Crappies are one of my favorite ice fishing target species. They’re plentiful, great table fare, and they’re usually willing to bite while being enough of a challenge to leave you scratching your head once in a while. While it’s true that you can catch crappies on just about any rod you can find at your local convenience store, having a technique-specific rod will make you a more successful ice angler and will make ice fishing for crappies a lot more fun.
Tungsten Jigs are the go-to jig for most ice-fishing panfish addicts. They’re easy to use and can be rigged with live bait or plastics. Having a super-sensitive rod can help detect even the slightest bite when fishing tungsten. With a noodle rod, you’re going to easily be able to see the rod tip bounce when you get a bite.
Most of today’s noodle rods will have a super soft tip with an extra fast action. This means that the tip is ultra-sensitive but the rod loads up quickly so that you can set the hook and keep the fish pinned while reeling it in. I use the Elliott Noodle Lite Rod for most of my tungsten jigging adventures.
There are days that a jigging spoon will outfish just about anything on the water. Crappie spoons are a lot smaller than what you would use when chasing walleyes but beefier than tungsten presentations. I’ll use 1/16 ounce and smaller spoons regularly when chasing crappies with a hunger for hard baits. Having a rod that can handle more weight is key to presenting the spoon correctly and ultimately catching more fish.
When shopping for a spoon rod, look for something with a light or medium tip. Extra fast action isn’t just for tungsten. Getting that hook buried quickly comes in handy for spoon fishing too. Most panfish anglers are going to rig their rods with monofilament. Mono has plenty of stretch so you don’t have to worry about ripping it out of their mouth. My favorite panfish spoon rod is the Elliott Paragon. It’s a little stiffer than many panfish rods on the market, making it perfect for spooning crappies and perch. I’ve also hooked into plenty of eater walleyes with it and the Paragon is always up for the challenge.
Deadsticking is a popular technique for walleye anglers but if the crappie action is a little slow and I’m hunkered down in the fish house, I’ll set up a crappie deadstick as well. Typically it’s a 1/16-ounce jig head with a lively crappie minnow. I’ll set the rod using a Catch Cover Rod Holder and drop the minnow down to the depth I’m seeing the most marks on my sonar. Then, it’s set it and forget it. I’ll jig with tungsten or a hard bait on my other rod and wait for the deadstick to bend.
For tungsten and hard baits, I like something in the 32” or even 36” range for the fish house. If you’re going out on the open ice, a 42” rod really comes in handy. You can jig with the rod tip close to the hole without getting on your knees. But for a deadstick rod, I like a short rod. A 28” or 30” rod is easier to line up over your hole and doesn’t take up as much space. If you have kids or a couple of old guys moving around in a fish house, you’ll see it doesn’t take much for them to bump into your rigs. I really like an ultra-light tip for a crappie deadstick but if you want something that will also work for deadsticking walleyes, you can go with a light or medium tip. The Catch Cover Rod holder will serve as a strike indicator instead of the rod tip if you go to the medium.
Can you catch crappies on any old rod? You sure can, especially eager and hungry ones. But when the bite gets tough, having technique-specific rods can really increase your opportunities to catch more crappies while ice fishing. I've listed rods from Elliott as my favorites but if you have a favorite brand, check out rods with the same attributes in the brands you like most.