[Stories] Stump Bumpin' for September Crappie

There are a lot of ways to catch fall crappie but stump bumpin' is hard to beat when you're trying to catch fish this time of year

Arkansas crappie anglers Chris Mullins and Ricky Lucius developed a special tactic that waylays slabs in lakes full of cover. (Photo courtesy of Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton)

Lake Conway in central Arkansas has the distinction of being the largest lake ever constructed by a state game-and-fish agency. This sprawling impoundment, 25 miles west of Little Rock on Interstate 40, covers 6,700 acres.

While its size is impressive for a state-owned lake, the lake’s dimensions are not its only distinction. Conway also is one of the stumpiest lakes in the country.

When the Arkansas Game and Commission impounded Palarm Creek to create Lake Conway in 1948, it flooded a huge area of standing and cut-over timber. The result was a lake chock-full of dense woody cover.

The stumps, logs and snags in Lake Conway also created a haven for crappie. America’s favorite panfish are extraordinarily plentiful here and often tip the scales at 1-1/2 to 2 pounds, sometimes more. Folks come from throughout the country to partake of the lake’s excellent crappie fishing.

I tell you all this because when Arkansas crappie anglers Chris Mullins of Joiner and Ricky Lucius of Wilson told me about “stump bumping,” a great crappie-fishing tactic they use to find autumn’s often-scattered schools of slabs, I wanted them to demonstrate the technique on a body of water where they’d be put to the test.

Lake Conway was perfect. Stumps are everywhere. And fall crappie get so scattered in this abundant cover, they often thwart anglers’ attempts to catch them.

So it was, Mullins, Lucius and I met at Lake Conway, and these two expert anglers demonstrated how stump bumping works.

“Stump bumping is a tactic that can be used any time of year, but it’s especially effective in fall,” said Lucius. “This time of year, crappie tend to stay closer to cover, and the rig we use for stump bumping lets you fish right against the cover so you’re more likely to catch them.”

“This rig also puts bait at two different depths so you can more quickly determine at which depth the fish are biting,” Mullins added. “That’s a big advantage for the fall angler.”

The Stump Bumper Rig

The key to successful stump bumping is using the special rig Lucius and Mullins employ. It’s a double-leader rig weighted so one lure is on or very near the bottom and the other lure is about 1-1/2 feet above the first. To make each rig, you need the following hardware components:

  • One size 6 or 8 three-way swivel;
  • One size 8 or 10 barrel swivel;
  • One 1/4- to 1-oz. egg sinker (lighter for calm days or shallow bumping;  heavier for windy days or deeper bumping);
  • Two 1/32- to 1/8-oz. jigheads (size also chosen to suit conditions);
  • Two Southern Pro Lures Umbrella Crappie Tubes, Hot Grubs, Lit’l Hustlers or similar jig bodies; and
  • 6- or 8-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon line.

Making the rig requires five basic steps:

  1. Begin by tying an 18-inch mono or fluorocarbon leader line to one eye of the three-way swivel.
  2. Run this leader line through the egg sinker, then tie the tag end to the barrel swivel.
  3. To the other eye of the barrel swivel, tie a 15-inch mono or fluorocarbon leader to which one of the jigheads is tied.
  4. Tie the other jighead to a 12-inch leader, and tie this leader to another eye of the three-way swivel. (The remaining three-way swivel eye ties to the main line from your reel.)
  5. Rig the jig bodies on each jighead. The rig is then complete.

“We use a variety of Southern Pro jig bodies,” said Mullins. “Typically, we prefer the Umbrella Crappie Tube with its large flared skirt. But if we think it might help, we may change to another body type. My favorite color is anything with chartreuse in it. But change colors or styles frequently until you determine the best pattern.”

Lucius suggested carrying minnows on each trip as well as jigs. Sometimes, he said, a jig/minnow combo works best.

“Tipping a jighead/jig body combo with a live minnow may entice crappie to bite when the lure alone isn’t working,” he said.

On The Water Action

The portion of Lake Conway we fished was a big embayment the locals call “The Shale Pit.” It seems barren of cover, but in 6- to 12-foot depths are numerous stumps scattered across the bottom.

“You can see crappie holding tight around these stumps,” Lucius said, pointing to the fish icons on his fish-finder screen. “We’ll motor up close to the stumps so the baits actually bump them. That’s where the name stump bumping comes from.”

The anglers had eight 12- to 16-foot B’n’M Capps & Coleman Series trolling rods paired with B’n’M’s West Point spinning reels ready to go. These were placed in rod holders on Driftmaster T-Bars at the front of the boat, creating a big semicircle of poles on the craft’s bow.

The stump-bumper rigs were deployed so the egg sinkers were dragging right on the bottom with the two jigs on each rig trailing behind. Then, with the two men in position, seated at the front of the boat, Mullins hit the foot-control on the bow-mounted trolling motor and maneuvered the boat back to a spot where we pinpointed stumps and fish.

“The idea is to approach the stumps slowly and let the rigs bump up against them,” he said. “If you do this right, and crappie are there, you won’t have to wait long for a bite.”

As if on cue, one of the poles on Ricky’s side of the boat went down, and he set the hook in a hefty crappie. One of Chris’ poles took a nosedive the same time, and he, too, lifted a nice crappie over the transom.

“It doesn’t always work that quick,” Ricky said. “But it’s really a great technique, one that’s easy to learn, that any angler can use to increase their catch of fall crappie.”

I was doubly impressed with the efficiency of the stump-bumping technique when I asked other crappie anglers we saw if they were catching any fish. I talked with folks in six or eight other boats, and none had caught any crappie. The proprietor of the marina where we launched told me later the bite was really off that day and almost no one was catching fish.

“There are lots of ways to catch fall crappie,” Chris said as we were trailering the boat. “This is just one of them. But during our many years fishing for crappie, we’ve found that stump bumping is hard to beat when you’re trying to catch fish this time of year. It’s a tried-and-proven technique that’ll put crappie in your livewell when nothing else works.”