Melvin Cummings was an expert crappie fishermen 20 years before the words “spider rigging” ever became popular among the crowd that targets slabs — and even though he understands that the concept of multiple-pole trolling is tremendously effective, there’s at least one time of year when he isn’t going to put his single rod down for any reason.
That period is when crappie go to the bank to spawn.
Cummings, who runs Sports Fisherman’s Center in Clemmons, N.C., is still a regular on lakes throughout Piedmont North Carolina, and in March and April you’re going to find him fishing only one rod and one lure at a time.
“It is the best way to catch crappie when they go to the bank to spawn,” he said.
Cummings said fishermen need to watch their temperature gauges as winter gives way to spring.
“(The fish) should go to the bank when the water temperature gets to 56 or 57 degrees, and they’ll go to any kind of cover on the bank — no two ways about it,” he said. “They’ll stay up there until it’s 62 to 64 degrees. They’ll go in in waves, because there’s no way they can all go in at one time — there’s no room because there are too many of them.”
If you’re fishing a lake that has populations of both white and black crappie, Cummings said one species or the other will be first to head to the bank, and when they’re finished the other will get started.
This guarantees fishermen have slabs to catch in shallow water for the better part of six weeks — at least.
And this veteran angler catches them the old-fashioned way, easing down the bank in his boat, holding in one hand a 13-foot, telescopic fiberglass crappie rod with an equal length of 17-pound monofilament tied to the end, with a 1/16-ounce jighead on the business end, and likely a curlytail grub threaded onto the jig.
“You can dip it right down in the middle of the brush or the tree you’re fishing, and just fish that jig straight up and down,” Cummings said. “I may put a float on to judge the depth — if I want to go down 3 or 4 feet — but I’ll hold the cork up out of the water. You don’t need it; you can feel that fish hit it and knock the fire out of it.”
Cummings might dab his jig around a shallow stump, and then move 15 feet down the bank and jig vertically around a laydown tree or a brush pile. He doesn’t put much action in his jig, and he doesn’t expect to have to because crappie in water as shallow as 18 inches don’t need to be coaxed into striking.
“I’m just jigging straight up and down, maybe moving it from side to side. Or I’ll bump the end of the rod with my hand, and that will be enough to make that little jig move,” he said. “You have to fish heavy line when you’re fishing down in a tree or you’ll keep breaking off. And usually, the water is stained enough that the size of the line doesn’t matter.”
Cummings fishes tiny, 2- or 3-inch curlytail grubs most of the time, but he will drop down a little grub that resembles a minnow — a Gulp bait in particular.
“June bug with a chartreuse tail is my No. 1 color in any kind of water, with acid rain being second,” he said. “I use a 1/16-ounce jig, which is just about the idea size for fishing straight down.”