Story & photos by Ron Wong
Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high, means it is hot and humid throughout the southern part of the U.S. It also means that the crappie have gone to deep water to seek relief from the hot surface temps, right? Well, that is partially true.
The crappie are certainly seeking a comfort level where forage and water temps are more conducive to their liking. However, there are some professional crappie fishermen aware deep water is not the only place to find crappie.
An effective way to catch shallow summer crappie is spider rigging. We had the opportunity to spend some time with Matt Outlaw, crappie fishing shallow water. The results were very impressive. We caught crappie as shallow as 3 feet deep with the surface temps approaching 90 degrees. Oh yeah, we had some fish that would weigh 1.75 pounds.
Before we pick Matt’s brain about fishing in shallow water during the summer, let’s learn a bit about him. He is the son of Whitey Outlaw, who has won multiple crappie tournaments and championships. He is married to Nicole Humbertson with their first child due to arrive around July 4th. He was born and raised in South Carolina near Santee Cooper Lake where he learned how to fish, mostly in the upper end of the lake where it is shallow and full of vegetation and cover. Matt helps manage the family’s Insulation business out of St. Matthews, South Carolina. As, he told me, “I was sitting in a boat with my Dad, I was still in diapers and couldn’t walk.” So Matt has been on the water for 29 years. He has been crappie tournament fishing since 2009. This year he has teamed with his Dad to fish the American Crappie Trail tournament series where they are currently tied for 3rd place for Angler of the Year. Due to Matt’s success, he has acquired sponsorships from B’n’M Poles, General Tires, Heybo, Midsouth Tackle, Crappie Magnet, Pro Built Jigs, Rockport Rattler, and Driftmaster. Matt told us that he rarely fishes over 10 feet deep, so he really knows a lot about shallow water crappie fishing.
Matt Outlaw not only talked about how spider rigging in shallow water during the summer is effective, but he put a nice limit of 7 fish in the live well while we were visiting. He was fishing in a slough about ½ mile off of a river where the water averaged 4 feet deep and surface temps around 85 degrees. Eight, 14-foot B’n’M poles were used with double-minnow rigs tied on with some using a Rockport Rattler jig, others with a Pro Built jig both tipped with a medium sized minnow. A couple of the rods were rigged with Eagle Claw hooks and minnows. Matt said that crappie can be caught throughout the summer in shallow water especially where there is vegetation such as duck weed, hyacinths, gator grass (also known as eel grass) or coon water moss. This vegetation provides shade, oxygen and places for forage to hide. The vegetation provides nutrients for the forage thereby holding the crappie. In many shallow water areas, there will also be cypress trees that are magnets for shallow water crappie. Where there is cover such as stumps, logs or bushes in the same area, those places will hold small schools of fish. Matt said it is important to use your electronics to find the cover in shallow water as these are the houses that the crappie will live in throughout the hot days of summer.
Some very good tips provided by Matt to catch crappie in shallow water during the summer are:
- Move slowly throughout the area and when around a piece of cover, stop and fish thoroughly
- Use electronics to find cover, especially when fishing duck weed and other floating vegetation
- Be quiet in the boat and keep trolling motor on low speeds
- Use 16-foot poles if the water is clear to prevent spooking the fish
- If the water is stained to muddy, add a Midsouth Tackle crappie tube to the jig head for more vibration and tip with small minnow
- Use 8-pound test line when possible, go to 10-pound test in heavy cover
- Reduce number of rods when fishing heavy cover laden areas; he has sometimes used just 4 poles successfully
- Use different colored jig heads until you can determine what color is most effective
- Many shallow areas will have small ditches, follow them as vegetation will be on the sides of the ditches
- When fishing very heavy cover, use a single jig head tipped with a minnow to reduce hanging up
- Be patient, as some time it will take a while to cover an area until the fish are found or a pattern is determined
- Remember to hydrate and use sunscreen in the summer
Most rivers and lakes have shallow back water areas, like old sloughs or oxbows that hold water throughout the year, and it is those places that will have the crappie. Look for those shallow areas that have some type of vegetation in the water. That is the major component for a successful fishing trip when fishing shallow. Spider rigging is the most effective way to dissect an area and catch fish.