What you Need to Know about Custom Ice Rods

 Featured -  Croix Custom Ice  by St. Croix Rods  Photo Credit -  Matt Addington Photography

Featured - Croix Custom Ice by St. Croix Rods

Photo Credit - Matt Addington Photography

It’s usually easier to view changes to a sport like fishing looking backwards, rather than in the present or especially future.  That’s why it’s difficult to call the custom ice rod boom we’re seeing now a revolution, given pioneers in the rod-making business like Thorne Brothers have been doing it for decades.  Yet, for as long as a these tools have been around, it seems that only in recent years are they gaining widespread acceptance throughout the ice belt.  That’s likely due to a number of factors, not the least of which is increased interest in the sport the last 10 years or so.  Having fished and followed this trend over the years, and in designing a number of custom ice blanks myself, I think it’s time we discuss their popularity, and why they’ve become such a hot-ticket item in today’s ice market.

First off, we’ve been here before in the open water side of the world, and the development of customized rod blanks to approach specific situations, lure types, and species is certainly not a novel idea.  I went to college in the mid-late 1990’s less than an hour from the St. Croix Rods factory in Park Falls, WI, and they along with G. Loomis were some of the early leaders in the space.  Around that time, higher modulus carbon fiber, which was lighter, stronger, and more sensitive, saw more widespread use and adoption in such companies.  As anglers realized their benefits for all kinds of applications, it set off a flurry of designs, lengths, and actions, which became more feasible to build due to the new materials and methods.

Yet in the ice rod market, true customized rods were all that was available in the beginning, where anglers would describe lengths, powers, and actions, along with thread colors, blank preferences, and custom signatures or artwork.  These were hand tied items, not mass-produced, but careful creations of a few talented artisans.  Today, that workmanship still exists, though be wary of the term “custom” and how it’s used.  True “custom” ice rods are a razor thin percentage of all custom ice rod sales, as most are rarely built to a customer’s individual input and specs for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, that process is slow and requires much more time and effort as rod builders labor over lengths, guide-spacings, various colored threadwraps, and the like.  Then, they switch out and build something else completely different.  That’s why instead of being truly custom, they’re instead “customized” to fit sweet spots in power, length, and action that are more popularly saleable to the general fishing public.  It allows ice rod companies to build up inventory, and sell to the retail environment.  Even the most fervent of custom shops sell relatively few true customs, as it’s difficult to charge what it takes on a per-rod basis for that level of service. 

That doesn’t make the majority of these not-so-custom creations less desirable however, far from it in fact.  Most are still handmade and are major upgrades from your traditionally mass-produced ice rod.  At this point, I’d have a very hard time going back to stock rods, given the way these customized ice rods cover the full breadth of species and applications I love to fish.  Whether a true custom or customized, I’ll be taking advantage of new offerings and technologies in this space for some time to come.

Glass rods eventually gave way to solid carbon blanks, and carbon is still today the most heavily used material in custom ice rods.  These blanks are typically ordered in by an overseas manufacturer, and in some cases ground to spec depending on the rod being built.  Just like many years ago in the open water market, there’s only so many ways to mill these down to achieve differing powers and actions.  It’s a well-understood process, and some great rods feature solid carbon designs.  This year, the advent of tubular (hollow) design, which has proven so popular with the highest-end rods on the open-water side of the market, has been brought to custom ice rods by St. Croix via the Croix Custom Ice (CCI) lineup.  The result is an even lighter and more sensitive blank than other high performance custom ice rods to date.  I anticipate the exploration into tubular ice rod design to be in its infancy, though increased attention to ice anglers and their needs will surely lead to rapid development and possibly even different materials and methods.

All of which is a long way of saying we live in a great day and age of ice angling.  Just as we’ve grown accustomed to technique-specific live-bait and jigging rods on soft-water, we’ll become just as spoiled with sight-fishing and spoon rods for the hard-water.  The result will be just as impactful as it was 20 or so years ago for me the first time I picked up a rod designed for properly fishing a jig.  I learned feel, mental mapping of the bottom, current, and sway, all while being able to detect bites and drive a good hook home with much more effectiveness.  All of these attributes led to a better presentation, and thus, more fish both detected and landed.  It’ll be the same for a whole new generation of ice anglers that embrace today’s customized ice rods.  Eventually, they won’t remember what came before them, and likely won’t fish with much else.            

The Scout House Concept

The first time I’d heard of a “scout house” was in the late 1980’s on Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs.  I was fishing as a boy with my dad and his buddy in a converted camper that we comfortably spent a few nights catching fish in.  Action there was slow but somewhat steady, though we had word of better fishing through a man referred to as “Sanders” that had several permanent houses across the lake.  Some of those houses were more mobile than the overnight 5th-wheel style campers like the one we were staying in, and we eagerly headed to the edge of some mud flat on the north side of the lake to sit in the scout house one evening.

What happened next was a defining moment in my young ice-angling career, as we cramped in tight quarters to catch a mixed bag of walleyes and jumbo perch, literally one after the other.  No flashers, no GPS, and really no clue to the bite other than the intuition of a Mille Lacs Lake veteran whose name may or may not be real.  Maybe the more important “no” is that there were no other people.  No other trucks, no roads plowed to our location, and no other fish-houses within miles.  These days on Mille Lacs there’s fewer secrets, and more people, but the principle of a scout house is just as valuable there and across the ice-belt.

Last year was my first owning a drop-down style fish-house, and it really opened my eyes to that style of ice angling.  I’ve fished out of many of them previously, but until you own one and starting living the realities of where you’ll be fishing, how you’ll get on, and most importantly the safety of your rig on ice, it’s difficult to predict in advance many details of your winter fishing.  After spending the season in one, I must admit, the creature comforts along with the fact that your family is more likely to fish with you, can make it hard to get out on the ice in anything else.  In fact, I know a fair number of wheelhouse owners that have gotten rid of their old portable shelters.

That’s where the road forks however and I’m reminded of the scout house scenario above.  There’s quite the lull, especially early-ice, during the many weeks where wheelhouse anglers are waiting for driveable ice, yet there’s ice enough to walk and potentially use ATV’s and snowmobiles on.  That’s where even the most fervent hard-house owner should consider a flip or pop-up style portable shelter as their scout house of choice.  Owning one without the other seems a bit limiting to me, especially given the relative cost differences between the two groups.  It’s easy to spring for a small portable shelter after you’ve spent a big chunk of change on a permanent house of any style.

My experiences with the wheelhouse were unsurprisingly that the best fishing I had came on spots that I had put some time into scouting and fishing previously.  That was true for the spots I came to later in the season, but also spots that I fished within days of one another.  That means for anyone dragging a wheelhouse around, a portable shelter of some kind is just as valuable an asset, especially if you’re fishing a few days in a row. 

So many wheelhouses are dragged up to incredible fishing destinations, plopped down on a likely looking spot, and ridden out for the remainder of the trip whether fishing is good there or not.  With hydraulic or crank-up features, snap-in hole covers, and quick cutting electric augers out there, why not setup with the hope of finding something better?  Better yet, plan and expect to move.  We all know it’s easier to transport and setup a portable than to drop and bank a hardside, so hit the lake this winter with plans to explore the space outside of your hard-sided house.

Another alternative that makes the scout house such a deadly part of the 1-2 punch, is that you can use it for more than just finding fish.  I can think of many scenarios last winter when the hardside bite was all about camping out during low light periods, but fish could be had during daytime with a bit of mobility.  That way, you don’t have to necessarily move the big wheelhouse to stay on the fish, rather, you fish early and late out of it while enjoying a day-time bite elsewhere.  That can include other lakes for panfish, or even a break from the wheelhouse on shore.  My observations have been that too many people hole up in their drop-down fish house and miss out on all the other great fishing to be had in an area.

Of course, take heed to ensure that your mobile approach is truly mobile, as the last thing you want to do with the scout house is weigh-down that side of your angling experience as well.  Pack light, bring a smattering of what you’ll need, and make sure to make mobility the primary focus here.  Limit yourself to a lightweight auger option, flasher, a few rods, and one or two jacket sized tackle boxes.  More than anything, you’re looking for the presence of fish on the flasher.  Do your best to catch a few to confirm that they’re a target species so you don’t drag the big house over for a school of small perch.  From there, take cues on what the bite is telling you. 

With so many anglers these days are considering the jump to a wheelhouse, don’t forget about how both permanent and portable systems can work together.  Use each to their own advantage, and maximize the fun and comfort along the way.      

2018 - The Year to Buy Big-Ticket Items?

 Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions  Products featured:  Strikemaster Solo Lazer , and the  Otter XT Pro Resort

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Products featured: Strikemaster Solo Lazer, and the Otter XT Pro Resort

Big expenditures in hunting and fishing tend to be rare for most people.  For the most part, the outdoors has always been a rather humble sport, available to all in some form regardless of social status or financial means.  Growing up, squirrel hunting economics were driven by the best deal you could get on a brick of .22 ammo.  Trout and panfish didn’t seem as picky as they are now and crawlers were free to pick.  Even deer hunting was done with a hand-me-down Bear with poorly fletched aluminum 2117’s that flew just as crooked as they were bent.  

Today, we spend more on that which we enjoy, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.  Gear and gizmos that expand the experience or otherwise make for a more enjoyable outing aren’t taboo in my mind, provided they don’t determine the pleasure you take away from doing what you love.  The trick for almost all of us is always getting the most for your buck, and doing without until the time is right. 

Given what I’m seeing in all aspects of the outdoors industry, that time may be now or at least very soon for big-ticket purchases.  I’m talking about the many-hundred or multi-thousand dollar ones.  Boats, fish-houses, trailers, and even rifles or bows.  While I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations of all categories of outdoors manufacturing, it doesn’t take somebody plugged-in to know that the world is looking to be more expensive for years to come.  Here’s just a few of the indicators and reasons why. 

 Anything metal from deerstands to augers like this  Strikemaster 40V  will be more expensive by this time next season.

Anything metal from deerstands to augers like this Strikemaster 40V will be more expensive by this time next season.

Raw goods and materials costs rise over time, and tariffs are at least in the short-term, influencing prices of steel and aluminum.  That is not an indictment on anyone or a political stance; it’s a material reality that makers of anything metal are facing right now.  When their costs go up, yours will inevitably creep upwards as well, the degree to which depends on timing, inventory, and a host of other variables that are more difficult to predict.  While these source materials may drive the largest portion of future increases, there’s other factors at play as well.     

Consumer buying behavior has also changed from what we’ve come to know over the past few decades, even the past few years.  The brick and mortar retail market has contracted somewhat, and online sales have shifted business models for retailers everywhere.  Amazon and other internet power players have aided in an overall loss of retail floor space, and in-turn our local hunting and fishing re-supply efforts have changed as well.    

With consolidation comes a lack of choices, and typically increased cost of all products.  Many goods that ship well or are relatively low-cost will always be somewhat price-protected, but larger, more expensive items you’d likely want to see in person before buying will still need to live in the retail spaces we’ve always purchased from.  Even those that buy shotguns, ice augers, or fishing electronics online have likely spent some time in person with that product, whether out with a buddy or in taking the time to stop by an industry show or sport shop.

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Especially with larger items, service provided by retailers is still vital to the help that consumers need with those products.  These days you can buy anything anywhere, but not knowing how, when, or why to use it defeats the purpose of purchasing it in the first place.  There’s also the fact that things don’t always work as advertised and may require additional work or maintenance that keeps people happy with shops that do a good job.  That said, even though your average hunter or angler may be buying at an independent retailer or other local store for whatever level of service they provide, the product itself is not immune to price increases due to overall market consolidation.         

Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the topic of financing a large purchase.  We live in a time where borrowing money is extremely cheap, especially compared to previous decades.  Especially in boats and fish-houses, financing options will play a big role for customers everywhere.  With recent indications that the Federal Reserve Bank may increase its benchmark borrowing rate several times in the next few years, you’re likely to pay higher interest on any large item you finance moving into the future. 

All of which is not a cry to dig up the coffee can in the yard and throw your money at a large hunting or fishing purchase!  I will however, make no hesitation in saying that if you are buying in the foreseeable future, you’ll likely pay more the longer you wait.  It’s true that no one can fully predict the future here, and markets are fickle, with complex factors at play which can always reverse trends.  Not to mention, often the best time to buy something big is simple.  Do it when you’re ready. 

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The Weedbed Connection for Late-Ice Gills

 Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-depth Media Productions

I write this with excitement for the oncoming late-ice period, where cold nights and warm days make fishing outside a true treat.  We’ve gotten some warmer weather of late, which fuels the drive to be on a remote lake catching gills with no one else in sight.  Of course, these bites can happen in plain sight on any local lake you call home, provided there’s some good gills to be had and great weeds to target them in.

Mid-winter sees some challenging fishing for all species, and with the way a bluegill can study a bait better than just about anything else, you’ve probably seen some tough bites with many fish marked and few caught.  Moreover, you’ve also likely been finding your gills suspended or off of structural elements in water relatively deeper than you found them early ice.  Loosely scattered mid-winter bluegills can be a really tough-go as they relate more to substrate that yields bugs than structure or cover we can more easily locate. 

Everything changes however, as the sun angle grows steeper in mid-March.  Melting snow and more light penetration into the shallows gets life going again.  So does the meltwater from shore areas, cracks in the ice, and old holes.  The lake goes from a previously sealed environment to something that becomes increasingly porous, letting in snacks along the way. 

Throughout this process, you also have increased bug activity at depth.  Perch and Tullibee anglers on the bigger waters will tell you that March is really good to them too, but in the waters you’re likely targeting quality gills, eventually the fish move away from those midwinter locations and focus their efforts shallow.

While I don’t know the exact reason, I suspect it has as much to do with the fact that weeds provide both cover AND food during this time of year.  Anecdotal evidence for that has come in the form of some incredibly large predator catches over the years while targeting large gills.  Some of the biggest and most bass I catch through the ice, and some of the most frustrating days donating mouth-jewelry to pike, come while targeting these shallow weedbeds. 

Pike prowl and so do bass, and by doing so they can actually wreck a good thing in certain scenarios.  Most often, you’ll catch gills on the edges, pockets, or inside turns of weedbeds until the commotion of your fish-catching attracts larger onlookers.  They prowl, move through, disrupt the game for 10-15 minutes, and eventually you settle in to catching gills again.  This process repeats indefinitely until you’ve sore-mouthed the predators enough or you move. 

Typically I’m looking for the best weedbeds adjacent to deep-water chutes, inside turns, or steep breaks.  A strong individual weedbed is far better than acres of the stuff, as the smaller the bed (within reason), the easier your job of targeting gills will be.  In the shallows, if you’re facing a large bed, you’ll need lots of holes and will invariably spook panfish in the process.  You’ll need time to let them settle down, hunt them by foot, and let the situation play out.  This can be a time consuming process, so isolating humps or other rises with weeds near the deeper areas they previously suspended in front of can be a real key.     

Of course not all weeds are created equal.  You’re looking for cabbage, coontail, or a mix of the two in that order.  At least from my experience, the good broadleaf stuff (cabbage) tends to be the main attraction, can form the smaller singular beds you’re hunting for, and will be easy to spot on electronics and underwater cameras.

Speaking of, this is where a good quality, portable underwater camera becomes more of a tool than a toy.  Often with predators cruising and fish burying, the camera will determine your level of success for the day.  Small differences in location, holes even 2 feet apart can be the difference in consistently getting bit and consistently not marking a target.  I’ve seen gills hold tight to the weeds on camera too many times to consider it a coincidence.  Learn what distance it takes to break that forcefield, and you’ll know the rest of the day how close you’ll really need to be to get them to commit. 

Often, your flasher is rendered somewhat less useful here in terms of specific siting of your holes, as all of them will return weeds in water deeper than 8-10 feet or so.  Still, once you’re dialed in, it’s the preferred method as camera cables, weeds, and predator fish means all kinds of untangling once a toothy critter or hungry bass eats your bait. 

Keep in mind too that this progression from suspended or near-bottom deeper fish to the shallows happens differently in each lake.  Some may have a great shallows bite for weeks, while others only give up those gems when the main-lake ice sheet has separated from shore and later.  Knowing another place to hunt for them, and that it’s the place they’ll eventually end up has helped me do well on enough occasions to make it something I look forward to year after year.      

How To Jig

How To Jig

"The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope." - John Buchan

My favorite quote about fishing sums up nicely how we approach a day on the ice or open water.  Anglers are usually an agreeable crowd, and I find them to be a “glass half-full” group mostly out of necessity.  Not all fish bite, and especially mid-winter, you need to focus on the next one more than the last one.  Still, the question remains, how to attract the next one and actually seal the deal? 

Your jigging stroke has the power to attract fish from distance and entrap them in a trance-like state, as they hang on your every movement until they have no choice but to commit.  Your cadence, unfortunately, also has the tendency to draw them in close, only to get a strong snub upon a very close and tense inspection. 

You want to know the secret to unlocking the bite, the absolute undisclosed truth about what it takes to convert those “lookers” to “biters?”  The secret is that I don’t know.  Really, I can’t predict what it is that an individual fish will like, on a specific weather pattern, on lakes with differing structure, predator/prey relationships, and oxygenation.  Not knowing, IS the secret, which means that each and every trip is a different occasion for hope and ultimately, testing. 

While I can’t offer a simple strategy for always knocking them dead, I can tell you my approach and process of elimination that has served me well throughout the years.  I can also share some common issues with the way most people jig, hopefully helping you to eventually crack the code of the day, each and every time you hit the ice.  For the sake of ease, I’ll generalize into two groups, perch/walleye, and panfish. I’ll also focus on what you should be seeing on your flasher to get the job done.

Walleyes

The first thing to remember with ‘eyes especially is that they’re predators, so I start aggressive.  “Take their temperature” by starting with larger, and quicker jigging motions.  Most importantly, jig 2-5 feet off of bottom to give them room to appear under your bait.  Jig too close to the floor, and bottom hugging fish can only approach from the sides, giving you precious little real-estate on your flasher to observe them.  After the first few fish, you should have a good idea of how aggressive they are.  Are they spooking when you drop the bait in their face, or do they chase it to bottom, hovering over it while it lays in the mud?  Similarly, will they follow the bait upwards, several feet off the bottom where they originated?  Aggressive approaches for fish that are willing will yield the most efficient results, but we know that mid-winter fish are famously stingy.  This is where you really break down the bite.

Sharp jigging motions now should only be used to draw fish underneath your bait and into the cone of your sonar.  Once detected, every fish needs far more subtle motions.  Focus on naturally wiggling the bait, first with small continuous spring-like jigging motions, as if you were drawing a small oval with your rod tip the size of a marble.  Most fish are over-jigged at this stage, so that marble-sized stroke should be a good indicator if you’re waving the wand a bit too heavily.  From there, experiment with changing a few variables.  First, the size of your jigging stroke; go from drawing a marble, to maybe something the size of a golf-ball or bigger, then maybe back to something even smaller yet, that you can only achieve not by jigging, but by simply squeezing the cork on your rod handle.  Next, experiment with working that entire motion upwards in the water column.  Will the fish chase?  Do they only react when the bait is moving, or do they like it when you occasionally “kill” the bait? 

Tough customers sometimes require the above and more, as you tease them off of bottom, watch them retreat, then approach all over again several times.  This is where it’s best to keep doing what you’re doing on a per-fish basis.  In other words, don’t experiment with too many different jigging strokes for a single fish.  Instead, let the fish leave, re-set your approach, then feed a new fish a new look.  Study an underwater camera and learn what small taps on a rod-blank with your fore-finger can mean for the bait and how it jumps.  Recreate what is successful, reject what is not, treating each fish like the individual it is, while looking for clues and general patterns for all of the fish you work.  Of course, a target-rich environment is best for learning, and experience is usually the best teacher, especially when fish are not abundant.

Perch

Perch are aggressive school feeders that eat in a flurry.  Commotion is what they thrive upon, often even when they’re in an incredibly neutral mood.  Active schools move about constantly, requiring as much drilling as they do dropping of jigs, but keeping their attention is of paramount importance.  This is often best-done with some friends, with one person continually jigging aggressively while marking fish, and another experimenting with different baits and jigging styles around the edges.  Once the sonar marks dry up, it’s on the drill again to hunt them down. 

I break down the bite according to what they’re eating, free-ranging invertebrates about the water column, or bottom-focused meals that emerge from the substrate.  Bloodworm or bottom hugging invertebrate bites are all about being near the lake-bottom, putting the bait in the mud as much as above it, and potentially even using underwater cameras for bite detection.  I remember several extremely tough Devil’s Lake bites where fresh minnows and jigs layed on bottom were the only way to get bit.  The struggling minnow was slurped up from bottom, but never while hanging anywhere in the water column.  Jig-down into the mud, with a tight-line, stirring up mud and debris until you’ve created a visible cloud on your underwater camera.  Study how fish react, learning how much to stir it up, and how much to wait it out.

Other bites above bottom, like that of an underwater insect hatch from mayflies or caddis, will often see caught perch spitting up these invertebrates around the hole as you pull them out.  These bites call for aggressive jigging upward in the water column, as you work fish higher and higher to get them revved up.  Playing keep away here can be vitally important, as I believe the school gets more active with more fish feeding about different depth ranges.  Fire them up, and only then focus on catching them. 

There’s no one-way to skin a walleye or a perch, but these starting points are a good way to launch the every-trip experiment, while honing observational skills on your way to cracking the day’s bite. 

The previous segment focused heavily on the thought that each fish has its own mood, persona, and likes/dis-likes.  Bluegills especially take this idea to a new level, often being among the most challenging species to tackle during an off-bite.  I’ve sat on schools of giant gills for upwards of 3-days, re-visiting them from time to time until weather stabilized and their outlook on eating improved.  In high-front situations, with bluebird skies and spiked barometers, sometimes there’s very little you can do.  While it happens, those lock-jaw moments are rare, and more often you’re left with a challenging, yet possible bite scenario tied to a specific color, jigging stroke, or low-light feeding window. 

Bluegill

Trophy mid-winter panfish are legendarily difficult to coax.  Over the years of photo and film-shoots, we would focus efforts early and late specifically to avoid a closed-mouth session of bad-water bluegills.  If you’re learning how to jig them into submission then, your best bet is to focus on the 3rd or 4th day of consistent weather, and a stable or falling barometer.  Pair this with at least a half day on the ice to aid in your cumulative learning, either preceding or into and then out of a low-light period. 

Big gills hang in the water column nicely, as relatively stationary and solid targets on your flasher.  Your first opportunity to impress is on the drop, so resist a hasty drop into a brand new school until you have your wits about you.  Some baits simply drop better than others, so watch your bait for the first few feet to see what it looks like.  Hopefully there’s no spin and the fall looks natural.  Spinning reels and finicky gills have single-handedly brought upon the heavy selection of in-line or straight-line reels these days that allow line to evenly be placed on a spool without twist.  Focus on slowly dropping your bait into a school of fish on a slack line.  Are they rising to meet, or spooking in a refusal to eat? 

The next drop, try an artificial introduction to the fish on a tight line as you steadily control the bait’s fall until just above them.  Sneak it in.  Then start jigging.  Again, focus on initial reactions from your flasher.  Does an aggressive lift draw them closer, or does a more subtle jigging stroke tickle their fancy?  

Technical gill bites are cause for a 2-step process that I like to call “lock-down” and “lift.”  I palm the reel, placing the rig on my thigh or hip while kneeling on the ice.  This settles and steadies my hand, allowing for some more fine motor-skill movements.  From here, I tap the rod blank with a fore-finger to attract, then squeeze the rod-handle in quick-but-subtle bursts to get the fish to commit.  As reluctant fish close, or as they retreat, I start a slow-but-steady lift to hit the re-set button.  I will drop on a slack line or slow and tight line depending on what my early research has shown to be most effective, only to start the process all over again.  Of course, each jig fishes differently based on design.  These are general starting points from which to form your own opinions and best-practices, but keep them in mind next time you tackle a tough gill bite for which there seems no remedy.      

Crappies

Crappies during much of the ice season are easy pickings by comparison, mostly because they suspend over deeper water, giving our sonar cones a chance to grow in diameter and scan a larger underwater area.  Bigger crappies however are often found in weeds or roaming edges instead of basins, such that they’ll often jig up like a less-eager walleye.  For finicky ‘pies, your challenge to jigging is often two-fold.  Control of the jig is of great importance, but it’s made difficult by deep water and small sizes.  On light bites, I’ll err towards the side of bite-detection with a stiffer-than-normal noodle style rod, and when fish are a bit more willing to chew I’ll use a stronger power and faster action rod than normal for better control.

Crappies will often stratify according to size on your graph, with the better fish in the school either feeding high, or more often, sitting lower in the water column and protected by more enthusiastic biters above them.  In such situations, fish fast with heavier tungsten or spoons to blow past the little-guys, but still stay above the better fish.  Crappies seem more unwilling to follow a bait down, with bluegills, and then especially perch being more willing to chase down. 

For that reason, your crappie jigging cadence should be upward-centric.  The up-down keep away game seems to work only with the very most aggressive crappies, and you’ll need to keep the bait quiet more often for really tough customers.  The “lock-down” method works great as a fish really studies your bait, with crappies being notoriously light biters.  What you may mis-interpret as a simple shake from your hand, may actually be a crappie sucking the bait in, before quickly pushing it back out. 

I like to focus on being still or at least very subtly controlled when jigging as a crappie approaches, knowing that my ability to detect his strike is as difficult often as simply getting him to commit.  Whether crappies or gills, the right sequence and strategy can change throughout the day as fish’s activity levels grow and fade.  Interpretation:  What worked yesterday or even an hour ago may not be the order of the minute, so keep experimenting, and keep pushing as you learn while you lift your rod in observationally-patterned motions.