Spread Out and Find Your Crappie
Spider rigging a good bet for finding scattered fish
A brush pile bristling like a decorated Christmas tree with fat fish – now that's a crappie angler's dream. Nice when they're bunched up, but whenever you're chasing scattered crappie, you'll do well to slow down, rack a bunch of rods off the bow and drop a buffet of baits. It's called spider rigging and it's a great way to cover water and locate your quarry.
From channel edges, to stake beds, to scattered brush, pulling a generous spread of baits past likely haunts is a great way to locate those little freckled boogers.
"The key when the fish are scattered is covering as much water as you can," Tennessee crappie pro Mark Williams said. "Changing water conditions sometimes will scatter those fish off of cover and that's when I'll go to covering water and find them."
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What they like
Spider riggers fish a variety of light crappie rigs, with experience and personal preference driving most decisions. Williams and tournament partner Doug Cherry will fish with various combinations of Strike King Slab Hammer Tubes and Jokers on No. 2 hooks or light jig heads – both may include live minnow enhancements.
Cherry and Williams' standard arrangement comprises a 3-way rig with the main line tied to the center ring and twin leaders sprouting from the top and bottom rings. The top leader runs a bait about 6 inches from the swivel, while the bottom bait runs at 16 inches.
"You always want a hook on the top leader because a jig will (continuously) sink and tangle the other line," Cherry said.
For maximum rig separation, Cherry rigs a 3/8-ounce egg sinker on his bottom leader, about a foot ahead of the 1/8-ounce jig. This gives him a total weight of ½-ounce on that bottom leader, while keeping the actual bait presentation sized appropriately for crappie. Wrapping his sinker four times on the leader keeps the weight in place during the motion of deployment.
"You don't want that weight sliding down on top of your jig – you want that minnow to have some room to swim around," Cherry said. "I've tried it with two and three wraps and the weight slides. With four wraps, it stays in place."
"You may want to mix your skirts up and see what they're biting," Cherry said. "If we have 8 rods out (where allowed), we may have 16 colors (in our spread) until we figure out which one they like and then we may go with that color on all of our rigs.
"We adjust the skirts to the water color – the darker the water, the darker the jig; but always use chartreuse. In dark, muddy water, we'll use a purple body with a chartreuse skirt, or black/chartreuse. The lighter the water; the lighter the jig.
“In stained water, we like orange and chartreuse, pumpkin seed/chartreuse, red/chartreuse. Once we get into clear water, we go to the blue/white, yellow/white, chartreuse/white or a solid chartreuse."
Trolling with the wind benefits spider riggers by eliminating the fish-spooking hull slap of oncoming waves. That works OK with a light breeze, but a stronger wind may push your boat across the target zone too quickly.
Williams avoids this dilemma by complementing his trolling motor's propulsion with the speed-moderation of a heavy chain drug behind the boat.
Manually dropping and pulling chains is laborious and random, so he uses an electric Minn Kota Deckhand to deploy and retrieve the rope clipped to a 5-foot section of ½-inch chain. With this setup, Williams adjusts his scope to prevailing conditions – more wind requires more rope, as this lays more chain on the bottom and increases drag.
Also consider that long rods and light line afford crappie plenty of escape opportunity, so maintain pressure on the fish while removing a rod from the holder and avoid letting the tip drop toward the surface. This sudden bulge of slack usually ends up with a dumped fish.
To maximize a hot bite, Cherry suggests premaking multiple rigs and wrapping them in need groupings around a section of pool noodle. When the crappie are snapping, he said, this spool of ready rigs will prevent the time-killing delay of retying the occasional snagged rig.