by Brian Cope
Get right in the middle of the weeds, dig a hole, drop a jig, and see what comes out.
Spider-rigging and tight-lining are some of the most effective techniques for catching crappie, and are two of the most popular forms of fishing both in tournament and pleasure fishing. But they’re not the only way to do it.
At one time, many years ago, single pole fishing was all many crappie anglers knew, and they caught their share of slabs. Some anglers still do, especially under the right circumstances.
B ’n’ M pro angler Matt Outlaw has won his share of crappie tournaments over the years. And while he spider-rigs and tight-lines during many of his trips, he will switch to using only a single pole when he feels it’s the best option. And when he observes weeds in the waters he’s fishing, he doesn’t hesitate to put away the trolling gear and pick up one pole.
“When I see weeds on the surface, I’ll check the water depth. If it’s at least four feet deep, I know I can catch crappie there, but you have to be willing to get right in the middle of the weeds. Trolling along the outskirts of them isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to dig out a hole on the surface and get a jig down into those weeds,” said Outlaw, who grew up fishing this technique on the Santee Cooper lakes near his hometown of St. Matthews, S.C.
Water hyacinth is Outlaw’s favorite weed to fish, but he said this method is also good in duckweed, lily pad fields, and gator grass.
Among the essential tools Outlaw carries aboard his boat is a long piece of conduit with a 90-degree bend on the very end. When he spots those surface weeds or grasses, he uses the end of the conduit to scratch out a hole near the center of the vegetation, then he lowers a Rockport Rattler jighead or a ProBuilt jighead with a either a Midsouth or Crappie Magnet body.
“The Rockport Rattlers have rattles built into the jigheads, and sometimes that noise will draw strikes. The ProBuilt jigheads have holographic eyes that the crappies really seem drawn to,” he said.
One thing that surprises many people about this style of fishing is that Outlaw said there’s no need to be stealthy. Often, he doesn’t even turn off his outboard motor until he catches a couple of fish from one hole, and the only reason for easing up before making a hole in the weeds has nothing to do with scaring fish away.
“The main thing is you don’t want to shred the weeds, because you want them to stay intact for the fish. If the weeds break up, the fish will leave. I never worry about scaring the fish away. They don’t mind the movement and I think the boat moving in probably knocks some insects off the weeds and into the water. If I don’t catch a fish pretty quickly in the first hole I make, I’ll ease up and dig out another hole and give that one a few minutes. When I’ve caught a few, then I’ll shut down the outboard.”
Sometimes, Outlaw will catch a handful of crappies in one hole, and when the bite shuts down, he’ll move on to another. Other times, he’ll catch a limit in that one spot.
When fishing this way, Outlaw uses a 10-foot long B ’n’ M pole with an ultralight reel. He only lets enough line off the reel for the depth he’s fishing. If he thinks the fish are two feet deep, he has two feet of line coming off the tip of the rod. He fishes with the rod tip directly at the surface. This is one of the big advantages to fishing with a reel as opposed to fishing a traditional reel-less bream pole, which typically has a length of line that is equal to the length of the pole.
Having that much line out gives the crappie that much play, and enables them to set the tone for at least the initial part of the fight. They can pull down that much line and wrap it around the roots of all those weeds, making it difficult for the angler to lift them out. But with only two feet of line out, once Outlaw detects a bite, the hookset is much quicker, and the rod is doing the heavy lifting right away.
“I’ll adjust my depth until I find the fish just by letting out a little more line, and always holding my rod tip at the water’s surface,” he said.
This type of close quarters fishing means not skimping on line choice. Outlaw opts for 10-pound test Vicious monofilament, which he said gives him the strength he needs to heft crappie out of the weeds, even if some weeds come up with the fish.
One of Outlaw’s favorite facts about this type of fishing is that it can work on all lakes across the country, and during any time of year.
“As long as a body of water has surface weeds with at least four feet of water under them, you can catch crappie this way. It works especially well in the summer and even better in the fall, but it is really good any time of year. Even in the dead of winter when the weeds are brown and shriveled up, you can find crappie there. It’s a technique that you still don’t see many people doing, but it is very effective.”