GRENADA, Miss. — After Terry Stewart of Clinton, Miss., finished placing his crappie rods in their holders, the front of his 21-foot Ranger boat looked more like a spider. The seven B & M Crappie poles were fanned out across the bow in specialty holders.
The 16-foot long poles are specifically designed for crappie anglers. The long length allows for plenty of reach and for covering various water depths. This method of crappie fishing has been around for several years and is known as “spider fishing.”
“It is a great way to cover plenty of water,” Stewart said. “We can set the poles at different depths until we locate the crappie.”
The cold fall air was a welcome relief from the scorching days only a few weeks earlier. Stewart began his search for fall crappie on a large flat about three-quarters of a mile above the earthen dam of Grenada Lake, which covers about 35,000 surface acres at full pool. It is also one of the top crappie lakes in the Southeast.
Stewart grew up fishing with his dad for anything that would bite. He has been a professional crappie angler for the past several years, fishing around 20 or more tournaments a year. On this beautiful fall day, he allowed me to tag along as he practiced for an upcoming American Crappie Trail event.
For professional crappie anglers, modern electronics, like detailed sonar and GPS units are a must to compete. Along with two Humminbird Helix 12 GPS/graph plotters, Stewart has added a Garmin Panoptix Live view sonar.
The Panoptix allows anglers to view under water in front, side-to-side and behind the boat. The view on the screen can extend out 200 feet in front of the boat. Displaying the bottom, brush, stumps and most importantly, fish.
“Watch this,” Stewart told me, as I focused on the large display screen. “You can actually follow your bait down on the screen and put that minnow right in front of a crappie. It’s almost like cheating. But you still have to get the fish to bite.”
Stewart adjusted the gain on the unit and the brush came into focus along with the bait and the fish. With his experience he can generally decipher whether the fish is a bass or crappie depending on the size and location of the sonar return.
The Panoptic uses bright orange for the sonar return display. As the fish swims, the movement of their fins and tail create a flash of detail on the screen. Users can see the fish swim away from the cover or toward the bait.
“Some guys have gotten good enough with these units to actually follow the fish,” Stewart said.
We approach some flooded timber and we can see a large stump on the screen. The water is around 12 feet deep and at 9 feet a fish holds tight to the stump. Stewart lowers his minnow rigged on a No. 1 hook and guides the bait to the fish.
After about a minute of maneuvering the fish sucks in the minnow, the rod bends and Stewart hoists in a two-pound plus crappie to the boat.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at email@example.com.