Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Spider rigging, Pa. style

By Vic Attardo
Contributing Writer

Spider rigging – an extremely effective way to catch crappies – is not catching on in Pennsylvania.

After 20 years of spider rig fishing in the Deep South, I can safely say this technique isn’t traveling north, certainly not to the extent it’s practiced in Piggly Wiggly Land.

For one thing, Keystone State anglers don’t have the same interest in crappie tournaments, and their payouts, as they do below the Mason-Dixon line. Simply put, southern tournaments make spider rigging a necessity. 

The other thing is that to properly spread out more than half a dozen 10-foot long crappie poles on a boat’s bow requires a dedicated craft and equipment at a cost of well over $30,000. 

And while tournament bass fishing and its even more expensive boats are part of the northeast scene, Pennsylvania anglers have been catching crappies from their unfancified   johnboats since the first World War, and they just don’t see the need for the home-mortgage size expenditure.

But without spider rigging there’s a hole in the library of crappie techniques for northeast anglers. 

So while Keystoners are not likely to string a battery of long rods across our boats, then sit on the front deck like a potentate traveling up the Nile, we can still imitate a portion of the spider game to catch summer crappies. 

A modified technique I’ve been working on has proven effective in the wide shallow bays of Pymatuning and Shenango  lakes on the western side of the state as well as the medium-depth northern and Poconos lakes, all filled with eager crappies.

For my technique, I’ve ditched the 10-foot and longer poles used for spider rigging and replaced them with more manageable 7-foot rods, sometimes two at once, but that’s not important.

The essence of southern spider rigging is that the extended rod tip is positioned only an inch or so above the water. In fact, when a crappie hits, it usually pulls the rod tip under water. 

Though spider rods have tiny reels, they are rarely touched by the angler. Instead when a crappie hits, the angler lifts and shoves the rod back down the length of the boat, or else raises the rod so high the lifted crappie nearly hits him in the face. 

The reel is not used to “reel in” the fish – a hard concept for northeast anglers to understand. Without a viable reel, the length of line below the rod tip can be shorter than the long pole but not longer. 

When lifted, the hooked fish is grabbed below the extended line.

With my modified method, you use the reel to lengthen or shorten the line from the tip (but casting is minimal if at all), and you definitely use the reel to pull in the fighting crappie.

The technique begins with the angler holding the rod –  another thing not done in spider rigging. The 7-footer is extended over the hull and the rod tip held low and very close to the surface.

The essence here that this Pennsylvania style is still direct vertical fishing, as is spider rigging, and the jig is directly below the rod tip.

Spider riggers rely on their electric motor, at very slow speeds, to maneuver them over crappie structure. I use the electric motor at the slowest speeds but I also use a light breeze to help drift the boat over holding crappies. 

If I have to adjust the drift with the motor barely turning, fine.

Let me explain the technique further by citing an example.

I was fishing a Pocono lake between 10 and 14 feet deep, a good range for summer crappies. It was open water with minimal bottom structure. 

The only cover for the crappies was a low lawn of green algae with a scattering of pillow size rocks. Still the crappies were stacked in lanes around the depth range. The sonar would bleep and burst like fireworks as we drifted over separate schools. 

Spider rigged boats often bounce lightly with the waves but our modified pontoon boat floated flat. Because of this, I chose to lift and lower my jig offering, complete with a 2-inch paddle-tail plastic. 

I’d quickly raise the rod tip up a foot or so, often less, then allow the fishhead jig to retreat on controlled slack. The jig head circled back down. 

I kept this motion up when not seeing fish on the screen but when the sonar announced we were over a thick school, I’d pop the tip with a vigorous snap and more rapidly perform the lifts and falls. 

Often the quick snap had the desired result as the hook would become buried in the upper jaw of an aggressive crappie. The hook’s location meant not dealing with the crappie’s paper thin mouth, and it made releasing most crappies a cinch. 

Though the rod needs a soft flexible tip, it should have a moderately stiff backbone because you’ll need to wrestle the bottom hugging crappies up, and they’re quite reluctant.

All in all, it really is a simple operation to modify the essence of spider rigging, and its direct vertical presentation, to the way we boat in Pennsylvania. And you’re going to love raising summer slabs from moderate depths.

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