Skarlis talks finding crappies

Saturday, Aug. 12, was quite a celebration at the third annual Okoboji Blue Water Festival on the Green Space in Arnolds Park. One of the big attractions was the fishing seminar as over 70 eager anglers took their seats to hear the words of Iowa native and highly acclaimed tournament angler Tommy Skarlis.

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Saturday, Aug. 12, was quite a celebration here in northwest Iowa as the third annual Okoboji Blue Water Festival took place at the Green Space in Arnolds Park, One of the big attractions was the fishing seminar. At high noon under the shade of the big tent, over 70 eager anglers took their seats to hear the words of Iowa native and highly acclaimed tournament angler Tommy Skarlis.

As he began his seminar, he gave a little personal background, sharing just how lucky he is to even be around. A deer hunting accident two years ago has given him a greater appreciation for life. He was bow hunting out of a tree stand when both straps that held up his tree stand broke catapulting him nearly 20 feet to the ground, causing him multiple fractures in his neck.

Long story short, the surgeon could not believe that Skarlis was not paralyzed. However, after surgery to stabilize the fractures in his neck, and extensive therapy brought him to the point where he could again do what he loves: fish tournaments! That was a true wake up call, and he realized just how important and fragile human life can be. It deepened his faith in God. So, as Skarlis presents his seminars, it is with a new lease on life, and he shares with his audience just how blessed all of us are to be able to enjoy a hobby like fishing.

During his seminar Skarlis not only shared fishing techniques, but also covered the importance of appreciating our natural resources and protecting our waters. Without a doubt, Skarlis feels we all need to “Clean, drain and dry our boats whenever we leave our waters. We need to protect the waters and slow the movement of exotics.”

Since the early 1990s, Skarlis has been a professional angler, chasing both walleyes and crappies. With West Okoboji’s clear water and the excellent crappie population, Skarlis shared some of the techniques that have helped him catch crappies across the country. Often, many anglers look at crappies as fish that need to be still fished with a bobber and a minnow. Although that is one way, Skarlis has found that trolling and covering more water often makes a huge difference on the tournament circuit.

It all begins with trusting your electronics and being alert to what is around you on the water. Skarlis spends lots of time just motoring around looking for baitfish and then the telltale marks of crappies below the baitfish. He also looks for the birds, gulls and terns feeding on baitfish on the surface. If they are there, you can bet the crappies are feeding on the baitfish pushing them to the surface. It certainly makes sense to eliminate unproductive water rather than spending time fishing areas where there are no crappies.

Once Skarlis locates active fish, he sets up for a trolling run, using Off-Shore Planer Boards to spread out several rods on each side of the boat. It’s important to put the lure at the fish’s eye level and above because the fish will feed up. At the same time, Skarlis staggers the baits at different depths to find the hot depth. To do that, Skarlis will run the shallower baits farthest away from the boat with the deep runners out the back of the boat. Skarlis uses a Precision Trolling Data app to put the lures at the precise depth.

Skarlis trolls both crankbaits and jigs.

“Crappies love crankbaits and also jig and minnow combinations,” he said.

Until a trolling pattern has been established, he says to “troll like a drunken sailor! Don’t just go in a straight line.”

When bites occur, make sure to get that lure back to the same depth. “Duplication is the key for catching the most fish,” Skarlis said.

Again he suggests the trolling run should be in a zig-zag motion, kind of like a “drunken sailor.” Once the active fish are found and a trolling pattern established, then follow that path. More than anything, just as it does with any fishing, it takes time and practice to learn the subtleties for finding big crappies.

Skarlis brought out more details, but you can Google Tommy Skarlis trolling and watch an hour YouTube presentation.


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