Pontoon Fishing for Crappie
By Brad Wiegmann
You can catch crappie on any boat that floats. However, only a pontoon let’s you enjoy crappie fishing to the maximum with it’s open space and amenities. Truth is a pontoon when rigged right can be the ultimate crappie fishing boat.
Of course when anglers think of pontoon boats they regard them as a boat for weekend crappie fishermen with astro turf floors and coozie holders rigged on the railings. They are right when it comes to fishing from pontoons in crappie tournaments where how fast and far you travel plays a significant part in tournament success, however, they can’t be overlooked when it comes to crappie fishing for fun. Truth is several successful crappie guides take charter groups out in pontoons because of the advantages of fishing from them.
“I started out guiding for crappie in a bass boat, but quickly learned that clients wanted to bring more than a couple people on the guide trips. My bass boat didn’t have enough room so to accommodate them the only answer was to use a pontoon boat. That was twenty years ago and I have never regretted switching over to a pontoon boat,” said Jerry Thompson, Living the Dream Guide Service (www.ltdguideservice.com) on Toledo Bend.
Thompson pointed out there are advantages and disadvantages to fishing for crappie out of a pontoon boat. “I love the fact; I have enough room for large groups all out in just one boat. It’s not unusual for a family or corporate trip where they don’t want to be in two boats and fishing from a large pontoon allows me to take them all at one time,” said Thompson.
Other advantages Thompson revealed was pontoons have a better, more stable ride since they are bigger. He went on to explain on his pontoon they bring lots more equipment like an extra cooler with ice to keep crappie in for cleaning. At times, Thomson will even bring a deckhand along to help with catering to the clients on the boat.
Even keeping live bait becomes easier in a pontoon. Thompson’s pontoon has one built-in livewell with an aeration system that keeps bait alive even in the summer months. He also utilizes a bucket style livewell when necessary.
On the other hand, Thompson revealed there was really only one disadvantage. “During the spawn on Toledo Bend it can be hard to get into some of the places that are stumpy and crappie are spawning there, but not all crappie spawn at once. So, we can still fish for the pre- and post spawn crappie in deep water and have very successful trips during that time of year.”
Thompson has his 25’ pontoon rigged with a 115 HP outboard engine to power him to different locations on the lake. Once Thompson gets to where he is going the Motorguide trolling motor mounted on the front deck is lowered. His trolling motor utilizes a proprietary GPS system that can guide him to a waypoint or lock the pontoon in one spot where they can fish.
As for anchoring, Thompson is adamant about not using an anchor out when fishing from a pontoon boat. “It’s been so long I don’t remember when I used an anchor. Over the years when I tried to anchor and crappie fish too many bad things have happened. The biggest issue is getting the anchor down and clients get their lines caught in it or the anchor gets in the brush pile we are fishing and disrupts everything. Plus with the new technology where the trolling motor locks you in place there’s no need to drop an anchor,” said Thompson.
When it comes to fishing from a pontoon Thompson likes to keep it simple. “Instead of casting, I have found just dipping or dropping the lure or minnow straight down works best.”
One other thing he does is use a short 6’ fishing rod to keep clients from tangling lines or hooking each other. Since his clients aren’t casting it’s vital for Thompson to keep the pontoon in the correct location. To do this he relies on a trolling motor controlled by the GPS receiver and and using a hand-held remote. This allows Thompson to help out his clients, bait hooks or tie on lures instead of having to constantly operate the trolling motor.
When it comes to where to fish, Thompson uses his electronics, past experience and season patterns to help him decide. It should come as no surprise to learn he uses down imaging to locate crappie before fishing. However, it’s brush piles located around Toledo Bend in key areas that are his favorite fishing spots.
“Brush piles are really important for my style of fishing from a pontoon boat. You can’t just run up and down the lake in a pontoon checking every spot. I have put brush piles in locations where crappie migrates to in the summer, fall, winter and spring,” said Thompson.
Depending on the time of year, Thompson may have his pontoon in 15- to 50-foot of water overtop a brush pile. “I normally don’t fish in less than fifteen foot or less of water. It seems like they get real skittish whenever you try fishing overtop of them that shallow,” said Thompson.
Maybe the biggest selling point is cost compared to other styles of boats. A rigged out 20’ bass boat being used for crappie fishing can cost more than $50,000 compared to a 24’ pontoon costing around $26,000. Johnboats are another option, but they don’t offer the same seating, floor space or stability a pontoon offers.
“You won’t get any more comfortable than in a pontoon boat. Clients in my pontoon have space to move around, cover from the elements like rain or sun and of course music,” said Thompson. After twenty years of guiding for crappie on Toledo Bend out of pontoon boat Thompson knows all the advantages and disadvantages.