By Dustin Catrett
Staring at the screen of his side imager, Matt Morgan points to a distinctive ridge along the bottom of the St. Johns River in west Volusia County. “See where it drops from eight to ten feet? This is a transition zone,” he says, as Lucas Oil teammate Kent Watson adjusts line depths for each of the eight rods splayed around the bow of the boat. The duo, who’ve won several major crappie tournaments including the 2014 Crappie Masters Florida Championship on this very river, are using a technique relatively new to this region. It’s called spider rigging.
Spider rigging employs the use of multiple rod holders mounted to the bow of the boat, enabling up to eight lines (per tournament regulation) to be presented simultaneously. Anglers may fish these rigs while drifting, or by “pushing” with a trolling motor, in order to increase or decrease speed dependent on conditions. The object is to present lures vertically at various depths above suspended fish. Crappie feed looking up, and not down. Crappie spend most of their time offshore, feeding on small baitfish in lakes or slow-moving rivers near channels, fallen timber, ledges and brush piles. As waters cool, crappie begin staging in pre-spawn colonies as early as October, suspending in depths of 10 to 15 feet near ledges and structure.
“Speed and depth of the drift is crucial,” says Morgan. “If you’re moving baits too quickly, then the jig will be horizontal in the water column which is unnatural, so make adjustments to find the correct speed to keep it vertical. We also mark the depth of each fish we catch. Because if you’re picking up fish suspended at six feet, then chances are there are more at that same depth.” Watching the rods, electronics and continuously adjusting the lure depth is crucial when spider rigging. Finding the right depth may determine how many slabs hit your frying pan.
“We use Driftmaster Rod Holders with 14-foot ultra-light B’n’M jigging poles, matched with B’n’M ultra-light crappie reels,” Watson said. “The flexibility and sensitivity of these rods allows us to see the tips move during subtle bites.” Reels are filled with 10-pound-test high visibility monofilament line, attached to several types of jigs the team uses in conjunction with live minnows.
“During winter we’ll use a 1⁄16- to 1⁄8-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner jig that’s tipped with a live minnow,” said Watson. “If we start missing a few bites then we’ll add a few 1⁄8-ounce Rockport Rattler Outlaw Max jigs.”
The Outlaw Max is designed to hook short-striking crappie. Two stinger hooks protrude from each side of the main jig assembly. It was designed by crappie expert Whitey Outlaw for catching sluggish winter specks.
Watson and Morgan tie their jigs to the line using a Trilene knot, in order to keep them sitting vertical in the water column. Typically, they’ll use a small three-way swivel on the main line. To one ring of the swivel is tied a short leader and single panfish hook for live bait. To the other ring is a short leader and the jig. Above the three-way swivel, on the main line, is a slip weight of an ounce or so.
Each jighead is fitted with a Midsouth Tackle soft-plastic tube body in color combinations ranging from pink jigheads with blue-and-white or pink-and-white glitter bodies, to gray heads with chartreuse bodies. Glow is always a popular element in the color scheme when fishing in Florida’s tannic water.
“I also match the hatch of the crappie’s forage base when in Florida by using a Crappie Pro 2-inch Li’l Wasshoppah, which mimics the small grass shrimp found throughout the rivers,” Morgan explained. “A Blakemore Roadrunner Reality Shad jig also in chartreuse is a productive lure for enticing Florida crappie along the shoreline.” FS
First published Florida Sportsman November 2015