Raise your hand if you’re a fan of fried crappie and hushpuppies. Everybody? That’s what we figured. Ok, now who likes to catch crappie, bluegill, and perch? Yup, everybody again. Well sit back and relax as we uncover a lightly used panfish tactic is absolutely deadly at getting those fillets in the frying pan.
Folks, we’re talking about the simple slip bobber rig. It’s been around forever but frankly we see very few panfish enthusiasts using it, and if you’re not, you’re really missing out. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the rig, it consists of a slip bobber, a jig head with soft plastic tail, and a bobber stop to adjust the depth of the bobber. There are several good videos on YouTube showing the rig. We prefer using a bead between the bobber stop and the bobber to prevent the bobber stop from wedging in the bobber tube. We also recommend using a weighted slip bobber which allows greater casting distance and allows the bobber to stand up even when using micro sized jigs.
Now let’s detail the advantages of this rig over simply casting a single jig and retrieving it. We’re not knocking the use of casting a jig, in fact, it can be very effective particularly in more open water when fish are in the 5-10 ft depth range and are actively feeding and wanting to bite a faster moving bait. However, when fish get deeper than 10 feet or shallower than 5 feet or are hanging close to cover like docks or standing timber it’s very difficult to present a jig effectively to fish under these conditions. These are the situations where a slip bobber rig really shines.
The advantages of using this rig are many. First and foremost, you can cast the rig about a mile. We may have exaggerated a little, but you can cast it a seriously long distance with the right rod and reel set-up. Think about casting a 1/16-ounce jighead with just a soft plastic trailer. Your casting distance is severely limited even with ultra-light gear. But put the same 1/16-ounce jig on a weighted slip bobber rig and you’re suddenly casting a rig in the ½ to 1 ounce range making your range 2-3 times further. For fan casting in open water to locate a school of panfish, having this additional casting range is invaluable. It also allows you to stay a long way from the school in really clear or shallower water.
Secondly, and probably most important, you can exactly control the depth of your lure throughout the entire retrieve. Panfish throughout the lake tend to stay at the same depth depending on time of the year and like to feed on prey that is above them. Rarely, do they feed on the bottom or on forage that is below them. So, let’s say either through your electronics or after catching a few fish that you’ve determined most are in the 8’-10’ range. You can then adjust your bobber stop at 7’-8’ and your lure will be in the strike zone 100% of the time. Achieving this depth control throughout the cast is impossible by just casting and retrieving a jig alone.
The slip bobber rig is the way to go when fish are holding tight to cover. It allows you to fish vertically next to cover but keep your boat away from the structure itself and cast to multiple targets without ever moving. Let’s say there are crappie located on dock pilings on a particular stretch of bank that holds a row of docks. By using a slip bobber rig, you can keep your boat positioned away from the docks so you don’t spook the fish and cast accurately to each piling. Plus, you can keep the jig close to the piling for as long as you like and gently jig your lure up and down with gentle rod twitches without moving the lure completely away from the piling. Nothing is more deadly at getting finicky fish to strike than slightly jigging your lure vertically and letting it free fall naturally. Plus, your jig will stay at exactly the depth that you set your bobber stop. Plus, this technique works equally well fishing from the bank as it does from a boat when there is cover within a cast of the shoreline.
Now let’s talk about the rod and reel set-up for a slip bobber rig. A high-quality spinning outfit is the ticket here. We like a 2000 size spinning reel paired with a 7’ rod. The Trika S70MLF is just about perfect for this technique. The length allows you to make long casts in open water but the fast action facilitates very accurate casts to specific targets like docks and standing timber. Also, the medium light power is perfect to subtly jig your lure to entice strikes but it’s got enough backbone to lift slab size crappies into the boat. The beauty of this set-up is you’re not forced to use a super ultra-light rod to cast the micro jigs but can step up to a rod with a little more power in the blank.
Keep your line size pretty light, say in the 4-6lb range as you’re still going to be using lighter weight jigheads. Use the lightest jighead you can get away with. Lighter jigs fall slower which almost always triggers more strikes. We generally use a jig in the 1/64-ounce to 1/16-ounce range and only step up to 1/8-1/4-ounce if we’re fishing depths of 15’ or more. Experimentation with different weights will tell you what works best. Also, there are several styles of bobber stops you can use from braided line tied to your main line to small rubber beads. Personally, we prefer the rubber bead because it goes through today’s smaller rod guide sets better on a cast and you can reel it directly onto the spool if you have the bobber stop set for deeper water.
For jig bodies, there are lots of options and color is critical. Usually darker colors like black/chartreuse, blues, and purples are good choices in stained water whereas more natural colors like pearls and whites are better choices in clearer water. Pinks and chartreuse are good options about anywhere. Just keep and open mind and be willing to experiment and let the fish tell you what color they want. Same for bait styles, some days they might want more action in a bait like a curly tail or paddle tail and other days they may want more of a subtle tube style. Always have options available and various weights of jigheads.
So, if you’re already using slip bobber rigs for panfish then you’ve probably got some fillets in the freezer. But, if you’ve never used one and you like a crappie or bluegill dinner every now and then, we don’t know of a better system to put panfish in the boat. So good luck, and be ready to get the grease hot.