Yamamoto Baits for Crappie, Pike, and Walleye

by M.L. Anderson      

Yamamoto baits excel at mimicking what fish eat, which means they aren’t just for bass — you can catch darn near anything on Yamamoto baits. Adding them to spinnerbaits and spoons as trailers is one way to add action, but it can also make the fish hold on longer, just to keep that yummy salty taste in their mouths. Often when I fish for species other than bass, the first thing I go for is a Yamamoto bait — with so many colors, sizes, and shapes, there’s a bait to tempt just about any fish.

CRAPPIE         

I’m a catch and release fisherman until it comes to crappie. They are just too delicious to put back, and they are so abundant that there is no need to. In fact, in the state where I live, there is no limit on white or black crappie. Many of the bass fishermen I know have a hard time catching crappie. It can take patience and a light touch, so anglers who are good at finesse fishing should have no problem catching crappie. My lure of choice is a 3-inch Single Tail Grub (30-series) in 031 (blue pearl w/ large silver flakes), and I also love the 156 (chartreuse with large black flake) and the 169 (chartreuse with large chartreuse and large green flakes). When the crappie are deep or it’s cloudy out, 192 (fluorescent lemon yellow) is hard to beat. The tail action on Yamamoto grubs is unmatched.          

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Fish the grubs on dart heads or pea head jigs: 1/32-ounce for fishing from 1 to 12 feet deep, 1/16-ounce for 12 to 22 feet, and 1/8-ounce for 22 to 45 feet. Make it easy on yourself by rigging up a bag of grubs the night before — put a dab of Super Glue on the back of the jig head and then slide the grub up the hook and glue it to the head. Rig them with the hook out. Your rod should be an ultralight spinning rod, and you can spool up with light braid – that helps get your jigs back if they hang in a bush. The rod needs to be soft about halfway down, especially if you are using braid. Crappie are not called “papermouths” for nothing, and if you jerk the line you’ll rip the jig right out of his mouth.

Crappie tend to school up around cover, so if you catch one you can stay there and catch a whole lot more. Knowing how to use your electronics is key to finding them. They can look almost solid across the bottom, or be stacked up in a narrow area. Once you find them, toss a buoy off to one side. Don’t throw it in the middle of the school or they’ll spook. The easiest way I know to catch crappie is the method that Curt Rambo, the Crappie King of Arizona, taught me years ago. Position the boat over the fish or just off to one side. If they are deep you can sit right over them, but if they are shallow you might want to stay a little ways off, in the direction opposite the sun so your shadow doesn’t fall on them.    

A school of crappie over structure.

A school of crappie over structure.

Once you are in position and your buoy is out, pitch the lure gently over to where they are, or simply drop it if you are right over them. Let line spool off until it goes slack, which means it is on the bottom. Put your rod tip on the surface of the water, and gently reel until you’ve take up all the slack. Now lift the rod into your normal fishing position (usually parallel to the water), and simply lift the rod up about three or four feet, then lower it back down, keeping the line taut. The bite is usually just a little bump or a slight tug on the line. When this happens, reel while lifting the rod. For heaven’s sake don’t do a bass fisherman hookset. Remember how delicate their mouths are, and be ready to scoop the crappie up in a net when it gets to the surface.          

If you’re not getting bit, try turning the reel one time before lifting and lowering the rod again. Crappie feed up, so if you’re a bit too deep you won’t get bit. When the water reaches about 62 degrees the crappie start coming up shallow and you can catch them by casting your jigs and grubs to shore and reeling them back. Dart heads are best for that. The rest of the time they are generally deeper. One way to tell where they are is to just look for a bunch of boats that are anchored. Fishing at night over lights in the summer is dynamite too.

PIKE         

When pike are in a lake they are the top predator and fishing for them is a lot like bass fishing. You can use the same lures, but you can make them bigger. Think spinnerbaits with a big Single Tail Grub for a trailer, or a football head with a 4-1/2-inch Flappin’ Hog or a five-inch Double Tail Hula Grub. Big Senkos work too, especially when the pike are cruising weedy shorelines. Small pike will stay in shallow weeds almost all year, but the bigger ones move out to deeper water as it warms up.           

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One of my favorite ways to catch pike is to use the football head and Hula Grub. It’s really easy – just cast it out and swim it back. You don’t even really need to bump it against things or drag it on the bottom – just swim it past any spot where a pike could be waiting and he’ll grab it. They use the same kind of ambush points that bass use: points leading to coves, reefs, islands, etc. If you’re throwing Senkos, use the biggest ones you’ve got and twitch them fairly quickly. Concentrate on weedline edges or work it right over the weeds and let it drop into holes. A steel leader is a good idea with Senkos, because they’ll inhale the whole thing. A net is imperative – pike have a mouthful of sharp teeth.

If you have a lake near you that regularly ices over in the winter, odds are there are pike in there. They have been stocked in every state. They actually start to move up when the water temperature reaches around 40 degrees in the shallows. They are good eating, but they can be hard to fillet because of the Y-bones they have, and they also have a lot of slime, so be sure you skin them. There are lots of videos online about filleting and cooking pike – they have mild white meat that is flaky and tasty, so don’t let the bones and skin turn you off. 

Leslie Hartman holds a beautiful northern pike.

Leslie Hartman holds a beautiful northern pike.

WALLEYE          

A wacky-rigged Senko is a great bait for walleye. Brad Hartman of Minnesota says that a wacky rigged Senko is the absolute best way to introduce someone to plastics. You pretty much can’t go wrong – all you have to do is let it fall then lift it and let it drop again. For pike, walleye, and musky, Brad uses a steel leader because those creatures are toothy. He uses very light wire or heavy mono (20, 30, or 40 pound test) and makes about 12-inch leaders.          

In mid-summer, Brad says the walleye start to go after leeches, so he splits Senkos lengthwise and fishes them on drop-shot rigs with the hook in the tip. The half Senko undulates like a leech and he says he catches both walleye and smallies on them. He uses smaller Senkos for walleye, and big ones for smallmouth. To fish the drop-shot rig, he simply lifts the weight off the bottom and lets it flutter down, concentrating on rocks offshore or weedlines.  

On some of the lakes Brad fishes, there are pipelines to houses that pump up water used on lawns. Those pipes make paths in the weeds that the fish use to move up and back, and they are great places to wacky rig a Senko. Hartman favors Senko colors that mimic the baitfish in whatever lake he is fishing. To punch through weeds or lily pads, he will fish a Senko Texas-rigged with the sinker pegged. Just drop it through, wiggle it a few times, then go to the next spot.

Just about any fish will eat a Yamamoto bait, no matter how big or how small the fish is. If you size the bait to the fish you’re after, and use a color that imitates their prey, you just can’t miss. I’ve learned to bring along Hula Grubs and Senkos in a variety of colors wherever I go – there are endless ways to rig them so they are incredibly versatile. Next time you’re out fun fishing, take along a few and see what happens.