Best Ice Fishing Rods
Ice fishing is one of the most traditional fishing niches, but given the popularity, techniques and gear are rapidly evolving. If you're completely new to ice fishing, the popularity of the sport may seem a little surprising. We can understand this perspective, particularly when seen from afar, but in our opinion ice fishing is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a cold winter's day.
Whether you're moving from hole to hole on a bucket, or you have a permanent ice fishing house set up somewhere nearby, there is more involved than just sitting there and waiting. If you think about fishing the same lake from a boat, chances are you will be constantly evaluating your surroundings and predicting where you might have the best chances of success. The same goes for ice fishing, but since you aren't restricted to a boat, you can incorporate other things into your day at the same time like cooking, drinking (responsibly), games, and simply being out on a nice winter's day is rejuvenating in itself.
Catching fish is still the name of the game. So while you can enjoy your time on the ice even without drilling any holes, you'll certainly have a blast reeling in some "off season" trophies. For those who golf, it's like flying down South in the middle of winter and playing a round: very much needed!
Therefore, it's always a good idea to prepare as best you can before heading out on the ice. Knowing the lake you will be fishing on, as well as the habits of the associated species you will be fishing for, are the arguably the most important factors when preparing for ice fishing. Close behind is having the right gear and employing the proper techniques. Whether it's having an easy-to-use ice auger, the correct rod and reel combo, appropriate clothing, etc, these are all things you can prepare for ahead of time.
In this article, we will focus on what we consider to be the best ice fishing rods. We place a large focus on value, so we will attempt to show a few different rods at various price points, hopefully allowing you to consider a couple with your current budget.
Ice Fishing Rod and Reel Combo's
- Simple - spool comes pre-loaded with line
- Decent sensitivity
- Great intro ice fishing rod.
- Crank on reel comes loose quicker than others
- Overall durability is lacking
- Low bearing count
This is your base level ice fishing rod that offers everything you need, but not much more. Given the low price, it's a great deal in any sense and can come in handy for any ice fisherman regardless of level of experience.
The performance is known to be decent for the price. The rod is 24" long, fairly lightweight, and offers good sensitivity to feel and see nibbles from smaller panfish. Any disadvantages mainly center around the durability, which is lacking compared to other rods, but that should be somewhat expected for the low price.
Overall, after combining the pros and cons, this rod is most suitable for beginner ice fishermen, those going after small panfish, or anyone who wants to have a couple back-ups without breaking the bank.
- Great value
- Solid performance and durability
- Very well-liked by customers
- Low bearing count in reel (1).
- Screws in reel may need occasional tightening.
This is one of the more popular ice fishing rod and reel combos on the market. It appeals to all levels of experience and offers surprisingly good quality and durability for the price. For a small step up in price from the base level setup, you get a way bigger step up in quality.
The rod itself is available in 26", 28", and 30", so you have a bit of flexibility in terms of sensitivity, and you can select a size based on potential space limitations, too. The reel only has one ball bearing, but the action is fairly smooth all things considered. It comes with a ported aluminum spool for better durability while maintaining a low weight. The EVA foam handle is nice and comfortable, too, which is a bit of a bonus.
Overall, we recommend the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 rod and reel combo to anyone planning on ice fishing. The longer rod lengths will allow you to go after some bigger fish, as it can "absorb" more of the fight, while the shorter lengths are great for close-quarters and targeting smaller panfish. The versatility of this rod is the selling point, and combined with a very reasonable price, it's tough to go wrong with this combo.
- Excellent performance
- Good reel with high bearing count (4+1)
- Graphite rod is light and sensitive
- Smooth Teflon drag
- A little more expensive
- Style of reel can take some getting used to, especially if you have minimal experience with fly fishing.
The Eagle Claw rod and reel combo is definitely on a next level for ice fishing performance. The S-curve graphite rod is very lightweight and sensitive and comes in two different sizes - 24" and 28", so you have a bit of flexibility with the length.
The most notable difference is the inline ice reel. This will allow you to drop very light jigs without having to feed the line out by hand, but if you're not used to doing this, it definitely takes some getting used-to. Therefore, it could be a little frustrating to use at first, especially with weighted jigs, as some customers report they drop extremely fast. However, once you get the hang of the reel action it performs extremely well and has ultra-smooth action.
Overall, we would recommend the Eagle Claw ice fishing rod and reel combo to anyone looking for something a little less conventional, those who are willing to pay a slightly higher price for enhanced performance, and those who are accustomed to palming the reel similar to fly fishing.
- Excellent performance and durability
- 3.7:1 reel ratio with smooth drag and instant anti-reverse
- 5+1 ball bearing count with ultra fine free spooling
- 22" line retrieval per rotation
- 36" length may be a bit large in an ice shanty.
- Easy to accidentally hit the line release button
The Frabill 371 ice fishing rod and reel combo is a top-of-the-line setup that offers excellent performance and durability. The balanced spool sends the line straight through the aluminum oxide guides, which helps to decrease the chances of line twisting.
The 3.7:1 gear ratio combined with the 5+1 bearing count provides incredibly smooth action and the instant anti-reverse is a nice bonus. Additionally, Frabill's sub-zero lube ensures you get the best performance at the lowest temperatures.
The main drawbacks are the cost and length. This rod and reel combo is definitely more expensive than most, but it comes with all the bells and whistles and is a reliable choice if you want ultimate performance. The rod is 36" long, so it could be a tight squeeze if you're using a shanty, but out in the open there are no problems with that.
Overall, we would recommend the Frabill 371 rod and reel combo to ice fishermen with enough experience to take advantage of the advanced performance, ideally those who won't be in a shanty. It definitely offers top-notch performance and durability, but we don't recommend it for beginners mainly because of the cost, and the reel can definitely take some getting used to.
Selecting an Ice Fishing Rod
Where and What Are You Fishing?
One of the most important things you need to know when selecting an appropriate ice fishing rod is knowing where and what you will be fishing. Different species will require different lures and bait, and other local factors like whether or not you will be in a shanty can also influence what rod you need.
If you're planning on fishing for multiple species or will likely be hitting various bodies of water, then it could be a good idea to carry a few different options. Many ice anglers will rig a few different rods that employ different action, and if they need to switch things up they have everything all ready to go. This allows you to increase your versatility so that you don't have to be limited by your equipment. The downside here is that you will need to purchase more equipment, but if ice fishing is something you love doing, then it's definitely worth it.
One recommendation to keep things minimal would be to rig a smaller and more sensitive rod for panfish (or similar), and keep a slightly longer rod that will provide more forgiveness when fishing larger fish.
The two main types of rod material are graphite and fiberglass. There are pros and cons to each, so while this is definitely a consideration when selecting a rod, you can also learn how to maximize the advantages of any rod material after the fact.
Graphite rods are usually the most sensitive, are particularly excellent for jigging, and are known to be very lightweight. The main downside here is they also tend to be more expensive, so it might not be practical in every situation. This doesn't mean that fiberglass rods are always worse than graphite. Fiberglass tends to be a little more forgiving, making them a nice choice for fish that put up a more intense fight. It's also more durable at low temperatures, as it doesn't become as brittle as a graphite rod.
Many companies will also discuss the material of the rod eyes. While this can be important, as you don't want something abrasive against your line, many anglers find the number and size of the eyes to be a more practical consideration. The more eyes, the better, as this will ensure a straight release and balanced setup. Additionally, the larger the eyes, the better, especially in really cold temperatures. If you have any ice on your line, small eyes may allow the line to become blocked, or at least result in a very choppy release and retrieval. So if you're in freezing temperatures, you'll likely have to clean your line less frequently with larger rod eyes.
Ice fishing rods can vary quite a bit in length. If you're planning on fishing from inside a shanty, then you will likely be limited to begin with. In this case, chances are you will need a shorter rod, especially if you want to be comfortable.
Shorter rods tend to be more sensitive and are generally more stiff, which is ideal when you're looking to create a nice jigging action. They're good for fishing in shanties and are also good for kids. The main downside here is that they don't really help when actually fighting a fish. All of the energy from the fighting fish will be transferred to you, which may pose a problem when fighting larger fish.
Longer rods help alleviate this problem by providing more forgiveness, but the jigging action isn't as snappy and they are often impractical for shanties.
The handle on an ice fishing rod is definitely a practical consideration, particurly when it comes to the material. While foam provides a really comfortable grip, it can absorb water as well, so in freezing temperatures you could end up with something cold, stiff, and not very sensitive. Many anglers like cork handles because you can really feel the vibrations transferring from the line to your hand, so they perform very well.
Ice Fishing Reels
Ice fishing doesn't require any weird or fancy reels, just something that makes sense for the situation. Most of the cheaper rod and reel combos will come with spinning reels, which has been a standard for some time. The advantages here are that you may already have one a different rod that you can use, many anglers are very familiar with spinning reels, and there's a huge range of features that you can optimize in a spinning reel.
More recently, fly reels have become increasingly popular in the ice fishing world. This may seem weird at first considering you're not casting, but in this case, there are definitely some major advantages. The most obvious is that the line will feed straight off the reel through the eyes of the rod, leading to less line twisting. Fly reels are often lightweight, and they can offer more sensitivity due to the fact that you will often have your finger directly on the line.
The downside? These reels are usually more expensive, especially if you want a good one, and if you don't have any fly-fishing experience they can be difficult to learn. Some rod and reel combos will now have an "in-line" reel, which employs the fundamental design of a fly reel, but are essentially more simple and not meant for casting. Manyany anglers who make the switch to this type of reel are happy they did.
Check out this awesome video from Ice Team Pro Jason Durham! He discusses how to use this fly reel-type setup with a great demonstration!