Tight Lining 101 with Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman
Phillip Gentry
More crappie are caught and more tournaments are won by tight lining than any other method. Here’s a look at how it works.
Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman are considered by many to be the godfathers of tight lining for crappie.
By monitoring his graph, both for trolling speed and structure, Capps can steer the boat into and over good tight lining cover.
The Capps and Coleman Double Hook Minnow rig was designed by the pair for fishing two hooks on each rod.

Over the past 20 years, as year round crappie tournaments grew, so did the number of rods that crappie anglers used to catch them, especially anytime of the year when crappie have moved away from the bank and suspend around submerged structure like channel ledges, brush piles and drop offs. The approach soon came to be called spider rigging due to the boat’s resemblance to the insect with numerous long spindly rods pointed in all directions. Many old school slab chasers scoffed at the idea of fishing with so many rods, but couldn’t argue with the results. Many die-hard fans entered the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” ranks.

If spider-rigging can be traced back to a source, it would have to be Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee. Reelfoot is a mecca of stumps and sticks and lily pads packed into one shallow water area. There was no way to one pole jig it all and local anglers soon began using one pole in each hand. Eventually, this led from feeling the bite to seeing the bite at the rod tip which led to using multiple poles stuck in rod holders.

Subsequently, the first thing many new comers notice about tight lining is the number of exceptionally long rods that are used. A 12 foot rod is considered short in spider rigging circles and the norm is something in the 14 – 16 foot range. B’n’M makes 4 section rods that extend out to 20 feet. Couple the enormous length with the fact that teams may use as many as 8 - 12 rods per boat, depending on state and tournament regulations, and most casual anglers just shake their heads and walk away.

If there is a godfather, or godfathers of tight lining, it’s Ronnie Capps and Steve Coleman. Not surprising, Capps and Coleman hail from Reelfoot Lake. They’ve also won more National Crappie Championship tournaments than any other team AND tight lining, regardless of who is on the other end of the poles, has won 3 times more crappie tournaments than any other tactic.

“Once you get the hang of it, it’s not as hard as it looks,” said Ronnie Capps. “There’s definitely a system involved. A lot of teams will fish two anglers side by side in the front of the boat and leave the back open, some will put one in the front and one in the back. By far, we prefer the side-by-side seating because both guys have different jobs to do and they can watch each other’s rods while they do them.”

One of the keys to tight lining is having a rod holder setup that will keep all the long rods arranged in order and allow the angler room to operate the boat and more importantly, keep track of what’s below the boat on the depth finder. With baits dangling on a tight line all around the bow of the boat, the anglers then use a variable speed trolling motor to slow troll the baits over and around underwater structure. It requires a lot of patience and concentration to keep everything under control and see a bite which may be a subtle as a twitch in the line or forceful enough to pull a rod tip down into the water.

“We like to tight line when crappie are concentrated in a small area such as a deep brush pile or on a channel drop or bend in the river channel,” said Capps. “We find them by trolling along the edge of a river ledge and find that there might be only one spot every 200 – 300 yards that will hold fish.”

Finding the fish and catching them is accomplished the same way. Once a fish or two is boated, the anglers can easily reverse course and troll around and across the productive spot until they stop getting bites, then move on down the ledge.

 

“We’ve sunk a lot of brush piles in all the lakes that we fish,” said Steve Coleman, who has been fishing with Ronnie since the two were in grade school. “Most of them are out in open water and located along some travel route like a creek channel or river edge.”

“Our typical set up is 8 rods out the front and slightly angled to the sides,” said Capps. “I like the B’n’M Poles 16 foot BGJP (Buck’s Graphite Jig Poles) used as trolling rods, they’re light, but still stiff enough to support the weighted rig. All of our baits are a two hook minnow rig that we designed. The rig  incorporates a three way swivel with an egg sinker on the bottom leg to hold it tight down in the water. The weight of the egg sinker tied into the bottom leg of the rig varies with the depth of water fished. For shallow fishing (7 – 12 feet) we use a ½ oz weigh, 12 – 18 feet will require a ¾ oz weight and for more than 18 feet we use a 1 oz egg sinker.”  

For the majority of their fishing, the team favors 2- 3 inch live minnows which are a close match to the natural forage that crappie feed on the majority of the year. On occasion, however, if the crappie bite is slow, they will replace the #2 Eagle Claw extra light wire hook with a 1/16 ounce jig head on the Capps & Coleman Rig and piggy back a live minnow on top of a tube jig to add some color to the bait .

“We put straight minnows on some of the rods and jig and minnow combos on the others and let the fish decide what they want on a given day,” said Capps, “but we always use live bait—whether it’s by itself or paired with a jig.”

Either angler can control the trolling speed of the boat with a variable speed trolling motor using a remote control or foot pedal. Speed is monitored using GPS incorporated into the front depth finder but the pair can also gauge the correct speed by the angle of the line.

 “I like about a 10 – 15-degree angle from vertical,” said Capps. “That makes the rig lay out right, too fast and the rigs will lay out flat and maybe tangle together and too slow and the baits get tangled in the rig. If we’re on a good spot I’ll just troll the boat in a wide circle, or move up and back, and let the wind blow us back into or over the structure.”

 

Stay tuned to our tips and tactics page at bmpoles.com. Next article we will take a look at some advanced tactics used by our pros to make tight lining even deadlier.