I thought we might take a quick look at a “fishing” technique that will produce crappie, and presumably other species as well, when traditional methods either fail or are too slow. No, I am not talking about carefully “rigging” a spider, although the name would imply some sort of intimate relationship with a hapless arachnid. I am talking about a technique that has become wildly popular these days, particularly in the pursuit of crappie on our lakes and rivers. A disclaimer is due up front, as I have never resorted to this technique for any number of reasons, and if the truth be known, likely never will. In short, “spider rigging”, sometimes referred to as simply “rigging”, involves placing an array of long rods on the bow and/or sides of your boat and slowly trolling along in quiet water where crappie are either suspended or staging. I use another descriptive for this technique, “mobile trotlining”. It will catch fish at impressive rates, I can attest to this fact having had my butt kicked on a number of occasions in crappie tournaments where this is permitted. One should tread carefully when casting disparaging commentary on something he has never done, however; I feel relatively safe as I have also never cranked fish up with a shocking device or used dynamite. Let’s have a look at this technique.
The photos accompanying this article are worth a thousand words. I fish because I thoroughly enjoy matching wits with a critter that has a brain the size of a BB. The challenge, for me, is to slip quietly along a brushy bank or in standing timber, working a jig quietly around likely looking cover, feeling for that “bump” that signals that a fish fight is about to happen. After a quick wrist snap (hook set), you must then “work” the fish out of the brush that you are fishing, careful to not break him off or hang him up, until you can get him boat side. There are visual clues that a crappie has fallen for your presentation, but mostly your ability to feel the bite is what catches a fish. It takes skill to maneuver your boat in heavy cover, pitch, dip, flip or cast a bait and carefully work that bait around, in and through the structure you are fishing. A limit of fish may come quickly, or not, and you enjoy the intimacy of being in the “fish houses” rather than slipping by or over them.
A limit of crappie for the freezer is a good thing, but is secondary to the fun of fishing with a rod in your hand. When you see the various advertisements that populate social media sites, in which anglers proudly show off their phenomenal catches of fish, you are most likely looking at the results of a day spent spider rigging. Early in the season, before the fish have moved up on the banks, rigging is THE way to put fish in the freezer. It would seem the basket of fish is the prize, rather than the fun of fishing. A trip might change my mind, but I don’t think so. As much as I love a mess of crappie fillets, I also love the challenge of catching them one at a time!
It is worth mentioning that a good number of tournaments are “single pole” tournaments, thus precluding riggers from entering. I have virtually abandoned tournament fishing, but quickly learned to not mix it up with riggers in the tournaments that I fished. The big boys, in the national tournaments all rely on rigging to be competitive. An array of baits, presented at different depths, slowly fished near cover are going to produce more fish than a fisherman standing in the front of a boat with a single rod in hand. I must also confess that in spite of the heavy weights on a riggers lines, I am sure that I would end up with one giant mess of tangled lines when I failed to jump up from my seat in time to keep a nice fish from swimming across the other lines. As if that isn’t enough to deter me, the thought of installing all of that hardware on the deck of my boat seals the deal.
So, what have we learned today? First, I am old school and no longer view fishing in a competitive sense (although my single pole partners would argue this observation). A mess of crappie is a secondary consideration, with the fun in catching them trumping the freezer. When single pole fishing, it pays to watch the riggers around you, as their technique will quickly help you to understand where the fish are and at what depth they are holding. A single pole fisherman will often take more time in finding the “pattern” for the fish he is after. I am convinced it takes more skill and experience to catch crappie with a single pole as opposed to rigging. At the end of the day, the rigger will spend more time in front of the camera than a single pole angler, as an array of rods will provide a great deal more opportunity for photo worthy fish. Finally, you are less likely to execute an ungraceful exit from the boat while rigging, as opposed to casually bumping some underwater hazard while standing, rather than sitting in the front of your boat. This consideration is of obvious value anytime, but particularly early in the spring when the water is really cold. I am not an experienced rigger but am experienced at invoking unimaginable oaths when popping to the surface in 50 degree water.
Fortunately, there is plenty of room on our waters for both kinds of anglers to enjoy their day. Rigging or pitching, dipping and casting, a day on the water beats a day about anywhere else!