The first time a person spots a fishing boat rigged out and easing along a lake with a full array of 6 or 8 poles jutting out from the bow, it’s sure to make them shake their head. Such a boat looks a bit like a water spider. And that is how the tactic of “spider rigging” got its name.
Spider rigging has been around for decades. Who and where it began is anybody’s guess, but I first witnessed it on the Santee-Cooper Reservoir at least 30 years ago. I was used to chasing stripers and bass, and I thought it was odd that pan fishermen would go through so much effort and rigging to catch crappies.
But the results of those Santee spider riggers were impressive. At the end of the day, they opened a cooler jammed with thick-body slab crappies, most weighing 1 to 2 pounds.
Over the years, spider rigging has become a highly specialized and very refined technique. It’s enthusiastically embraced by many in the crappie fishing fraternity, especially those participating in crappie tournaments. The reason is simple: spider rigging is highly effective at locating and catching heavyweight paper mouths. Moreover, it produces banner catches virtually everywhere crappies live.
Spider rigging essentially is electric motor slow trolling, with poles and/or rods fitted in holders at the bow of the boat. Slowly and methodically the boat is “pushed” forward, with lures and baits presented to fish ahead of the boat. In a modern spider rigging boat, anglers use equipment as sophisticated as that used in any other kind of sport fishing.
Al Green, of Jacksonville, Florida, is one of America’s most dedicated crappie anglers. He’s fished for crappies most of his life, having been born and raised near the shores of the St. Johns River, where many lakes and other waters are jammed full of them. Green is a crappie-tournament angler and a tournament director for the Crappie Masters Florida Crappie Trail.
He is also a strong advocate of spider rigging, and spending a day in his boat fishing with him is an education in the many nuances of this proven fishing method. He consistently catches coolers full of crappies when many other anglers go nearly fishless.
Understand that spider rigging is a very active and skilled system of fishing. It’s best done with two anglers working as a team, and Green often fishes alongside his son, Alan, during tournaments. They constantly pay close attention to infinite details such as boat speed, boat position, rods, reels, lures, baits, leaders, lines, lure depth, and more—all while intently monitoring their electronics. Spider-rigging boats come in countless shapes and sizes. Many of them are rigged the way Green has his set up. Here is how he does it.
1. The Best Boat for Spider Rigging
It’s a bass boat, with specialized storage compartments and bait wells. Green uses the boat’s 40-gallon aerated circular forward well to keep crappies alive and frisky for tournament angling. It’s within easy reach of anglers sitting at the bow to deposit fish in. To ensure caught crappies stay alive (especially in tournaments) through day’s fishing, Green uses Mr. Crappie Crappie Care in his live well. Some other crappie specialists prefer G-Juice Live Well Treatment.
2. Install a Bow-Mounted Electric Motor
Green has his boat rigged with a bow-mounted 80-pound thrust self-deploying MinnKota iPilot Ulterra, powered by a 24-volt system. Green says his iPilot is vital to spider rigging because it enables him to use the motor hands-free, via the MinnKota’s remote controller.
This GPS-enabled electric motor allows Green to precisely and quickly adjust his boat’s location to structure, map configurations, and the presentation of lures and baits to crappies.
Green says his iPilot’s Spot-Lock feature is indispensable when spider rigging. It “locks” his boat in an anchored position without using a heavy anchor and rope. It also makes fishing in wind and current easy, along with the ability to make exacting lure and bait presentations to crappies.
3. Invest in LiveScope Sonar
Green has a small fortune tied up in boat sonar, and all of it is useful in his sophisticated form of spider rigging. At the boat’s bow is a Garmin LiveScope, am innovative sonar device that is directional and allows Green to detect structure in detail, including individual fish out to about 20 feet of his boat. The unit is so sensitive it can distinguish small baitfish from crappies, and big slabs from small ones. It can even discern between long fish such as gar and short fish like crappies.
The unit clearly shows individual baits and jigs Green is spider rigging ahead of his boat, and shows crappies rising to strike in real-time. This helps anglers stay ready to reel in a fish.
Green’s LiveScope transducer is fitted to a bow-mounted device called a PoleDucer, which is positioned beside his electric motor. It’s manually operated and when deployed, he can turn and aim the LiveScope transducer in any direction to see details of fish, structure, flooded timber, etc., all while controlling his boat and speed remotely with his MinnKota. Some spider riggers fit their LiveScope transducers to the foot of their electric motors. But Green prefers they be independent of each other by using a PoleDucer.
Green says a new version of LiveScope can scan the bow area ahead of a boat in a nearly 180-degree wide arc, so a much broader area below the surface can be seen by spider riggers.
4. Hunt for Crappies with Bow and Console Sonar Units
Mounted at the bow beside his LiveScope monitor is a Humminbird Chirp Mega sonar unit featuring side and down imaging, plus GPS and plot tracking on a split-screen. Green says this unit is vital to spider rigging as it shows structures and fish well to port and starboard of his boat, plus depth.
The Humminbird transducer is fitted to his MinnKota electric motor lower unit. The GPS and tracking feature is a must because Green can retrace his spider rigging routes to duplicate productive crappie catching runs. Also, the Humminbird uses Navionics Premium chips that can be loaded into the unit to show precise structure details on virtually any crappie water.
While the bow-mounted sonar units are used for precise boat maneuvering and exacting presentation of jigs and baits while spider rigging, a pair of console sonar units allow Green to locate crappie hot spots while running his boat fast to fishing spots.
A second Humminbird Chirp Mega sonar unit with side and down imaging, and GPS plotter on a split-screen, is the primary unit Green relies on at the boat wheel. He also has a basic Lowrance down-imaging depth finder beside it on the console that he uses as a back-up if needed.
5. The Best Rod Holders for Spider Rigging
Good-quality, easy-to-use rod holders are a must for effective spider rigging. Green has two Millenium Marine bracket rod holders fitted to his boat deck—one slightly to port and one slightly to starboard just aft of his bow sonar. They’re positioned comfortably forward of his two bow-deck fishing chairs.
He uses four rods in each bracket holder, allowing for eight rods total for spider rigging. The Millennium Marine R100 Spyderlok Rod Holder is his preferred model. It has oversized knobs that allow individual rods to be easily positioned to any angle for spider rigging. The holder also has comfortable knob disconnects for trailering boats to and from the water.
6. Install Bow Chairs on Your Crappie Boat
Green’s boat bow area is wide and stable, perfectly designed for two anglers sitting side-by-side in comfortable chairs. Green needs the extra seat because it takes two very attentive fishermen to monitor all the intricacies of spider rigging.
Chairs that are foldable, lightweight, durable, weather-proof, and without armrests are best, says Green. His favorite is the Millenium Chair, which is wide and comfortable, made with mesh seats which allows them to breathe on hot days.
The chairs are secured to aluminum pedestal posts that quickly fit in brackets on the bow deck. Green moves them to other brackets astern in the boat when running to different fishing locations. By positioning the chairs within easy reach of the fishing rods, Green and his teammate can pay quick attention to baits and lures.
7. How to Power Your Crappie Boat
Four 12-volt batteries power Green’s Big-O. One deep-cycle battery is positioned in a bow hatch and is dedicated solely to the two bow sonar units.
A pair of deep-cycle batteries connect to the MinnKota iPilot 24-volt power system. A fourth 12-volt cranking battery is for Green’s Suzuki outboard, console sonars, and dual Power Poles on the stern.
8. Use Power-Poles in Strong Currents and Winds
A pair of Power-Pole Pro II units adorn the stern of Green’s boat, one to either side of his Suzuki 200 hp motor. Each is fitted with a Power-Pole Drift Paddle, which Green uses often during big-water spider rigging to control up to 180-degrees of boat angle, and the speed of trolling presentations. They’re great in river current and strong wind, he says.
Slowing his Big-O to optimum spider-rigging speed is often vital to success and Power Poles excel at this. They work a lot like giant sea anchors, but they are more efficient, effective, and simple.
9. How to Maintain Live Bait for Crappie Fishing
Using frisky live minnows is an important part of successful spider rigging and Green totes 100 to 150 fresh baits each day he’s fishing.
To keep them alive and tempting to crappies, he stows baits in a small well-insulated and self-contained cooler, dedicated to the sole purpose of keeping baits alive.
Baits are aerated vigorously with a small and efficient battery-operated air stone system. Cool bait water is important for lively minnows, so in hot weather, Green places small frozen water bottles in his bait cooler to reduce water temperature.
Green keeps about a dozen minnows ready to use in a small plastic tray at the boat bow, within easy reach of his fishing chairs and rods. When he needs more minnows, he retrieves them from the cooler with a bait net.
10. The Best Net for Spider Rigging
Netting fish seems a rather ho-hum procedure with panfish, but not so when spider rigging. Because rods are typically long at 14 to 16 feet, working fish back to the boat and netting them takes a deft hand, and smooth cooperation with a fishing buddy.
Nets with standard length handles of just a few feet are inadequate. Lifting crappies with rod and line is also unwise since lines are light and panfish are often heavy.
Green’s solution is the 8.5-foot (extended) Eco Net with a telescoping-handle. He favors the rubberized mesh that minimizes tangles with hooks, sinkers, and line in the net bag.
11. Use On-Deck Rod Holders During Runs
Accommodating extra-long spider rigging crappie rods can be a challenge on average fishing boats, even those with quality rod storage areas for 6- to 8-foot rods. Stowing rigged rods up to 16 feet long fast when running open water and when trailering requires sturdy, dependable rod holders.
Green utilizes a pair of Driftmaster Tip Saver rod holders that each easily can accommodate four 16-foot long crappie rods. The holders come in pairs, which position fore and aft in designated post positions. The rod holders quickly detach when not in use via large knobs, so they can be stowed and allow for a clean, uncluttered and safe boat deck during fishing.
12. The Best Rods and Reels for Spider Rigging
Green prefers specially-made Wally Marshall Sweet 16 spider rigging rods. They’re 16-foot, 3-piece medium-light Lews IM6 graphite sticks, designed for 4- to 12-pound test line.
Green fits his rods with a small piece of brightly-colored waterproof tape at 2-foot intervals from the rod tip to the reel handle. This allows him to quickly measure the length of line out from the rod tip by holding the rod high and eyeing where the bait and lure are hanging next to tape segments. If Green wants baits at 8 feet, he can figure it out quickly, and the same for 10-feet, 14-feet, and deeper if he needs to.
Each rod is coupled with a Lew’s Wally Marshall lightweight spinning reel, spooled with quality 6-pound-test monofilament line.
Read Next: Today’s Best Lures, Rigs and Flies
13. Essential Terminal Tackle for Spider Rigging
Green uses 18-inches of 4-pound test fluorocarbon leader tied to a bright brass barrel swivel at one end and a lure at the other. He ties all lures on with a Rapala loop knot for optimum action.
Green has hundreds of leader-lures pre-rigged and ready to use, which he keeps in a book-like binder tackle kit. He stows individual leaders and lure rigs in small sandwich-sized clear plastic bags. If a lure is lost or line frayed, he insists it’s timesaving to simply snip off the barrel swivel, and retie a new rig to the main fishing line using a Palomar knot. Green uses shiny brass type swivels because he believes they attract crappies.
He also fits a colored sliding egg sinker above the swivel to keep jigs deep and straight down during trolling. Standard weight is ¾-ounce, but at times in shallow water, he’ll use ½-ounce.
14. The Most Effective Lures for Spider-Rigging Crappies
Green uses a wide assortment of 1/16-ounce and smaller jigs for spider rigging, and all are tipped with lively nose-hooked minnows. Most are standard crappie models, with line-ties set 90-degrees to a hook shank, which is his preference for spider rig slow trolling.
Some exceptions are ice-fishing styles, such as Moon Eye Jigs, which have line-ties at their tips to allow wobbling during slow trolling. Green hand paints all his egg sinkers and matches their hues to colors of his pre-rigged jigs. Pink sinkers are used with blue, pink, or mylar jigs. He couples orange leads with orange jigs. Chartreuse egg weights can be used with most any color jig, but usually dark yellow, mylar, red or peal jigs—never orange or pink lures. He uses dark yellow sinkers with the same hue jigs or mylar ones. And he never uses white sinkers.