Rods are poles that have reel-seats, handles and line guides added to them. They are made of fiberglass, graphite and boron, and are anywhere from 4′ up to 14′ for some specialty steelhead and salmon rods. For an average crappie rod, we are looking at something in the 5-1/2′ to 6′ range. Unless you plan to fish tournaments, the low end of the scale will work fine for you.
Parts Of A Rod
The handle of a rod is the part you hold in your hand. It can be made of cork or foam. There is usually an upper handle to assist in putting pressure on especially powerful fish.
Next is the reel seat. This is where the reel foot attaches the reel to the rod. It can be either a sliding ring-type (rare these days, or a threaded sleeve, called a locking reel seat. The actual rod is called the rod blank. The line from the reel runs through the guides, and out through the tip top.
Before discussing the pros and cons of the various materials used in rods, we have to have an understanding of a rods ‘action’, or the way it reacts to stress. Rods are routinely rated as Fast, Med, or Slow action. This refers to how much of the rod will flex when put under stress. A ‘Fast’ rod will only flex in the last 1/3 of its length. This means that the reaction time for hook-sets is almost immediate, but there is an increased risk of rod and line breakage because there is less of a cushioning effect from the rod. A ‘Slow’ action rod will flex along its entire length, sometimes all the way to the reel seat. This means that there is a slight delay in hook-sets while the rod is flexing, or ‘loading’. However, the extra flex provides more cushioning to the shock of hook-sets and protects your line, and rod from breakage if a large fish makes unexpected fast runs, or if it is a large, powerful fish, or you may be fishing in heavy cover. Medium action rods are in between the two extremes. Most graphite and boron rods fall into the Medium to Fast range. Graphite/Boron is much stiffer than fiberglass. Fiberglass rods have a slower action than either graphite, or boron, and are a bit heavier for the same size rod. Fiberglass rods are usually less expensive, sometimes by a large margin.
Graphite/Boron rods will do an excellent job for crappie fishing with the added bonus of being well suited to other types of fishing, should you decide to pursue them and can only have a few rods. Fiberglass is more than adequate for crappie, panfish, bait fishing and even catfishing. My recommendation is to try out several rods of each material, and you can decide what you feel best with. For crappie, I personally prefer fiberglass except under a few special conditions. Crappie are not World-Class fighters. Even on ultra light gear, they put up a disappointing fight.
Picking a Rod For Crappie Fishing
There are many different styles of rods. The ones we are concerned with are the ones that work for crappie. These fall into two main styles: Spinning and Spin Casting. The difference between them is simply the type of handle each is equipped with, and the type of reel it is designed to use. It is safe to say that, for our purposes, spinning rods have a reel seat that holds the reel underneath the rod, and spin casting rods have a reel seat that mounts the reel over the rod and usually has a pistol-type grip. I am not mentioning baitcasting rods or reels here because for crappie, that would be massive overkill to the point of being ridiculous.
To be honest, I can’t think of any real advantages one has over the other. Spinning reels are mechanically simpler and easier to fix on the water, but they take a bit of practice to learn to cast really well. Spincasting reels are the easiest to use, almost to the point of Plug and Play. A four year-old child can figure out how to cast a spincasting combo in a few minutes. Again, my recommendation is to try out a few of each and pick the one you like the best. We’ll talk more about reels shortly.
Choosing The Rod Weight
Within each type of rod, there are various ‘weights’ to consider. Each rod is rated for a particular weight of line and lure. A rod’s rating is the range of line weights that rod can use to achieve the correct working curve up to the lock-up point, where the rod cannot flex further without breaking. This assumes a correct drag setting for that weight of line.
The only ones we need to be concerned with here are Ultra light, Light and Medium rods. Anything larger would be like using an elephant gun to hunt squirrels.
Ultra light rods are made to use line weights of 2-6 lbs test (we will get into the various line weights later) and lures of 1/64th oz. to 1/8th oz. These are great for crappie and bluegills because they allow the fish some room to fight. They also allow for the most delicate of bait presentations and smallest baits for spooky fish. Ultra lights are also good for trout if you ever decide to pursue them. Light rods are designed for 6-10 lb test line and lure weights of 1/8th oz. to 3/8ths oz. They are good for fishing in medium cover and most normal situations. Medium rods are designed for 8-14 lb test line and lure weights of 3/8 oz. to ¾ oz. They are best for tough situations like rivers, tailraces, heavy cover, fast currents, or fishing very deep.
I’d base the weights on how many rods I think I would own. If I could only have one or two, then it would be a Light and Medium Action. These are the most versatile for a wide range of conditions. If you want to fish for other panfish or trout at some time, then go with the ultra light. If you are like most of us, you will end up with several of each.
A good rod can make the difference between a great fishing trip or coming home empty. Experiment with different rods until you find what you like.
Spinning vs Spin Casting
As mentioned before, there are mainly two types of reels we are concerned with for basic crappie fishing; Spinning and Spincasting.
Spinning reels mount under the rod and the weight of the reel is comfortably balanced near the rods balance point and directly under your hand. When casting, there is little friction on the running line coming off the spool, so longer casts with less weight are possible. The line is visible on the spool, so you can easily see the condition of your line, and undo any knots or snarls in it, without having to disassemble the reel. Most spinning reels come with at least one extra spool, so changing line weights or types is as easy as turning a knob or pressing a button. Changing spools on the water takes about 20 seconds or less. The drawbacks are that spinning reels take a bit of practice and dexterity for you to be able to cast well. They can end up with wind knots and birds nests if you are not careful (more on these conditions later). They can be slightly more expensive than spincasting reels. To cast with a spinning reel, you open the bail, catch the line in the crook of your index finger and release it at the proper part of the forward arc. It takes a little practice, but it’s not that tough to learn.
Spincasting reels mount on top of the rod, placing the center of gravity higher on your hand. This is not quite as comfortable as a spinning reel, but the ease and reliability of these reels more than make up for it. To cast, one merely has to push a button, and release it at the proper arc to make expert, accurate casts. They can be used by practically anyone in a few minutes. They are also, for the most part, ultra-reliable and foolproof. Wind knots and birds nests almost never occur, no matter how sloppy you cast with them. The line is completely enclosed in the body of the reel, protecting it from sunlight (which is very damaging to monofilament…more on this later), dirt and the elements. Cons are …, the only thing I can think of is that if you do get a tangle or snarl, and you are inattentive enough to actually reel it up inside the reel body, then you have to disassemble the reel to clear it. It’s not hard to do, but more trouble than a spinning reel. Also, it is not possible to change line without completely unspooling and re-loading the reel. Lastly, when casting, the line has to pass through a hole in the front of the reel body housing, creating a bit more friction on the line, and resulting in a slight loss of casting distance. Again, the advantages more than offset the cons.
There is one other type of reel worth mentioning. There is a reel that combines the best features of both spinning and spin casting reels called an under spin, or triggerspin reel. It is basically a spincasting reel that rides under the rod, and has a ‘trigger’ lever that releases the line. It combines the comfort and balance of a spinning reel with the ease of use, and reliability of the spincasting reel.
All of these reels have their advantages and disadvantages, and some work better than others. Price is not always a good indicator of the reels quality. One of the best spin casting reels ever made, and still one of the most popular, even though it is modestly priced, is the Classic Zebco 33, still going strong after 64 years. You can get them brand new for under $40.00 U.S.And one of the most popular spinning reels is still the venerable Mitchell 300, 70 years young and still kicking. You can find Mitchell 300s almost anywhere for under $40.00 U.S. I personally have a 1955 Zebco 33 and a 1957 Mitchell 300, and I still fish with both of them. That is not a lot of money for something that may last a few lifetimes.
You may have to use several rod and reel combinations until you find the one that fits you perfectly, but that is half the fun…
Until then, happy fishing!