As they often say, “It’s hard to argue with success.” Having said that, sometimes we forget how much effort, sweat, skin and sheer frustration goes into making something work really well.

Into that category of “angling anguish” I put the new(ish) spider rig setups for crappie fishing.

They can really produce the fish, but you best know what you’re doing or you’re likely to end up being hog-tied in fishing line and double-rigged hooks. 

Intro to creepy spider rigs

The first time I saw a fully decked-out spider rig was last spring up at Lake Washington near the hamlet of Chatham — one of the top crappie fishing lakes in all of America.

I was invited to fish aboard the specialized spider-rigged crappie boat operated by Arkansas guide Jerry Gross. I think Lake Washington is his second home.

“Lake Washington is one of my favorite crappie lakes, and I fish a lot of them,” Gross said. “Being on the crappie-fishing tournament circuit, I get to travel and fish all over the South trying to lip hang them white perch.

“Part of my fishing work besides guiding people who want to catch crappie is promoting my own brand of crappie jigs — with my own company Meatgetter Jigs — that my wife and I make in our spare time.”

Jerry’s line of jigs is extensive and can be found at fishing tackle outlets all over the state, especially Roy’s Store on the banks of Lake Washington. 

Spider rig set-ups

“Like most crappie anglers, I like to work the flooded timber with one or two long poles out just like most people,” the guide said. “Lake Washington has some of the best flooded timber fishing holes around, and if you hit the water temp and clarity just right you can fill an ice cooler with slabs most any day.”

I agree: Timber fishing for crappie is just plain ole fun working a stump, log, or the trunk of a big cypress tree in 6 to 10 feet of water with a colored jig, minnows or both.

Lake Washington has several ideal areas for this type of crappie fishing. 

“However, if you really want some crappie-fishing production, then go to a spider rig,” Jerry said. “The basic setup is mounting four to eight special post rod holders in the front of the boat to fan out all the fishing rods like the legs of a spider. You can use 12- to 16-foot poles, or longer if you want a real challenge. 

“Each rod holder supports one pole, so you have to spread them out pretty wide to keep multiple rods separated as far apart as your setup will allow. These special pedestals and rod holders that are more or less permanently bolted to the boat’s forward deck can be moved around 360 degrees at the base, and the holder heads are also highly adjustable, as well. I will admit tending to this many rods at a time during some hot crappie catching action can be quite a challenge for one fisherman alone up front in the boat.

“It really helps to have another person in the boat to help put fresh bait on a hook or in some cases to help unsnarl lines that can easily get crossed or mixed up. I have double-hook rigs on each line. I also usually double up the bait I offer to white perch by putting both a colored jig and a minnow at each position.

“With eight rods out, that means I am giving the fish 16 different options for biting my baits.”

Working a spider rig

“Once I get all the rods rigged up with jigs and minnows, one by one I start putting them in the rod holders, setting them out and adjusting their positions out over the water,” Jerry explained. “I tilt the rods at just the right spots, usually about a foot above the surface of the water. This seems to work best, but depending on the wind and waves you may have to constantly adjust the rod tip height over the water. 

“The rod holders can work themselves loose, too, so you have to reach down to tighten them up sometimes. Also the pedestals do the same. There can be modes of constant adjustment to the whole spider rig setup. You really have to stay on top of the whole thing — and trust me this can get tiring.”

But all the work is worth it.

“Then the crappie catching starts,” Jerry said. “This is really where the action heats up if you have multiple rod tips bouncing from fish bites all at the same time.

“You just have to work one rod at a time, unhooking the catches, baiting up and going to the next rod. If the action is really good, it doesn’t take long to get a cooler of fish. That’s the best part.”

Spider rigs are definitely a unique approach to crappie fishing. The whole setup is not cheap, either, but in terms of producing maximum numbers of fish, the spider rig is the way to go.