Picking the Right Ice Rod

By: Matt Johnson

With so many options out there available to us today, which
ice rod do you choose? Species, presentation and personal
preference are some ideas to keep in mind when choosing an
ice rod. Often times we pick an ice rod based on what species
we plan on targeting with it. Let’s take a look at some of the
roles that species and presentations play on choosing an ice


For sight fishing I might use a 19 inch rod, or even shorter on
occasion. However, for most situations I prefer a 24-32 inch
rod for panfish. I like the longer rods from time to time
because the rod will load better when setting the hook into a
crappie for certain depths. Crappies have frail mouths and
hook sets that are too aggressive or sharp can result in
missed fish. 28 inches seems to be a good length, yet will
have a solid backbone and fast tip. Sensitivity also plays a
role in rod length. Shorter rods might allow for better “feel”,
assuming the rod is properly balanced. Longer rods are good
for times when you are less inclined to finesse the fish and
are more focused on dropping down more aggressive
approaches like jigging spoons or larger jigs. I will often times
beef up to a medium-light action rod for crappies when
running and gunning with jigging spoons. Medium light allows
you to have complete control of the spoon’s action and it
enables you to provide a solid, yet subtle (positive) hook-set.
A shorter, lighter action rod doesn’t allow for this. Reason be,
a shorter rod will lose hooking power and control when fishing
with heavier lures. When stepping up to medium-light rods, I
feel the best choices are slightly longer rods, 28-32 inches.

I try to adjust my rods according to the line and presentation
I’m using…

2 pound test line and jigs 1/64 oz or lighter, I generally go with
a 19-24 inch ultra lite or light action rod. I don’t go heavier
than light action or longer than 28 inches because you will
lose sensitivity and control of the presentation.

2 pound test and lighter jigs on a more “non-finesse”
approach, I’ll use 24-28 inch rods. But, these rods can be
used for finesse fishing too, but I generally don’t use lures
lighter than 1/64oz.

2 pound test and jigs above 1/64oz but below 1/8oz, I’ll go
with a light action 28-32 inch rod. (For jig weights around
1/32oz I might make an exception though) The reason for
choosing a rod between 28-32 and light action is because an
ultra lite rod and a lure that approaches 1/8oz might not
balance properly. You don’t want the rod tip to move/flex while
you jig, and often times thats what will happen when fishing
with an ultra lite and lures that approach 1/8oz or heavier.
With light action rods, you still keep the fast tip and sensitivity,
but you are more prepared for fishing slightly heavier baits.
Control is key here.

For medium light rods, I’ll generally use 3 pound test line, and
I’ll fish lures 1/16 – 1/8oz. These are typically jigging spoons or
small swimming lures, but larger jigs can be used too when
you need to up size from smaller presentations. The
medium-light action rods I like are usually 28-32 inches.
Medium light action rods can afford to be longer, because the
action they have allows them to “load” quicker with heavier
baits and balanced line, and they give you complete control of
the lure too. Deeper water is a good time to switch to medium
light approaches.

I generally don’t go above light action for panfish, unless I
break out the medium light and work jigging spoons. The rods
I use the most for crappies and bluegills when finesse fishing
are in between 19-28 inches, for more neutral to aggressive
fish I’ll use 26-32 inch rods, deeper water might also call for a
longer rod too.

For an all-purpose panfish rod, I would go with something
between 24-28 inches. This will allow you to have both
finesse and aggressive styles of fishing.

One other thing I would like to mention is that you might want
to pick a rod with a stronger backbone when targeting
bluegills. Bluegills will often times require a more solid
hook-set than a crappie. I don’t normally go below light action
when I’m targeting bull bluegills, just for that reason. I don’t
want to lose a 10 inch gill because the tension between the
fish and my rod doesn’t allow me to control what I want the rod
to do. A properly balanced rod is important in ice fishing.
Landing big fish on light action rods isn’t impossible, in fact it
can be done very easily if you play the fish right. Let the rod
and drag do the work. The rod will absorb the fight of the fish,
so keep that in mind if you have second thoughts about down
sizing your presentation for negative fish. You can still land
big fish with a lighter rod, same goes for walleyes. Down
sizing to a lightweight jig (panfish tackle) for walleyes can
make all the difference in a day of fishing on occasion, and
you don’t have to be afraid to make that step if you select the
right rod along with having a good working drag system and
you’re patient with the fish.


For perch I prefer a light or medium-light action rod. 26-32
inches seems to work the best. The reason for medium-light is
that when targeting perch during the winter months we often
times find ourselves in deeper water, and a longer rod will
help with control and hook-set. When fishing in deeper water
you want to be able to make the lure what you want it to do. A
longer rod also gives you more leverage for handling larger
fish too. Walleyes and pike are also frequently caught when
targeting perch and it will pay off to have a medium-light
action rod if that occurs, but yet a medium-light action rod
won’t effect the presentation and sensitivity needed to
effectively catch perch.

Using a light action rod for perch is preferred in shallower
water situations, or when you have to finesse the perch and
use smaller presentations.

Bobber and Deadstick rods…

Depending on what species you are targeting. For panfish I’ll
generally use a longer rod when using a float/bobber. The
reason for this is that when using a bobber you don’t have to
rely on the “reaction” hook-set, so you can use a rod that will
“load” more and allow for a better and more steady hook-set.
Often times whats happens when using a float is that when a
fish takes the bait and begins to run, we set the hook too
quickly or too hard, and it results in a missed fish. We are not
“feeling” the bite when using a float, so we lose that
connection with when to set the hook. By incorporating a
longer rod, with a sensitive tip, you can not only get a better
hook-set but you can feel for constant resistance as well once
your apply tension to the float line, and that is something that
will indicate whether or not a fish actually has the hook or is
just holding onto the bait. A lot of times a crappie will just grab
the bait and run, and we will set the hook before the fish gets
a chance to inhale the bait. Sometimes that is unavoidable,
but if you don’t set the hook and the bait comes out of the
fish’s mouth, there is a better chance of that fish coming back
for a second shot than if you tried setting the hook and missed
the fish. And the longer, more sensitive rod can increase your
chances of detecting those indications and will help you hook
more fish.

Deadsticking rods are another preferred type of rod and can
replace a bobber rig too. Deadsticking rods have solid
backbones but very fast, very sensitive tips. The reason for
that is so when a fish grabs the bait the rod tip will indicate a
strike, and the flexibility of the tip will act as your shock
absorber when setting the hook. You get the best of both
worlds here with a deadstick rig…you get the reaction strikes
and the “let the fish take the bait” type of strikes. Deadstick
rods are great for rigging up maggots on negative days or a
minnow when trying to figure out what the fish prefer.

Walleyes, catfish and bass…

For walleyes I prefer to use rods that are 28-36 inches long.
The longer rod is balanced by the medium-light to medium
action applied to it. A longer also helps with a more solid
hook-set, something that is definitely needed for walleyes. I
tend to use a lot of medium-light action rods for walleyes.
Reason be, I often times have to down size to get walleyes to
strike. A lot of lakes I fish (especially in the Metro) are high
pressured lakes and not only have the walleyes grown
accustomed to lures, but they also are much more negative
than in your northern, more “wild” lakes. So, by using a
medium-light action rod rigged with 4 pound test, I can use
size 6 Ratso’s or another size 8 or 6 horizontal jig packed with
maggots when the situation calls for it. Dropping down 6-8
pound test and jigging spoon, swimming lure or minnow might
not always be the best choice for walleyes during the winter,
and by being prepared to down size can mean more fish.
When using a medium-light approach for walleyes I’ll use
something in the 28-32 inch range. This seems to work the
best with the style of baits I present.

For more aggressive techniques and when searching for fish,
I’ll use a medium action rod, 30-36 inches, and I’ll rig up a
jigging spoon, swimming lure or a flyer of some sort. The
medium action rod allows me to have total control over the
lure, where if I used a medium-light action rod the lure might
over-power the control I have when using a 1/4oz spoon or
larger swimming lure. I typically don’t use a lot of
medium-heavy rods when fishing walleyes, but on occasion I’ll
use them for 1/2oz jigging spoons if I’m going after pike and
walleyes mixed, like up on Rainy Lake or LOW.

For walleyes I prefer a 30-32 inch medium action rod. This will
cover a variety of situations and presentations. But picking up
medium-light action would not be bad idea because you can
also use if for perch and panfish as well.


For pike I usually like to use a rod similar in action to walleyes,
although increasing the action can be important when
primarily targeting large fish. If I’m jigging larger minnows or
heavier baits I might upgrade to a medium-heavy action rod.
Going to heavy action isn’t needed in my opinion. A
medium-heavy action rod will handle big pike. I prefer rods
that are 32-42 inches. And like longer rods for other species,
the longer rods have the same effect when targeting pike. The
longer rod will help you play a larger fish easier and you can
disperse the tension across the rod and not so much on the
line or knot. I’m normally fishing with lures that are 1/4oz or
heavier, and sometimes the lures weigh 1/2oz or even an
ounce or heavier when targeting big fish.

My preferred pike rod is s 36 inch medium-heavy rod. This
can cover a variety of presentations and you will be able to
land big fish if the situation calls for it. A 36 inch,
medium-heavy action rod will be able to control most pike
lures and you still keep sensitivity and backbone.

There are so many different options out there and so many
different styles of fishing when it comes to choosing an ice
rod. Depending on what you plan on targeting and what types
of lures you prefer can make a difference in your decision.

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