From mid-March until the end of April, one of the certainties about freshwater fishing is that shallow stumps, brush piles and flats will be holding scores of black and white crappie in the midst of their spawn. In April, when the dogwoods are in full bloom, and crappie are on the banks.
Over the past decade, the crappie-fishing community has taken on a uniquely systematic approach to targeting its favorite fish. A single pole and a bucket of minnows has been replaced with a row of rod holders, a dozen poles and a wide selection of plastic baits that would make any largemouth bass or redfish angler envious.
Coincidentally, the rise in popularity of fishing kayaks has many anglers returning to their roots, where a simple paddle is used for propulsion. That’s about as simple as it gets, given the advances in boat design, rigging options and electronics to outfit even a car-top plastic boat.
Rarely seen is a merging of the two concepts: multiple-pole spider-rigging and paddle-driven kayak angling. That’s where Ronnie Mckee of Piedmont comes in. Mckee, aka Stump Hunter to on-line friends, is a dyed-in-the-wool crappie fisherman. He has chased crappie most of his life from a gasoline-powered boat and embraced the multiple-rod tactics that anglers employ on major impoundments.
About three years ago, Mckee discovered the joy and simplicity of fishing from a kayak. He relished the thought of being able to put the lightweight boat into smaller, overlooked bodies of water where he would have the first and probably only shot at the crappie that lived there. He reasoned that if multiple-pole tactics would work for big boats on big waters, why wouldn’t they also work from small boats on small waters?
Multiple-rod tactics for crappie fishing break down into two schools of thought. While both are referred to as spider-rigging, owing to the waterbug appearance presented by a slender boat with multiple spindly rods sticking out of each side, most anglers refer to spider-rigging as a slow, vertical trolling tactic where baits are pushed forward rather than trolled behind, often referred to as tight-lining. The other school of thought when using multiple rods is actually more like trolling, where rods are staggered to the sides and rear of the boat and trailed or trolled behind as the craft moves forward.
Mckee reasoned that tight-lining would be more amendable by paddle and set about rigging his Wilderness Systems Ride 115 with two rod holders per side to accommodate 8- and a 10-foot light-weight crappie rods. Right in the middle of his setup is a self-contained sonar unit that like any other spider-rigging boat, is the heart of the tactic.
“The appropriate speed for tight-lining is only about .5 - .7 miles per hour,” said Mckee, a member of the Upstate Kayak Angling Club. “That’s easy enough with just a paddle; keep one eye on the GPS, ease the boat along over the edge of a creek channel or flat, and watch for a rod tip to go down.”
For faster trolling, Mckee uses a different boat, a Perception kayak, which he’s outfitted with a small trolling motor. A similar rod-holder set-up lets him troll at the steady 1.0 to 1.5 mph speed required to keep the jigs swimming properly.
“With long-lining, you have to keep moving. When you catch a fish, retie a line or do anything but paddle, you lose momentum, and the baits go to the bottom and hang up. The trolling motor was a necessity to make it work,” he said.
Even during the spawn, when crappie tend to be spread out and holding tight to shoreline cover, Mckee prefers either multiple-rod approach.
“The males will go shallow and guard the nests,” he said. “A few kayak guys will downsize to ultralight tackle and cast to the banks like they are bass fishing. I prefer to troll the edge of a creek channel where it opens up into a shallow flat. That’s where the bigger females will stage while the males are on the nest, and those females will be bigger fish.”
Having a self-contained sonar package just got a lot easier this spring as Luther Cifers, owner of Yak Attack kayak accessories unveiled the CellBlok. It is a unique housing that takes advantage of small, but powerful, sealed, lead-acid batteries for powering even the most complex sonar units.
With its lightweight, high-strength composite construction, the CellBlok is a track-mounted battery box; its top surface serves as a mounting platform for the sonar display unit and transducer deployment arm. Using this accessory means no more drilling holes in your kayak for routing wires, because the wiring is contained within the housing. Simply loosen the two track-mount knobs, and the CellBlok allows you to quickly and easily move your depth finder from one kayak to another or for storing while transporting the boat on its side or upside down.
The housing accepts 7.2 and 9 Ah batteries and retails for around $60. Sonar and transducer mounting accessories are sold separately.