There are many ways to catch 'em, but spider rigging for crappie often makes the most sense, especially when trying to cover a large amount of water.
My first experience with spider rigging for crappie came approximately 15 years ago while bass fishing with a friend and business partner. I had just moved south from Michigan and was glad to take him up on the opportunity to learn the water near my new home. While we pitched plastic worms and spinnerbaits along a shallow bay, I looked up to see a boat ease by with two guys fishing with more rods than I could count on my fingers.
"What in the world are they fishing for?" I asked.
"Crappie," he answered. "You Yankees don't know how to fish! We know how to catch 'em down here!"
I laughed and thought to myself that that was one technique I wanted to learn. If catching crappie on one rod is fun, then that had to be a blast! The opportunity to sit casually in the boat while catching one of the best eating freshwater fish in the country looked especially appealing and has now become a favorite activity.
There are, of course, many differences among anglers in regard to preference on baits, tactics and equipment.
Patrick Dobbins tries to be in a boat anytime water temperatures are between 49 and 52 degrees, as he believes that is when crappie begin moving into shallow water where they'll spawn.
"While the fish are deep, they can be pretty hard to locate and, of course, tough to catch," said Dobbins. "When they move in shallow, however, they've just narrowed the water column a whole bunch. It's a lot easier then to get a jig or minnow close enough to get them interested in it."
Dobbins typically fishes in water about 3 to 6 feet deep, as he says going shallower makes the trolling motor spook fish, and increases the odds of hitting stumps or snagging structure. Going deeper makes it tough to keep as many rods out without a fish tangling them up.
"A big advantage of staying within the 3- to 6-foot depths is that a crappie doesn't have much line to run far," Dobbins said. "With only a couple of feet of line below the water's surface, it can't reach a nearby pole to tangle. When you have 16 poles in the water, you've got to do everything you can to keep lines apart."
According to Dobbins, anglers should look for areas with fairly solid sand or gravel bottoms, as loose mud or silt can smother deposited eggs. Anglers should also look for structure, especially areas where timber has been cut and flooded.
Dobbins recommends using long rods — about 14 to 16 feet long — to get as far out from the boat as possible to reduce chances to spook fish. However, many anglers obtain equal or better results by using much shorter rods and attaching planer boards to carry jigs out to desired distances. However, care must be taken to prevent lines from tangling during turns.
Baits are another place where anglers differ. Some anglers purchase jigs, while others make their own, using experience learned through years of practice. Some anglers also tip jigs with minnows, while others believe this is an unneeded expense. Additionally, there are many different colors of jigs from which to choose, from chartreuse to orange to black and yellow. There are also many varieties that combine colors in the belief that two colors together provide more for crappie to like.
Regardless of the bait, anglers need to keep baits slightly above where fish are holding, as crappie typically feed up. Sometimes it takes adjusting the depth to actually catch fish. A good rule of thumb is to start jigs at about halfway to the bottom, or slightly above half.
Also, be sure to stagger the depth of baits and keep track of which baits are catching fish, and adjust both depth and color to what fish want that day. Another tip is to start deeper as the day progresses and the sun gets higher in the sky, but never forget to have baits in at a variety of depths, especially at the beginning, as fish hold at different depths and baits can move up and down as conditions change.
Now two of the most important pieces of equipment required for spider rigging, other than rods and baits of course, are an adjustable-speed trolling motor and a good GPS unit. Less-expensive trolling motors are often hard to keep at the correct speed, especially as conditions change, such as wind and current speed. And since crappie can be finicky, keeping the boat, and baits, moving at the proper speed is very crucial to catching fish.
Also, a GPS unit can be used to put baits right back into areas where fish were caught previously, as well as for marking likely spots, such as stumps, trees and brush piles. They can also be used to find fishing-holding structure place by state wildlife agency, the locations of which can typically be found on the agency's website.
After a while, GPS waypoints on a lake can be developed into a type of map showing numerous spots where crappie can be found and caught.
When To Drop The Spider
Spider rigging for crappie is a great way to cover a lot of water and locate underwater fish-holding structure, such as logs or stumps. While jigs tipped with minnows are occasionally used when this tactic is employed, typically they're not needed. The slow waving action created by the jig's trailing feather or plastic tail usually creates all the action required to entice a bite.
However, anytime you're headed into a shallow bay or backwater where the structure is exposed, it would be a good idea to have a bucket of minnows along for the ride. These stumps are crappie magnets. Often there'll be several fish holding tight to the same one. This is where minnows shine.
Put away a few rods and tie on a single hook, preferably a No. 8 short-shank, and attach a float half the distance to the bottom above it. Hook a minnow slightly forward of the tail and pitch or lower it to the sides of each stump. Then, hold on.