Vertical Jigging Tactics
Story & photos by Brian Cope
In the early days of crappie fishing tournaments, and crappie fishing in general, spider rigging wasn’t a factor. The use of multiple rods pushing and pulling jigs became popular once tournaments became a major player in the crappie fishing world, and it’s stuck around because it’s so effective. But that doesn’t mean that jigging with a single rod doesn’t have its place anymore. Sometimes, it’s still the best way to land crappie.
“One-pole jigging,” as it’s sometimes called, harkens back to our earliest days of fishing. The simple act of bating one hook and either feeling for a bite or watching a cork is ingrained in every angler’s memory. But it’s not just the romance that has anglers stowing away the trolling gear in certain situations.
John Phillips of Wetumpka, Alabama focused his efforts on single-pole jigging during the last day of the 2017 Crappie Masters Alabama State Championship this past spring and it landed him and his fishing partner (and wife) Alicia Phillips on the winner’s platform hoisting the championship trophy. A glitch in his electronics prompted him to stick to jigging, and it worked to perfection.
The depthfinder portion of his electronics worked fine, which allowed him to find brush piles, but he lost the advanced features that are so helpful in spider-rigging. So jigging was more suitable for Team Phillips on that day.
“But there are other reasons you might jig instead of troll. Under certain water and weather conditions, and even sometimes when the crappie are just stacked up on small pieces of structure and not scattered about, those are good times to fish with a single rod,” said Phillips.
When jigging for crappie, Phillips has three keys that anglers should remember. First, he suggests anglers use a buoy when finding brush piles. Second, he stresses the importance of using fresh, lively bait to tip your jigs. Third, he said anglers should always leave a group of fish while they’re still biting.
Many anglers are in too big of a hurry to start fishing, but Phillips takes his time finding a good spot first, watching his electronics until he is satisfied that he’s in a good fishing hole. Once he finds what he’s looking for, he marks it with a buoy immediately.
Phillips said it’s important to catch the fish that are higher in the water column first. He believes many anglers make a big mistake here by just dropping a jig down into the middle of the school. Pulling the lower fish up through those on top can really scatter those crappie that are nearer the surface and alert them that something isn’t quite right.
If the depthfinder shows that a big group of crappie are hanging out 10 feet deep and have another group hanging out just below them at 11 feet deep, Phillips wants to catch those that are 10 feet deep first.
“You don’t want to reel fish up through other fish. They will scatter and the bite will shut down. When I hear other anglers talk about seeing plenty on their depthfinder, but could only catch one or two before they quit biting, that’s the mistake I think they are making. They aren’t focusing on the uppermost fish.”
Phillips likes to keep two poles rigged slightly differently when jigging. He uses one that has two jigs, with one of the jigs anywhere from a foot to 18 inches above the other. On the other rod, he only has one jig tied on. This is the jig he uses to really probe the brush piles and other structure. It’s easier, he said, to keep one jig from tangling up than it is two jigs.
In most cases, Phillips tips his jigs with live minnows, and he doesn’t like to have an inactive minnow on his hook, so if a minnow gets hit but the fish doesn’t take it in, he usually puts a new minnow on.
He also insists on keeping his minnows fresh by using a livewell with an aerator. And he avoids putting his bare hands into the well, using a small net instead. This can help keep the bait fresh all day instead of for only a few hours, he said.
“On some days, you just can’t keep the crappie from biting, but on other days, every little detail can mean the difference between catching fish and just going for a boat ride. Keeping your bait fresh and lively is often that difference, and it’s easy to do.”
Phillips believes it’s possible to fish one group of crappie too thoroughly. He never wants to completely deplete a single brush pile of crappie. It’s far more valuable to him if he leaves that group before they entirely quit biting.
“I’m a firm believer that crappie are attracted to other crappie. Anytime you have a gathering of these fish, other fish will join them at some point. If you find a good brush pile or hole that’s holding crappie, you want them to attract more crappie. Leave them biting and head to another honey hole, and then you’ll always have plenty of places to fish.”