There is a cardinal mistake that many new anglers stumble into when they’re gearing up for their first ice-fishing season out on the lakes. Unfortunately, you can’t just assume that your summer fishing rod will work as well for ice fishing as it does in the summer. Keep this in mind when you’re debating whether or not to buy a new rod. Choose your ice fishing rod based on the kind of fish you want to target. There are a variety of fishing rods to consider when you’re preparing to go ice fishing for the first time, so let’s get into it.
Let’s start by putting the question to rest: can you ice fish with a standard fishing rod? Yes. A regular fishing rod is still a fishing rod and you can catch fish with it, but a specialized ice fishing rod gives many different advantages over your regular fishing rod. Let’s go over why an ice fishing rod is unique and how it affects your wintertime experience.
Ice Fishing Rods Are Special
Ice fishing rods are designed for fishing in cold, icy conditions through holes in the ice. They are generally shorter than traditional fishing rods, with lengths between 24 inches and 48 inches. The shorter length gives them excellent maneuverability. They’re more sensitive than longer rods, making fishing through the holes in the ice much more effortless.
When selecting an ice fishing rod, consider the type of fish you’ll be targeting. Different species of fish require different rod lengths to maximize their chances of being caught. For example, crappie, perch, and bluegill typically require 20-30 inches, while walleye and whitefish require a rod of 30-36 inches. Northern pike and lake trout, generally larger species, require a rod of 36-42 inches, and muskie, which is the largest of all, require a rod of 42-48 inches.
A long fishing rod will be challenging if you’re all bundled up and warm in an ice house rental or shanty. Short ice fishing rods are more manageable in a small space, and a shorter rod lets you sit close to your ice hole while fishing. If you’re using a flasher to identify fish under the ice or sight-fighting, you need to sit closer to the ice hole to get a catch. It’s the same principle even if you’ve got a fishing camera to observe the fish.
Short and light ice fishing rods give you more sensitivity in terms of feeling a subtle bite, like panfish. While jigging the bait, you can sense the slightest nibble with a light ice fishing rod by holding it like a pen between your thumb and index finger. With a shorter ice fishing rod, you’ll be right there to grab the fish as soon as it is pulled up to the surface.
Can You Use Your Normal Fishing Rod?
If you try ice fishing with a regular fishing rod, keep a few tips in mind to make it a smoother experience. Using a light line and a shorter, more sensitive rod can be helpful if you have it. It can be difficult to detect bites under the ice otherwise. Since you’ll be working with a bit of distance from your ice hole, be mindful that it can be challenging to control the rod from a distance.
Consider using a dead sticking technique with live bait instead of jigging for longer fishing poles, as this allows the rod to stay stationary and makes it easier to feel bites on the tip of the rod. Ice fishing reels aren’t different from regular fishing reels, and spinning reels are the most common type of fishing reel used for ice fishing. Small spinning reel sizes from 1000 to 3000 are ideal for ice fishing, with the larger sizes being suitable for walleye, pike, and lake trout.
If you’re new to ice fishing and not sure you want to sink a lot of money into gear, you can use your warm-weather fishing rod. Once you find out if you enjoy ice fishing, you can start to invest in more specialized equipment to make the experience more fun.
Why Should You Use An Ice Fishing Rod?
Using an ice fishing rod can enhance your ice fishing experience and improve your chances of success. If you’re going out in the cold for hours, it’s always nice to bring something home for your efforts. Ice fishing rods are designed specifically for ice fishing, and you can stay warm out on the ice in the sometimes cramped quarters. The improved control and ease of use are also significant factors in their favor. You want to focus on catching fish, not struggling with a rod that isn’t meant for ice fishing.
We’ve covered that ice fishing rods are shorter than standard rods. That alone makes ice fishing a lot easier. Small rods make catching fish below the ice easier. If you’ve been out on the ice a few times and know you want to keep ice fishing every year, an ice fishing rod is a worthy investment. You’ll have better control and won’t be so cramped in a shelter, pop-up, or shanty. Ice fishing rods are designed to be more flexible and forgiving.
Open-water fishing and ice fishing are quite different. When a fish is swimming in open water, you have no problem when it begins to swim in different directions against you. It’s easy to adjust when fishing in open water because of the space you have, while a hole in the ice can limit you.
If a fish swims in different directions under the ice, it may result in a snapped line if your rod isn’t flexible. When you’ve got an ice fishing rod and a fish begins to swim erratically, you only need to dip the tip of your pole inside the hole to prevent cut lines. An ice fishing rod is designed to handle erratic movements and use in small spaces. Make your ice fishing experience a breeze by buying an ice fishing rod.
Which Ice Fishing Rod Should I Buy?
If you’re just starting out in ice fishing, it’s a good idea to go for an affordable reel and rod. A beginner set can be purchased for around $30, and it will be sufficient to catch decent-sized fish on the ice. If you already have a spinning reel, you can save money by just purchasing an ice fishing rod, which can be found for as low as $15. This cost-effective way to start ice fishing can still provide a good fishing experience, netting you impressive fish during the season.
When it comes to buying an ice fishing rod, consider the power of the rod. The power refers to the force needed to bend the blank and is typically classified as ultra-light, light, medium, or heavy. To choose the best ice fishing rod for your needs, you’ll need to decide what species of fish you’re targeting.
For example, ultra-light rods are ideal for panfish, while light rods are good for perch. Light to medium rods are suitable for walleye, whitefish, and most trout, and heavy rods are best for pike or lake trout.
One of the most common mistakes new ice anglers can make is buying rods that are too stiff. While bigger fish requires more strength, you still need a considerable amount of bend for ice fishing. A lighter rod allows you to feel light nibbles, which can make the difference between catching that trophy fish and having one just swim away.
Experienced ice anglers usually avoid slow-action blanks. You need strength and sensitivity to pull a fighting fish up through an ice hole, and the light strikes are better detected with a fast-action rod. Ice fishing rods are classified by how they flex when pressure is applied, and fast-action rods are designed to flex mainly at the tip.
Consider a medium-action rod, which tends to flex to the middle of the blank. Medium-action rods fit well if you use minnows or live bait for deadsticking or finesse jigging. With the forgiving bend, any jarring movements are softened if you’re working the jig aggressively. Fast- or medium-action rods allow for better sensitivity to bites and easily handle larger fish. By considering the rod’s flex, you can choose the best option to suit your style of fishing and improve your chances of success on the ice.
Graphite vs. Fiberglass Rods
You’ll want to think about the material of the blank, which refers to the rod’s main structure. There are three primary materials to choose from: graphite, fiberglass, and composite blends. Each of these materials offers different characteristics and varies in price.
Graphite is the most popular choice. With ice fishing, lightweight and sensitivity are key to anglers. It’s also more expensive than fiberglass, though solid graphite blanks offer the highest level of sensitivity. Tubular or composite blanks are not as sensitive. Experienced ice fishing anglers prefer fast-action graphite rods, as it’s the perfect mix of stiffness and sensitivity, helping detect bites from shy fish.
Fiberglass blanks are not as sensitive as graphite, but high-end fiberglass blanks offer similar sensitivity levels. Fiberglass blanks tend to bend along the entire length of the rod, leading to smoother hook sets and the ability to play with larger fish like pike. Graphite can become fragile in cold temperatures, but fiberglass is more durable. If you don’t want to be too delicate with your gear, go for a fiberglass rod.
Consider whether you want to feel or see fish strikes when deciding on a blank material; if you’re an experienced angler, you probably do. A spring bobber or strike indicator will work better with a fiberglass rod. Graphite is the way to go if you want to feel fish strikes, as the higher sensitivity will allow you to feel even light nibbles.
Ice Fishing Lures
Artificial lures have advantages over live bait, and anglers often combine live bait and lures. Which one should you choose? Live bait must be purchased and kept alive, while lures offer convenience when heading out onto the ice. Minnows and other live bait require time and effort to keep alive, even if they can attract the larger, predatory fish under the ice.
Lures are flashy, and the vibration can attract fish that are reluctant to take live bait. Since fish move much slower under the ice in cold water, it can take a skilled hand to balance the subtle action of a lure and the excitement of wiggling it. Jigs are often considered the best fishing lures, although spoons and plugs attract fish.
In colder water, fish metabolism slows down and bites can be harder to tease out as the fish don’t feed as aggressively. With this, some anglers prefer using live bait for a higher confidence level in their catch. Some species, like trout, remain active even in cold water and may be caught using live bait or artificial lures, so it depends on what species you want to target on your ice fishing trip.
New To Ice Fishing?
If you’re inexperienced, using your regular fishing rod is a good choice until you decide whether you like ice fishing. There is also the possibility of guided fishing tours or an ice house rental. With an ice house rental, you’ll be able to try out live bait, tackle, rods, reels, and use an underwater camera without investing in any of the gear. You won’t have to worry about buying an auger, as the holes will be pre-drilled when you arrive, and you’ll be able to stay warm.
You can always use your regular fishing rod to get started, but renting an ice house with the gear included is a good in-between step to decide if you want to invest the money into a set of ice fishing rods. Ice fishing is a relaxing wintertime activity for new and experienced anglers alike and helps break up the monotony of the cold seasons. See if you can catch a prized walleye by heading to Lake Minnetonka this winter!