The hottest months of the year are upon us. The dog days of summer are named for the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, in the Canis Major constellation. The old hound dogs want to simply find shade and sleep all day. Many fishermen put their poles away during this time to await cooler fall temperatures. However, with some adjustment in the methods utilized, the dog days can provide productive fishing.
I recently spent the day at Grand Lake St. Marys crappie fishing with Charlie Hildreth. Hildreth is a crappie pro-fisherman who fishes the Crappie USA tournament trail. His seminars are popular, entertaining and informative. I wanted to learn firsthand some of his techniques, especially spider rigging for summertime and shallow water crappie.
Spider rigging started in the south and is gaining popularity in Ohio. It’s a very effective method to catch a lot of fish but often not the biggest fish. A lot of people refer to the method as trolling but Hildreth prefers “strolling” because he fishes very slowly. Hildreth may only move two-tenths mph and even stop or back up to work the jigs over brush. Spider rigging is limited in Ohio by the two pole per angler rules.
Hildreth explains, “We use long rods in the 12 or 14-foot range. I like an IM7 rod because it has the sensitivity but has more backbone so I can handle the bigger fish. Graphite is a must especially for weight. The 14-foot rod is the standard for spider rigging. A 12-foot rod will work while a 10-foot rod just doesn’t get the lure far enough away from the boat. I rig the leader shorter at the top and longer at the bottom. I do not use a lead head jig when trolling. I use only jig hooks that allow the minnow to float free for a natural presentation.”
Typically the line used will be 8 or 10-pound test line with the leader being 4 or 6 pounds. Some anglers will move up to 12-pound and then use 8-pound test line for the leader. The key is to maintain a 4-pound difference between the line and the leader. Should the rig become hung in brush, the leader can be quickly broken off and replaced.
The preferred hooks are a very light wire hook. The jig tubes go on easily. If you get hung up, the hooks will pull straight allowing the hang-up to be freed. Simply bend the hooks back into the proper shape. When I hooked a couple of channel catfish, I also learned that the hooks will straighten allowing the catfish to escape. Inexpensive reels work well for spider rigging since they basically serve as line holders as the reel is not used to cast a lure, retrieve or fight the fish.
Hildreth adds, “I use a live minnow about 90% of the time when spider rigging. I hook it through the eyes or lips for a natural presentation since you are moving. Hooking a minnow through the bottom of the tail will cause it to swim up and, when tired, drop back down. The crappie see an easy meal. They don’t get big if they chase too many minnow for food. They want the easy meal. If you hook the minnow in the back they will swim in a circle causing more hang-ups in heavy cover.”
Hildreth stresses, “If you are not using live bait, then color is very important. It is an absolute must. That’s part of what you look for at the local bait shops, find the color that is sold out and that is likely the favorite or hot color for that lake.”
Hildreth notes, “Grand Lake is a unique shallow water lake. Shallow lakes often have lily pads but Grand Lake does not have lily pads. What we are looking for is shade, whether natural like lily pads or man-made. We will check under pontoons and around boat docks. Finding shade in shallow lakes or ponds is key to finding fish.”
A lot of fishermen think summertime crappie are going to be in deep water maybe twenty-five feet or more. It depends on your lake. If the lake is has deep drop-offs, then the crappie may go very deep, perhaps even 40-feet. Many Ohio lakes are much shallower so the fish may still only be seven or eight feet deep. Crappie can live in hot water as long as there is oxygen and food. You have to learn your lake. Crappie will school up in the summertime but the schools will roam more following the shad. Good shallow lakes for Ohio crappie include Indian Lake, Buckeye Lake, Clark Lake and Stonelick Lake.
Hildreth adds, “The main mistake people make in the summertime is they get impatient. This is not the easy pickings from the spring spawn. The crappie are still there. You’ve got to do some things a little differently. It’s often tough to get them to bite during the day since they feed at night and are not hungry.
Give the crappie time to find the bait. You’ve got to fish at night or early in the morning. I use the same techniques at night as the during the day. I often go someplace where there are some lights so I can see. It’s basically the feel at night. When crappie have a light bite, it is just a slight tick on the line. After catching a couple you will start to learn the feel.”
Hildreth cautions about the use of electronics in shallow water, “If you know where the structure is located and you are in less than 8-foot of water, turn off the electronics. Throw a marker buoy if you want. Electronics run by sound waves. Crappie interpret the sound waves as a screeching noise over their head. It doesn’t necessarily make them move but it does put them on guard.”
The day was productive with Hildreth providing more information and crappie lessons than I can effectively remember. He loves spreading the word and getting people involved in crappie fishing. Generally, it is fun.
Taking your crappie fishing from the simple bobber and minnow to the spider rigging techniques the pros use will add another dimension to your summer crappie fishing. So if you see me on an area lake, moving slowly with long rods sticking out from the boat, you will know that I’m enjoying the dog days of summer crappie fishing!