Limber Pole Crappie

These specialized fishing rods can be great for targeting papermouths. Let's look at what they can do and when to use them.

Logs, leaves and a collection of other floating debris created a thick surface mat across the back of the cove. As we pulled closer, I noticed that the mat was full of holes big enough to drop a minnow through. But I couldn't cast to them without getting snagged on virtually every attempt. I could fish the edge with my ultralight rod and might coax a crappie out, but I realized that most fish would be well up under the thick stuff.

My buddy had chosen the spot, and seemed to delight in my dilemma. He watched me ponder things for a moment before reaching into his rod locker and pulling out a pair of poles, each one about 2 1/2 feet long and with a funny little reel at the base. He swung one pole through the air in Zorro-like fashion, stretching its 30 inches into 10 telescopic feet. He then handed the pole to me with a grin.

Even I could figure out the rest. I strung the line through pole's eyes, tied a No. 6 long-shank hook to the end of the line and added a split shot 6 inches above the hook.

By the time I had a minnow rigged and was ready to start fishing, my buddy had already dropped his minnow through one of the little holes, and the bait was swimming directly beneath the tip of his long pole. By the time my minnow was in the zone, his had been eaten, and he was swinging 11 inches of crappie over the side of the boat.

We spent the next hour catching fish that we never could have reached by casting, and then moved on to fish several more of my friend's limber-pole hotspots. That day, I gained a great appreciation for one of the greatest tools a crappie fisherman can have in his arsenal -- a long jigging pole.

Long poles come in many different forms, ranging from old-fashioned cane poles to telescopic jigging poles to high-modulus graphite crappie rods. Anglers occasionally use poles up to 16 feet long. However, most crappie poles are in the 9- to 12-foot range, with 10-footers probably the most commonly used.

Cane poles, or similar poles made from synthetic materials, and some telescopic poles have a length of line simply tied to their end. Other telescopic or multi-piece crappie poles can be matched with tiny round reels, made to hold and let out line, but which aren't designed to cast or to fight fish. In some cases, the "reels" are built into the rod handles.

Rod-and-reel combinations offer broader applications than the simple poles. Beyond being useful for traditional long-pole jigging techniques, the same outfits can be used for casting or even be added to a trolling spread. At the opposite end of the spectrum, cane poles and their kin offer ultimate simplicity and low cost, but minimal line control.

For pure jigging applications and practicality, it's tough to beat a telescopic pole that has some type of reel coupled with it, letting you control the amount of line dangling from the end of the pole.

Long crappie poles offer fishermen several advantages. Anglers who fish vertically over brush or other cover enjoy being able to easily measure out 10 or 12 feet of line from rod tip to rod butt, for quick and precise depth control. Trollers like to broaden their spreads by stretching rod tips a dozen feet in both directions from their boats. Anglers who cast deep float rigs, meanwhile, enjoy added ease when they're lobbing awkward offerings into place.

Still, a long jigging pole's unique and most important virtue is providing an unmatched opportunity to place the rod tip virtually anywhere and present a bait directly below the tip.

For hitting holes in weed mats, lily- pad fields or debris piles, or for reaching tight spots within trees or under overhanging limbs, jigging poles are often the only way to put a jig or a minnow where the crappie are lurking.

Reel the offering all the way to the top of the pole, and you can stick the rod tip into a very tight spot. Then let line out with measured pulls from the reel to get your bait or lure to the desired depth.

If you don't know the water's depth, you can simply drop the bait to the bottom and then turn the reel handle a crank or so. If the fish are suspended, an alternative is to drop a bait all the way to the bottom and work it gradually back to the top, jigging it just off the bottom. Turn the handle, jig it again, and repeat the maneuver until the fish are located.

At times, using a long rod is necessary to reach spots, but in other situations it's simply a matter of efficiency. When crappie are scattered along a riprap bank, there's no better way to keep your lure in the strike zone than to work down that bank, using your rod tip to control depth and placement of the bait.

It's possible to hold the bait still, swim it or jig it, and even put it into every little crevice among the rocks. You can experiment with depths by adjusting line length, or simply by lifting and dropping the rod tip. Once you've found the main holding depth, keep the bait in that zone at all times by never varying the amount of line out.

Similarly, when all the crappie are holding 3 feet below the surface beside tree trunks in a big stand of flooded timber, casting to each tree is inefficient. You'll waste too much time reeling baits back, while many casts are likely to miss the mark. A far more effective way to present baits precisely and work prime areas is to keep 3 feet of line out from the end of a jigging pole and move from tree to tree, placing the bait beside every trunk. Baits then can be jigged, hung in place or pulled right back up, depending on how the crappie seem to want them that day.

The approach is the same whether the offering is a live minnow, a marabou jig, a plastic trailer on a jighead or a micro-sized jigging spoon.

It's important to note that jigging pole applications are not just for boating anglers. Fishermen who work from the banks enjoy the ability to control baits and suspend them off the bottom several feet out from the shore by reaching out with long poles. They can also stretch over cover, through which it would be hard to reel back a bait or lure, using casting gear. Jigging poles also make it easier to lift fish over cover when landing them.

Although extra-long rods do create opportunities, they also add a few challenges. None are major problems, but they do call for adjustments. Overall, these fishing poles are more cumbersome than regular rods, and you have to get used to managing an extra 3 or 4 feet of pole.

For example, if you reel a fish all the way to the tip of a 10-foot rod, the crappie is going to end up s

everal feet in the air or several feet away from you! Given a crappie's soft mouth, awkward landing attempts are likely to lead to a lost fish.

Anglers who are used to traditional rods and reels need to train themselves to fight the fish with the rod and swing it straight in, cane-pole style. Or at least lift the rod far enough to get a net under the fish.

Another added "twist" comes any time the line becomes wrapped around the end of a long pole. That's when a partner really comes in handy. It's far easier to undo one another's wraps than it is to try reaching the far end of a 10-foot-long pole. The solo angler's best option is to work the pole back hand-over-hand, letting the rod butt go to the other end of the boat.

Little things like boating and unhooking fish are minor adjustments for the opportunity to put baits in crappie-holding spots that otherwise would be inaccessible.

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