Story & Photos by Greg McCain
As president and owner of Crappie Masters, Mike Vallentine enjoys a job with benefits. He travels to the best fishing venues in the country for Crappie Masters tournaments and for other events and always tries to incorporate a little fishing time in his travels. One-pole fishing is Vallentine’s “drug of choice” just about everywhere that he travels.
While Vallentine doesn’t exclusively one-pole fish, he generally shuns the myriad of presentations that fool crappie and simplifies his approach. Avoiding the clutter and time-consuming nature of various trolling methods, Vallentine likes nothing better than one rod on the deck.
“I love it because you are 100 percent in control of the bait, and the thump you feel from a crappie is almost like an addiction,” said Vallentine, who is based near Truman Lake in Clinton, Missouri. “When you go out one-pole fishing, you’re just waiting to feel that thump. It triggers something inside of you. There’s a passion to feel it and to never miss a fish.
“There is actually so much to one-pole fishing, so many different things to do and different ways to present your bait. It’s almost a personal challenge to catch fish.”
While one-poling seems the simplest of crappie-catching techniques, a few hours on the water with Vallentine challenges that misinformed idea. He can literally talk for hours about the technique, mainly about the variety of presentations that fool crappie with a jig pole in hand.
For the most part, he follows the principle that “their eyeballs are looking up” in presenting his bait, usually doing so around some type of wood structure. The basic approach is a vertical or near-vertical placement of a jig around wood, but Vallentine offers at least 4 variations to what seems a straightforward approach.
“Start off with a vertical drop from the top of the water column and drop it a foot at a time,” he said. “In the summer time, we’re talking up high down to about 12 to 14 foot. If I haven’t gotten a bite, I will pull it up. If that doesn’t work, I might pull it sideways at 2 or 3 different depths.
“At that point, if I am consistently seeing fish on my electronics, I will focus in on those depths where the fish are holding. If I have gone through those motions, then it’s time to hold it still for a while.”
On many days, a vertical presentation is all that is needed.
“It’s real simple,” Vallentine said. “Pitch a jig in to a piece of visible timber. Pitch the jig past the tree and let it drop down to them. You are looking for consistency of bite in terms of just how deep the fish are holding.
“Sometimes they want it coming down and at an angle; sometimes they want it straight down on top of them; sometimes they want to see it drop and then see it sit dead still. Then they will come and hammer it.”
For his “slow raise” technique, Vallentine feathers the line and slowly brings the jig back through the water column, often catching fish at or near the surface even if they are holding much deeper. He emphasizes the need to raise the jig very slowly and also the need to be patient with fish biting in this manner.
“Sometimes the sky’s the limit,” he said. “The bites may have been coming at 8 foot and then pull that jig to the top of the water and still trigger some bites. They will still see the bait, sit there for a moment, and contemplate, ‘Am I going to eat that or not?’ At other times, they may hit just when you start to raise it.”
In contrast to the “slow raise,” Vallentine’s horizontal presentations often feature quick jerks of the rod tip. The jig “hops” on the jerk and then settles into a slow horizontal movement as it settles under the rod tip. He jerks the rod tip to the left or right as much as 6 feet when space allows.
“It’s important to jerk firmly to get the jig up,” he said. “That slow horizontal drop creates a swimming action. It’s also important to recognize if the fish want the jig pulled away from the structure or pulled to it.”
Finally, the dead-sticking presentation demands the ultimate patience and discipline from a fisherman. On a particularly tough bite, Vallentine said he has held the jig motionless up to 2 minutes before a fish hits.
“Most of the time, crappie are going to hit a bait that’s falling,” he said. “But you have to work your way through all the different possibilities to get them to bite at times. At times, they want to absolutely still.”
The Right Gear
In addition to the different presentations, Vallentine experiments with jig size to get the best rate of fall on a particular day. A 1/16th-oz. jig head is fairly standard for one-poling, but he frequently drops to a lighter head if the bite is slow or a bigger one (up to 3/16th) if the fish are aggressive.
“Most recently, I have fallen in love with a 3/32nd-oz. jig head,” he said. “It’s still heavy enough to work well and allows me to cover water quickly.”
Vallentine pairs his jigs with plastics from a variety of companies, but he specifically mentioned lures made by Spike-It (june bug/chartreuse) Bobby Garland (Lights Out, Cajun Cricket, and Monkey Milk), Midsouth Tackle (white/chartreuse, straight chartreuse/package #811), and Charlie Brewer’s Slider Company (crappie sliders in a variety of colors).
He fishes the jigs on a rod in the 10-foot range. Jig poles from 7 up to 11 feet are readily available. Vallentine suggests sampling different models to find the most comfortable one for a specific angler.
He frequently fishes with Ozark Pro Series poles, but he also mentions other jigging rods by B’n’M Poles, including the Sam Heaton Super Sensitive model, and a new series by Jenko Fishing. Jenko’s Kevin Rogers Signature Series rod should be available in tackle outlets this month.
“Today, there are so many great fishing poles out there that it just comes down to everyone’s personal preference,” Vallentine said. “If you are going to be out there for 8 hours fishing, it’s important to use equipment that you can use comfortably. If you want to focus on catching bigger fish, use equipment that will handle those fish.”
One often overlooked element in the equipment equation is line. While many anglers still opt for mono or fluorocarbon, Vallentine much prefers braid because of its sensitivity and no-stretch qualities. He typically spools a line-holder reel with Suffix hi-vis orange 6- or 8-lb. test. The result, he said, is more efficient fishing.
While mono or fluorocarbon works well for hard-biting, aggressive fish, he said the subtle bites of finicky crappie demand braid.
“I always use it – period – when I one-pole fish with jigs,” Vallentine said. “If fishing is so tough that I am forced to break out live bait, I might go to mono. But I try my best not to use live bait, and I always use braid when fishing jigs.”
Vallentine suggested that the lighter braid is hard to find in his travels, and he occasionally bumps up to 10-lb. test.
“I would go with the lightest you can find,” he said.
Vallentine often uses his electronics to locate structure but added that standing timber and visible stumps are some of the best places to start one-poling. While open-water presentations will work on occasion, this style of crappie fishing is simply better suited for use around some type of structure, ranging from the loneliest stick-up to the gnarliest brush top.
His favorite wood structure is standing timber although not all of it should be treated equally.
“If I have a choice, I try to catch fish on slick-timber stumps and not get in thick cover,” he said. “On the day when the bite’s tough, you might be forced to go out and fish thicker stuff like laydown trees or thick brushpiles.”
A key to finding concentrations of crappie is focusing on timber standing close together, two trees side-by-side or three arranged in a triangle. Vallentine meticulously works his way through such a setting, spending extra time on the best-looking areas.
The one-pole technique can be used just about any time of the year. It fools cold-weather crappie but really shines in warmer months, making the single-rod approach one of the best to target hot-water crappie in the summer and the early fall.
“You can one-pole fish anywhere and catch fish,” Vallentine said. “The body of water will usually dictate how you have to fish, but usually any lake that has visible timber is ideal for one pole.”
Vallentine added a final caveat that he said most anglers tend to ignore. He said he catches a lot of shallow crappie in the warm-weather months.
“On my home waters, Truman Lake in Missouri, even in the heat of summer with 85 or 90 degree water temperatures, we look for shallow stumps in 1 to 4 feet of water,” he said. “Those crappie will be there. That’s very common and it’s very common all over the country. Most people just don’t know it. It’s one of the great things about one-pole fishing.”