After competing in several national crappie tournaments, Tony Edgar realized he needed to make alterations to the front deck of his boat. The Missouri angler could catch plenty of crappies on lakes close to home by casting and vertical-jigging with a single rod; but when he started competing on southern lakes, he and his partner kept getting beat by teams using spider rigs.
"With 8 rods and 16 baits out you have a better chance to catch fish," Edgar says. So he got two metal racks from fellow tournament competitor Paul Alpers and made a couple of pole holders for the front deck of his 17-foot Bass Tracker. These days, his Ranger fiberglass boat is set up with all the essentials needed to spider-rig anywhere in the country.
Almost any type of fishing boat can be set up for spider-rigging crappies. "Some alterations are needed for the deep-V boats like the Lund and Lowe models," says Ronnie Capps, a six-time crappie tournament national champion. Basically, spider-rigging allows a crappie angler to cover a swath of water at various depths with a variety of lures and livebaits. The following tips are from crappie pros, so you can set up your boat for this effective fish-catching tactic and still have the capability to convert the boat back to fishing for other species.
The most important element of the spider-rigging system is a good pole holder. Ronnie Capps built his first set with some cheap plastic rod holders and a wooden board that he mounted to the front deck of his boat. Today, he uses Driftmaster Gun Slinger holders he designed for spider-rigging.
The Gun Slinger holder has a V-shaped front that allows Capps to quickly set the hook to his right or left, and an extended cradle contoured to increase clearance when he needs to quickly grab a pole. "When you get bit spider-rigging, you need to set the hook at an angle sometimes, especially when fishing shallow water," Capps says.
He matches up the holders with Driftmaster T-250 T-Bars (18 inches tall by 24 inches wide) that have easy-to-turn adjustments for moving the holders out of the way of the trolling motor. The trolling system also has unlimited rod adjustments and a polished stainless-steel base mount.
Driftmaster also offers Pro and Li'l Pro series of rod holders and a complete complement of bases, so that beginners can match rod holders to their specific boats and fishing requirements.
Edgar and his tournament partner, John Shannon, rig the front deck of their boats with custom-designed PerottiBilt holders made of stainless steel. "They won't rust and won't break and their adjustments are second to none," says Edgar, who favors these holders because he can adjust the spacing of his rods just by twisting a heavy-duty wing nut. "You want your poles evenly dispersed off the front of the boat, with the tips about 2 to 3 feet apart."
The PerottiBilt holders allow Edgar and Shannon to adjust and break down their spider rigs without using any tools. PerottiBilt offers a variety of complete systems including the tee bar, rod holders, clamps, and a choice of base and lock nuts for spider-rigging beginners.
A fully adjustable spider-rigging system is what Hall of Fame angler Wally Marshall also had in mind when he designed the Tempress Mr. Crappie Pro Series Rod Holder System. "I got tired of having to adjust my rod holders every time I went across the lake," he says. "I had to carry a set of wrenches and tools, and if the rod holder got out of line, I had to adjust it again. This system works with a lever handle on each rod holder that adjusts up and down. It has a spline at the bottom where you can adjust it to 24 positions, so you can get the perfect spread on your crappie rods every time when spider-rigging."
His rod holder system is constructed from marine-grade resin, which doesn't corrode or rust. The hard plastic holders also flex if the poles bend too much. "That prevents you from breaking rods when you hang them up in brush," Marshall says. "A lot of the metal rod holders don't have any give, and all of a sudden you snap a rod if you're not paying attention."
A quick release on the deck mount allows Marshall to disassemble his rod holders in seconds without having to use any tools. The system also has a tray in the top where you can store weights, spare hooks, or jigs, and a place with 22 holes for hanging crankbaits.
If you prefer not to permanently install a rod-holder to your boat, Cleat Clamp rod-holder bases mount to boat cleats without any drilling. Available 11.5- or 23.5-inch models, each Cleat Clamp accommodates either 2 or 4 rod holders, with 3/8- and 1/2-inch thread options available.
All of the rod holder systems mentioned can easily be removed to allow anglers to fish for bass and other species on their next fishing trip.
A double-seat arrangement works best when you want to spider-rig with a partner. If you're buying a new boat, most manufacturers can design two pedestal seats on the front deck for this purpose. If, however, you already have a boat with one pedestal seat in front, you either have to install another in the flooring or try a Tempress Mr. Crappie Double Down seat stand.
The Double Down is sized to fit on the bow platform of any bass boat and slides over an11-inch seat pedestal. The marine-grade, stainless-steel frame stands 12 inches tall and can accommodate two swivel seats that can rotate 360 degrees.
Although some crappie anglers use a handheld trolling motor for spider-rigging, Capps believes a foot-control model is essential. "There's no room in my scheme for having a handheld trolling motor, because I need both hands free at all times," he says. "A variable-speed motor can be adjusted to the wind speed or any other conditions you face."
Edgar also favors a variable-speed model, such as the Minn Kota Maxxum Pro, because it allows him to adjust and keep the same speed even when his batteries are wearing down after a long day of spider-rigging.
Electronics also play a key role, so beginners should start with a good sonar and GPS unit. Capps recommends one that records depths in tenths of a foot, since even subtle changes can make the difference between having one or eight poles in the strike zone. "We won a tournament in Florida once while fishing a contour that went from 13.3 to 13.6 feet," he says. "If we got off that little contour we couldn't get bit."
The Tennessee pro uses a separate Lowrance GPS unit, mounting it on a cooler so he can place the GPS unit between his legs, where it's positioned in a straight line of sight with his sonar and the tips of his rods. He prefers this setup over a handheld GPS because it keeps his hands free for grabbing the rods quickly, and his unit is within easy reach to mark a waypoint when he catches a fish.
Proper'" positioning of all the equipment on the front deck is required to have an effective spider-rig system. Edgar and Shannon suggest positioning your seats first if possible and then installing the rod holders. "You want the seats far enough away so that no part of your body is touching the holder, because when you're touching the holder you're hitting the rods."
The rod holders should be placed as far to the front as possible, they add. Too far to the side, there's too much bounce to the boat.
Capps suggests a "2-foot rule" for positioning seats and pole holders on the front deck. "If you have two seats in the front of the boat, you want the pole-holder base to be 2 feet from the base of the seat; and then you want each seat to be 2 feet from the other," he says. He installs the bases of his two pole holders about 21„2 feet apart, to leave room for his sonar.
With a good set of pole holders and the right layout on the front deck, a beginner can spider-rig up a mess of crappies just like the pros and still have the versatility to fish for other species on the same trip.
Fundamental Rigging Tips
The ideal pole length for learning how to spider-rig, according to tournament veterans Ronnie Capps, Wally Marshall, and Tony Edgar, is 12 feet. "A 12-footer is easier to handle and easier for lifting fish into the boat," according to Edgar. He recommends an Ozark Rod Company model constructed with 1M7 graphite. It has an extended foam handle, which he prefers over cork because it holds up better when constantly moving rods in the holders. Marshall recommends one of his Signature Series poles for weights under 2 ounces, and his Tight Line Specials poles for weights up to 6 ounces.
A B'n'M two-piece Pro Staff Trolling Rod is another ideal pole. The rod is stiff enough to handle 2 jigs and a 5-ounce sinker trolled at 2 mph, yet sensitive enough to detect a light bite. A 12-foot pole is easy to handle and long enough to get lures out in front of the boat in shallow water.
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'Earthquake Lake ' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11„4 pounds and catches up to 23„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
Anglers look forward to the 'Crappie Capital ' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
Numbers of slabs from 11„4 to 21„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com