Winter has its own allure. Sure, you can’t go out and run around in flip-flops and shorts as a rule (though some denial freaks do). Still, it has some wonderful distractions to get you out of the house.
Take ice fishing. Once a freezing cold endurance test of sitting on a bucket and waiting for the fish to bite so you could put supper on the table, ice fishing has evolved into a sport which has a die-hard, rabid fan base. You can get special rods, tents, shacks and all sorts of goodies for ice fishing now. But let’s start with the basics–selecting the right rod and reel for your first ice fishing adventure.
What will you be fishing for?
You’re going to need the shortest rods for panfish. By “panfish” I mean any fish small enough to catch and keep that’s destined for the frying pan without having to section the body. Ice sticks are shorter than standard rods. You need a rod length of about 20″-30″ in order to feel the fish on the line most effectively. Also known as a light, or ultra-light rod.
Walleye or Northern Pike need a medium or medium-heavy (longer) rod, with Pike leaning toward medium heavy. It helps set the hook in those toothy grins of theirs, so look for a length of around 24″-36″.
Forget a short rod for muskie, salmon or trout. You might get bites, but you’ll have difficulty setting the hook and reeling it in. They need the longer (heavy) rods, so choose one that’s around 36″-42 inches in length.
Fibreglass or graphite?
Fibreglass rods are sturdier. They’re generally cheaper, last longer and put up with more abuse. But if you’re ice fishing you need graphite, because it transmits in a more sensitive way, that is, you’ll be more likely to feel when a fish strikes.
Medium or fast taper on your rod?
“Action” or “taper” refers to where your rod bends along its length. Ice fishing rods need a taper or action anywhere from medium to extra-fast, depending upon the fish you’re trying to catch, so it also has something to do with the length you previously decided upon.
- A medium or moderate rod bends over the last half. These rods are good for walleye and pike, especially if you’re using it as a stationary stick, because you don’t depend upon feeling the strike when holding the rod.
- A fast action bends at the upper third to quarter of the rod. Fast action rods are necessary for trout because of it’s sensitivity in transmitting the feel of quick and/or light strikes through the rod. This is also good for walleye if you’re jigging.
- An extra-fast action bends just at the tip. Because panfish are small the action of the rod needs to be very sensitive, so this is the rod you need, since it responds so well to the fish’s movements.
What should the handle be made of?
An ice fishing rod handle needs to be made of a material that will help you feel the action of a fish on the line, and it also needs to be a material that warms quickly in your hand. Cork is your best choice because of these reasons. There are wood handles available that are gaining popularity, such as cherrywood or maple, but cork is an excellent choice and one that most ice fishing aficionados make.
What about line guides?
Line guides, or line eyes, are extremely important in ice fishing. You should be looking for over-sized line guides, because with them in place ice build-up is kept to a minimum (you don’t want to be finding out about ice build-up when you’re out there). Make sure they start half-way up the butt and are evenly spaced across the length of the rod. The more guides, the more sensitivity in the rod as it helps the line transmit the signals of the fish to your hand. If you have two rods you can’t decide on that are similar, pick the one with the most oversized line guides.
If you had to ask for one standard beginning ice fishing rod, what would it be?
I would look for a 28″-30″, medium action jigging rod. It’s what most ice fishing enthusiasts start out with.