The minute Charlie and Travis Bunting arrived at one of their favorite fishing spots on Truman Lake, they went to work setting up an elaborate spider web to ensnare big crappies.
Arranging rod holders at the front of their boat, they put out multiple 16-foot rods baited with jigs and minnows and began slow-trolling along a submerged fence row. It’s called spider rigging, and it’s a method that is deadly on crappies, the Buntings will tell you.
It allows them to present a multitude of baits, set so that they are skimming over the timber and brush rising from the bottom. To the crappies, it must look like a school of baitfish passing overhead. To the Buntings, it looks like a giant spider web moving across the water.
“This is our favorite way to fish,” said Travis, 36, who teams with his dad, Charlie, on the pro crappie fishing tour. “We’ll pick a sweet spot — brush, stake beds, broken-up trees, underwater fence rows — and we’ll put eight rods down and work it thoroughly.
“We have a lot of these places marked. We don’t just put your trolling motor and keep going. We’re hitting key spots, then moving. We might move 35 to 40 times a day. But it works.”
The Buntings proved that on a sunny weekday last week. They launched their boat at midday — “about the worst time of the day to fish,” Travis said — and immediately found success.
Sitting side by side in seats at the bow of their boat, they stared at the eight rods stretched over the water in front of them. When one of the lines even twitched, they set the hook and swung a crappie into the boat. By the end of the four-hour trip, they estimated they had caught and released 50 crappies in a variety of sizes.
A good day? Nah, just business as usual for the Buntings, who live in Jefferson City.
They are among the top pros on the national circuit. They teamed to win national championships on the Crappie USA circuit in in 2005 and on the Crappie Masters circuit in 2012, and won the national points championship in Crappie USA in 2007.
Their boat is a crappie-catching machine. It is equipped with the latest electronics, big color screens, Power Poles that can be lowered to keep their boat in place, and a special aeration system to keep their bait alive.
They never have to worry about where their lures or bait will come from. Travis owns Muddy Water Baits, which sells plastic jigs he designed. And they are one of the few pro fishing teams you will meet that is sponsored by a minnow hatchery. The Missouri Goldfish Company provides the Buntings with the minnows they need when they fish tournaments. And that can be a lot.
“On a good day, we’ll catch 150 crappies and go through a lot of minnows,” Travis said. “It’s not unusual for us to bring 4 to 7 pounds of minnows to a tournament.”
Last week, the Buntings used lines with two hooks on them — a minnow on he bottom hook, and a jig tipped with a minnow several feet above that. That way, they had more hooks in the water and covered varying depths.
Most of the day, they trolled with their baits 8 feet down in 17 feet of water. They showed on their electronics how the baits were skimming just above the brush and stumps of the submerged fence row.
“A lot of people don’t even know this fence row exists because it doesn’t show from above,” Travis said. “You need good electronics to find it. But it can be a good spot.”
The Buntings have many of those spots. They don’t just drop their trolling motor and start fishing. They stay on the move.
That can be a productive way to fish, especially at Truman. The Buntings have fished 15 states and more than 50 lakes. Though the size of fish is better in southern reservoirs such as Grenada in Mississippi, Truman ranks as one of their favorites.
“I’ve been fishing Truman since it first came in (1979), and it’s always had good crappie fishing,” Charlie said. “Of course, we didn’t have the electronics and good equipment back then like we do now. But we always caught fish.
“Today, the electronics help you eliminate so much water. You can find the fish. But you still have to get them to bite.”