By Vic Attardo

The St. John’s River in central Florida looked like a flow with four borders. In addition to the spongy banks on both sides. There were two thick fields of pad weeds, creating a second set of perimeters.


Outlaw and Parrott’s long B’n’M poles were extended over the upturned pads searching for a hungry crappie.

Teammates Whitey Outlaw and Mike Parrott were somewhere in this hydrology but a dense morning fog made seeing them difficult. When I did spot the South Carolina duo, I was surprised to espy where they were fishing. As if the pair were a Navy icebreaker caught in an Arctic sheet, Outlaw and Parrott’s boat was surrounded by the very pads that formed the second boundary. It appeared that, if they wanted to, they could get out of their Ranger and walk across the pads to dry land — the vegetation was that thick.
But Outlaw and Parrott weren’t out for a stroll. Their long B’n’M poles were extended over the upturned leaves and the rod tips pointing down on the water, only a few inches from the surface.


When a strike occurs, the crappie is quickly pulled up and out. You don’t want to give it the chance to run through the stalks.

If that wasn’t surprising enough, first Outlaw then Parrott brought up hefty crappie out of this very dense Florida flora.
In my years of following crappie experts, I’d seen plenty of low-tip fishing. The edges of weedbeds, the outer slats of wooden and metal docks, against tupelo and cypress trees, beside bridge pilings and riprap and even along swimming platforms — all done with low-tip fishing where the approach was definitely vertical as opposed to horizontal. But never had I observed this straight-line plunking in such a dense floating jungle .
When the boat I was riding in drifted close to the team I leaned out and asked what they were doing. Outlaw, with a smile as wide as a heron’s wing, alternately called it, dipping-and-sticking. No one seemed to have a fixed named for the tactic, I even heard “Probing,” so on the spur of the moment I decided to tag it “Plunking,” — as it seemed the angler had to plunk the crappie on their heads to illicit a strike.
Over the course of several days on the St. John’s, Outlaw and Parrott weren’t the only team to dig into the pads and pull crappie vertically. Joining the fun were Jim and Barbara Reedy and the team of Matt Morgan and “Doc” Watson.
About the only difference in the parties’ tactics was Morgan and Watson’s affinity for exposed deadfalls in the midst of thick pads, and the plunking of dead falls without weeds.


In this cover-orientated water, the common denominator among all the anglers was a superlong rod, and a low-tip approach.

Reach Out and Touch Someone
In this cover-orientated water, the common denominator among all the anglers was a super-long rod and the low-tip approach.
With all these veteran crappie anglers, the overall length of line from the rod tip was nominal. Sometimes someone used a few feet of line to make a wood-based presentation but constantly there were only inches between the rod tip and the water surface.
Beside this, the equipment key to this fishing was a rod I came to call “a feather monster.” Outlaw’s and Parrott’s rods measured 12- and 14-feet long respectively. Yet the rods’ lightness was a distinct feature. With a plastic reel resembling a fly reel on Outlaw’s pole, the total outfit weighed about four ounces.
Outlaw’s reel was something else to behold. Its braided line was spooled like a fly reel and the retrieving handle a squat plastic knob, functional only for putting line back on the reel but not for fighting fish. The reel had a low-ratio gear with a barely useful drag located at the side center of the spool. The drag was meant to prevent an overrun when the angler drew line out to make a length adjustment. When a crappie was hooked, it wasn’t the drag that fought the fish but the torque of the long pole.
Parrott’s gear was slightly different from his South Carolina partner’s. He employed a small spinning reel on his rod. This was affixed at the very end of the rod’s cork handle while Outlaw’s fly reel was positioned about two-hand lengths along the butt. Both anglers touted the lightness and balance of their equipment, adding the rods and reels could be fished all day without causing fatigue.
Suitable rods for the plunking technique included the 14-foot B’n’M Bucks’s Graphite Jig Pole, BFJP143; a B’n’M 12-foot rear-seat rod, SHSS-BS-122 and the B’n’M 12-foot BCCR122.

A Noisy Jig
Plunking’s terminal tackle is about as easy as it comes. Due to the density of the pads, this is not a place for live bait. Minnows would become wrapped in the pad’s broomstick stems, so were impractical.
Outlaw and Parrott used a simple jig and soft-plastic trailer to plumb the vegetation. It wasn’t a hard choice. However there was another consideration in selecting their terminal tackle. The middle St. John’s River is the color of watered-down cola, a result of the leaching of tree and soil tannins, and the rooting movement of many manatees. Crappie apparently are accustom to this clear but tinted water. Neverthelesss,it’s good to present a noisy calling card. For that the team used a 1/16 oz Rockport Ratter. The internal rattle was the jig’s announcement.
Also for the tannin water, Outlaw and Parrott favored a red-head jig with a Mid-South tube having a rich contrasting color. Admitted I was looking from the top down whenever I inserted a jig into the greenery but with polarized glasses I could spot the lure at least a foot down. I imagined that a crappie sitting next to the stalks could easily see, and sense, the bait.
Fine-tuning the plunking method I realized that locating crappie in the pads was really a matter of hitting every opening one could find. You just couldn’t read the pads to determine what lay underneath. Consequently it was necessary to plunk and plunk and plunk until a crappie was found. Often when you found one, there were several in a very tight area. In places, the border vegetation grew along just one side of the river and this certainly concentrated the fish along that that side.

Easy Does It
The actual act of plunking is a simple vertical drop of the jig into the opening. No casting at all. The angler lowers the jig gently and carefully into the spot. The lure is not meant to sink like a stone but be lowered down on a semi-slack line — not completely tight. The speed of the descent is changed by increasing or decreasing the amount of slack. As the jig falls, or is at its lowest point, the rod tip is lightly shimmied and bounced so that the jig and plastic wiggle in the water. If no strike occurs the rod is lifted straight up and the jig reinserted into another opening.
When a strike occurs, the crappie is quickly pulled up and out. You don’t want to give it the chance to run through the stalks.
After that, with plunking, it’s just a matter of practice makes perfect.

Manufacturer’s Mentioned
B’n’M Poles: bnmpoles.com; 800-647-6363
Rockport Rattle: rockportrattler.com; 201-601-7008
Midsouth Tackle: midsouthtackle.com; 870-395-4914