A slip bobber has a conical bulb and a tube at the top and bottom of the bulb in which the line is threaded and extruded.
by Vic Attardo
A simple but effective method to pull crappie from stump beds.
If Lake Cowanesque in north-central Pennsylvania were a face and not a body of water, it would need a shave.
Sticking up like stiff stubble in portions of the 1,090-acre lake are asymmetrical rows of exposed stumps, like a five-day beard needing a barber. If you weren’t a crappie fisherman you might want to use a single blade razor, sharpen it on a leather strop, and proceed to clean up the offending bristles. But since you are a crappie angler — an assumption I’ll make since you’re reading a digital publication dedicated to crappie fishing — you’re more likely to make a beeline for the stump field and proceed to give it your best shot.
I know that’s what I do every time I launch at this panfish factory, and other stump-filled lakes in the Northeast. (Cowanesque was expanded from a 400-plus acre lake in the 1990’s and, like other stumpy lakes, its wood was left in place.)
If I came across such a stump field in the South, I’d take a crappie boat festooned with spider rig equipment and methodically work every stick — front, back, sides, top to bottom. The boat and my trolling-motor foot would do most of the work as I kept 12-foot B’n’M poles dangling off the bow.
But this is Pennsylvania and despite the efforts of such notables as Crappie Now publisher Dan Dannenmueller who, every spring for the past bunch of years, has towed his crappie battleship to Pymatuning and Shenango Lake in Keystone’s northwest sector, spider rigging just hasn’t taken off “up here.”
We in Pennsylvania are a stubborn folk and though our stump fields can be extensive, both above and below the waterline, the descents of the First Continental Congress prefer to chase the localized crappie by casting single poles and working each water-buried tree with the rod as an extension of our arms and not the boat. Mention spider rigging to a crappie angler in the Northeast and he’s likely to look for a broom and a can of Raid.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not good at stump field fishing, we are, we just have our ways.
Number one on the list is use of slip bobbers.
While those below the Mason Dixon Line treat the tips of their 10- to14-foot poles as a direct-connection bobber, when you use a much shorter rod, anywhere from 5 1/2 to 7 feet, the first indication that a crappie is striking appears on the balsa or plastic float floating on the line.
Instead of dangling long rods from a half-circle of rod holders, we hold onto our one and only making delicate casts and working the bait through the wooden minefield. We know the baits are being hit because we see and feel the strike, really feel it through the thumping rod, the thin line and right down to the reel handle. And instead of having the crappie thrashing about at the arm’s length off an oversize pole, our fighting fish are practically under our noses. Our short-length crappie fishing allows for pinpoint casts and the technique of actually turning the reel handle to bring fish closer — none of which are paramount when spider rigging around a stump field.
Starting with the equipment, a slip bobber or slip float is an interesting contraption with the conical bulb of the float and a tube at the top and bottom of the bulb in which the line is threaded and extruded. Above the float is hung a bobber stopper, or stopper knot, which can be hand tied but is best applied with a pre-tied knot on a piece of plastic straw. The line is run through the “straw” and the knot is slid off the plastic to grip the line; the straw is pulled off.
Those who’ve never fished a slip bobber wonder about its purpose. Number one, with the line free moving through the float you can adjust the rig from a near-surface position to many feet down. The bobber-stopper knot can be slid along the line above the float, if you don’t create a strangulation knot. The top of the bobber, or cork, will ride up to the knot and no further, thus allowing adjustments on the length of line below the float presenting the bait. Anglers should use a free-moving plastic bead at the top of the float to prevent the knot from entering the float’s open tube.
When the rig is cast, the line is pulled through the bobber by the jig (or split shot with a live bait offering) and goes no farther than the stopper.
There are advantages to the rig that are, at first, not obvious. By controlling the line from the reel spool you can slow the fall of the jig — a benefit crappie anglers will understand. Using a spinning reel with an open bail, you can feather the line from the spool to slow, or speed up, the line passing through the float. Just because the stopper is on the line doesn’t mean the float has to ride up against the stopper at every moment. If you’d like to work your way down a tall stump, this is easily accomplished by pressing the line against the spool or holding it with a pinch. In this way you can stutter step the jig down the side of a stump. If a strike occurs during this decent you’d maintain the pinch until you can lift the rod and engage the bail in one swift, sure motion.
The best slip-bobber anglers are good at manipulating the rod, line and float throughout the presentation. Sometimes they’ll tug on the rod with a tight line jolting the float across the surface; sometimes they’ll repeatedly reel the float up to the bobber stopper and the jig close to the float then allow line to slide through the float so that the jig falls again and again; sometimes with a loose line they’ll tweak the float over the water and then let the line slip through their fingers in increments, pausing and then resuming the fall of the jig.
A certain advantage of the slip bobber is that you’re able to keep your offering in one spot for a long time. Allowing the bobber to hover next to a stump is a plus, so too is the ability to slightly jiggle the float thus giving added life to the bait, particularly if the jig is adorned with flexible soft plastic.
To cover a stump on both sides and in the deep recesses of a stump with a heavy root system, it’s best to completely lift the rod and rig then re-insert the offering by placing it down in another spot. This is better than dragging or reeling the bait around a stump as there would be more chance of a snag; this techniques lessons that possibility.
I particularly like the lift-and-replacement technique when a stump’s root are complex, such as around old, flooded sycamore or buttonwood trees in the North or around cypress or tupelo roots in the South. Sycamores are a large and convoluted tree that often grows along stream banks. When an area is flooded in the construction of a man-made impoundment the submerged sycamore roots become a gnarly entanglement which holds fish.
Then again not all “stumps” are dead wood, and these are also excellent for a slip bobber.
During the spring, lakes and reservoirs may rise over their banks and crappie will readily move into these rooted zones. I’ve enjoyed some truly excellent fishing around live wood because insects are still moving up and down the dry portions of the trees and are caught by crappie at or just below the water line. Dragon fly and damsel fly nymphs will crawl among the wet, live roots and crappie don’t hesitate to pick them off.
As all successful fishing requires attention to detail, one facet that should be noted for a slip bobber and jig is the use of a loop knot to tie the jig to the line. The purpose of the loop knot is to keep the jig just loose enough so that it rides vertically at all times. Do not fashion a too open or wide loop but seat the jig so that it hangs vertically, not with the end drooping down.
A determent to the system is that a slip bobber rig is really only workable to depths down to 10 or 12 ten feet. Below that the cast becomes awkward and the amount of line below the float may be too much to immediately feel a strike. When you’re working in depths below five feet, it’s best to add a tiny split shot half way above the jig which in effect shortens the line and keeps the line to the float that much tighter.
A slip bobber is such a simple device and it’s not hard to make it work but there is a master class in its use, and masters catch more crappie.