Spider rigging for crappie efficient, productive

Submitted Photo
The setup for spider rigging resembles the legs of a spider. Six 16-foot rods with double baited hooks make for an efficient drifting system.


The fishing method called trolling has never appealed to me much. I understand the idea — cover a ton of water and eventually you’ll hit upon some fish. It does make a lot of sense, but I like to cast a lure, watch it plunk down and work it back. Just watching a rod I’m not holding vibrate as the boat moves along seems somehow less than a fun way to fish, but I know it can work. It’s efficiency in action.

The closest I’ve come to trolling until recently was on a walleye trip to Lake Erie. Our charter captain had us hold our rods and let out our lines as he drifted the boat along with the wind. That was fine because I could feel what my nightcrawler rig was doing as it bounced along the bottom.

From a lot of experience on the rocky White River as well as plastic worm fishing, I could usually tell the tick of a rock or stump from the thump of a fish. We caught very few walleyes, but enough perch and catfish were interested that it made for an ok day.

My Perry County buddy Danny had told me about a method for crappie he had used once on Kentucky Lake. Called spider rigging because the setup loosely resembles the legs of a spider, it involved putting out the legal number of rods in holders in the front of the boat and drifting along. Usually, the rig is made up of a weight on the bottom.

A foot or so above that is a hook with a jig or minnow or both, and above that possibly a second bait. Danny claimed they had done well on a trip awhile back, and that if I got the chance, I should try it sometime. It does involve an investment of a bracket attached to the boat floor that will hold the rods, so one’s boat needs the proper setup.

For several years, Dan Recklehoff owned a repair shop across from St. Joseph Church in Jasper. I often took my vehicles there because he did good work at reasonable prices. He’s retired now but still does occasional car work, so I took my boat out the Schnellville Road for him to look at my outboard.

As he was working in his garage, I got to examining his boat with the spider rigging setup on both ends. Dan suggested we try it sometime, and I was more than willing. In April we got together on Huntingburg Lake.

Dan’s boat had two seats in front. He operated the troller and kept us moving at a dead slow pace. Six 16-foot rods were spread out in front of us, from nine-to-three on the clock. My job was to watch the left three, and Dan had the right side with the foot control for the motor. Three rods per person is the maximum in Indiana. Dan had the minnows ready and the rods pre-rigged with curly tailed jigs and small hooks.

He attached a minnow to both hooks on all six rigs, let them down into the deep, and we commenced spidering. He had already told me the lake was full of small crappie, and it didn’t take long for him to be proven right. In about an hour and a half, we had 30 or so 7-8 inchers in the livewell.

If these were bluegill, we wouldn’t have kept them, but crappie are easier to clean, and one can get a chunk of meat even from a little guy. We also hit upon two nice bass that liked our bait, so we were going to be cleaning fish that night. Keeping these smallish crappies was also most likely doing the lake a favor.

After that fast start, I thought we would hit our limits of 25 each quickly, but then as often happens, the bite died. We drifted from the east cove to the south cove without much success. Dan hit a nice crappie on the west side, and we finally approached the dam. The bite picked up, and the livewell grew more crowded.

The technique of setting the hook takes some getting used to. It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re getting a bite or if your sinker is ticking the bottom. Usually, the rod tip dances in that way that could only be a fish. When one hits, you remove the long rod from the holder and…that part took a little while for me to master. Sometimes the fish has the bait and you quickly sweep the rod upwards.

Sometimes you need to let the fish take it for a while. Dan, from many years of experience, was much better at that than I. After the hook is set, getting the fish in the boat that’s on the end of a 16-foot rod is also a trick. Often my fish were dangling over the side of the boat as I awkwardly tried to swing them in. Dan would grab his line above the reel something like a fly fisherman and easily pull fish right in. I needed some work on that too.

We were approaching double limits when one of my rods bent severely. That can mean a bottom hookup. In this case I felt a fish, then set the hook, and sensed real muscle on the other end. Thankfully the fish had hit the far-left rod in my group, which meant I could steer him away from the other lines. The rod’s long, limber frame absorbed the fish’s powerful surges.

Dan had the net ready, and once we could both see the fish surface, I thought it was a catfish, but no. I had hooked one of the lake’s saugeye, a cross between a sauger and a walleye. The Indiana DNR has stocked saugeye in Huntingburg for years, and I’ve heard reports of how one shows up occasionally. We landed the fish and measured it — 21 inches. It was a good ending to a day of learning something new in fishing.

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