWhen I see that the crappie are suspended high in the water before the spawn, I use a technique called long-line trolling. We put our poles out the back of the boat instead of the front. Some people think you spook the crappie when you run over the top of a school with a trolling motor or your outboard, and you wonít be able to catch any. You have to remember that dodging boat traffic is a major part of the crappieís life all year long. As the boat passes, theyíll dodge and get out of the way. But as soon as the motor is not directly over their heads, that school of crappie will form back up where they were. When we find crappie in 2 to 4 feet of water on a major creek or river channel, weíll use our trolling motor and move at less than 1 mph. By the time we go over that school, theyíll take the jigs that come to them at 15, 20 or 30 feet behind the boat.

When youíre using the long-line technique, you usually put out several poles with different lengths of line on them. Letís say that the poles we have out the back of the boat are 20- or 30-feet behind the boat, and theyíre producing more crappie than the lines that are out 15 feet or 30 feet. We then know to set our line poles to run 20-feet behind the boat, if we want to catch the most crappie. On our main line weíll usually have 6- pound-est line and one or two 1/30-ounce jigs attached to each line. Or, weíll troll a 1/16-or a 1/8-ounce jig, depending on how deep the crappie are suspended over deep water. Weíre determining the depths of water that our jigs are passing through not only by the weight of the jig but also by the speed of the boat. If weíre using small 1/32-ounce jigs, we may be trolling as slow as 0.2 to 0.5 mph. If weíre using the heavier jigs, we may speed up and troll at 1.5 mph. We want our jigs to pass over those suspended crappie about a foot above the school. The crappie will come up to take bait, but they wonít go down. If the crappie are moving into shallow water to spawn, Iíll use 16-foot poles on the front of the boat with only one jig tied on the line of each pole. Then I can troll around in the backs of creeks or troll really close to the edge of a bank where crappie are spawning. Iíll have 8 of those 16-foot poles on the front of my boat as Iím trolling.

The Sipes team use either Tru-Turn hooks or Xpoint hooks on their minnow rigs. They also use Roadrunner lures. One of their favorites is the Roadrunner Pro 2.0 and the Lake Fork baby shad in the lime or lime trues glow colors. To learn more about the jigs and hooks that the Sipes use, visit

Sonny Sipes also guides for crappie on several lakes in Alabama. You can contact him at 205-919-0982, or you can email him at

To learn more about crappie fishing, go to Or, to view an online crappie fishing magazine, go to

To learn more about how to catch crappie, click here, or visit, and type in the name of John E. Phillips’ latest crappie-fishing book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Spring and Summer.”

About the Author

John Phillips, winner of the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award for outstanding fishing writer by the American Sportfishing Association (AMA) and the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), the 2008 Crossbow Communicator of the year and the 2007 Legendary Communicator chosen for induction into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame, is a freelance writer (over 6,000 magazine articles for about 100 magazines and several thousand newspaper columns published), magazine editor, photographer for print media as well as industry catalogues (over 25,000 photos published), lecturer, outdoor consultant, marketing consultant, book author and daily internet content provider with an overview of the outdoors. Click here for more information and a list of all the books available from John E. Phillips.

Tomorrow: When to Catch What Crappie as the Spawn Begins with Sonny Sipes

Check back each day this week for more about "Catching Crappie with the Sipes Brothers"

Day 1: How to Catch Crappie in the Spring When a Front Hits with the Sipes Brothers
Day 2: Why Sonny Sipes Believes Slow Trolling Is the Best Way to Catch Crappie
Day 3: When to Catch What Crappie as the Spawn Begins with Sonny Sipes
Day 4: How I Learned to Find and Catch Crappie with Sonny Sipes
Day 5: Crappie Bite All Year Long with Sonny Sipes

ALL CONTENT PROTECTED UNDER THE DIGITAL MILLENIUM COPYRIGHT ACT. Content theft, either printed or electronic is a federal offense.


Entry 711, Day 2