You can easily spend $15 to $125 on an ice fishing rod, and probably only $5 if you want one that could be classified as disposable. So, do you get what you pay for when dropping your hard-earned cash on an expensive ice rod?
Of course, this is a bit of a loaded question. What I think is worth a high price, or a good value, is simply one man’s opinion — mine. That said, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read further to determine whether you’d be served by owning a top-notch ice rod.
And one spoiler alert: You actually don’t have to break the bank to get a fishable ice rod. The key is shopping wisely.
All About Price Points
I worked in a well-respected fishing shop on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota, for several years, and through time I found that it made sense in dealing with most customers to simply cut to the chase and ask if they had a certain price point, or price range, in mind when shopping for rods. And because we built custom rods in our shop for open-water fishing and ice fishing, the vast selection was overwhelming to some shoppers.
The scope of this article is ice fishing only, so I’ll save my opinions on open-water gear for another day. But whether we’re talking hard or soft water, you must (in my opinion) reach a certain threshold in price to obtain a fishable rod.
Okay, that’s twice now that I’ve used the term “fishable.” Very simply, it means that you’re using a tool (and ice rods are tools) that won’t reduce the number of fish you catch because of poor or bad rod performance.
Or stated another way, the rod performs well enough for you to keep up with your buddy who’s fishing 5 feet away for the same school of light-biting, suspended winter crappies. Assuming you both have equal skills, and everything else is the relatively similar (reels, line, lures, live bait, etc.), if you have a fishable rod, you should be able to catch about the same number of fish as your friend, even if he’s spent two, three or even four times as much on his ice rod.
The title of this section is “All About Price Points,” so let me showcase five solid recommendations, with rod pricing ranging from $20 to just shy of $100. Note: Most of these models come in various actions, but I’ll focus on actions designed specifically for sunfish and crappies.
$19.99; Fenwick HMG Ice Rod (on sale; regular price is $24.99)
One of my favorite summertime spinning rods is a Fenwick HMG, I bought it in 1987 and it’s still going strong! Like my old-school HMG, this Fenwick HMG Ice Rod (below) is designed to be extremely sensitive and extra-durable. It has a high-modulus graphite blank and an EVA with TAC inlay handle for a sure grip. The guides are stainless steel with aluminum-oxide inserts; nice. I recommend the 25-inch, light-power model for panfish.
$27.99: Clam Outdoors Ice Team Ice Rod (on sale; regular price is $34.99)
I love the fast-action, solid-graphite blank used in this ice rod (below). It’s super sensitive and balances perfectly in the hand with an ultralight reel. The rod’s smooth, black-frame Dynaflow guides reduce line friction, and the up-locking reel seat is solid. For panfish, choose the 24-inch, light-power model because it comes with sensitive Nitinol spring bobber.
$49.99; St. Croix Mojo Ice Rod
St. Croix Mojo rods are great for open-water fishing, and their ice rods (below) are outstanding, too. Features include precision-taper, solid-carbon blank; premium split-grip cork/EVA handle; custom reel seat; and lightweight, stainless-steel guides. Go with the 24-inch, ultra-light model if you spend most of your time in an ice shelter, but don’t shy away from the 36-inch light-power rod if you like to hole hop and fish outside, especially while standing.
$69.99; St. Croix Legend Black Ice Rod
St. Croix Legend open-water fishing rods are . . . well . . . legendary. Very simply, it’s hard to top the sensitivity/feel provided by a St. Croix Legend blank. And the same is true for the company’s Legend Black Ice Rods (below). The solid-carbon blank has a precision taper, and it’s matched with a finesse, high-tension stainless-steel strike indicator. With this rod, when a fish strikes, no matter how softly, you’ll know it. Other features include Sea Guide PNPS reel seat and Pac Bay Minima guides. I like the 24-inch, medium-light power blank. And did I mention it’s made in USA?
$95.99; Tuned Up Custom Rods Bullwhip Split-Grip Ice Rod (on sale; regular price is $119.99)
The 28-inch Bullwhip (below) has a noodle action that transitions smoothly into a stout backbone. Never heard of a noodle rod? It’s designed for fishing lightweight horizontal ice jigs tipped with either soft plastics or Eurolarvae (maggots); the solid-glass rod loads on the smallest weight, and any bite can easily be detected. The rod’s stout backbone drives home the hooks, and blank can handle even the biggest sunfish or crappie. The bright-colored noodle tip provides ultimate visibility. It’s essentially a built-in strike indicator; no spring bobber is required. The EVA split-grip places your reel farther forward and balances your combo perfectly.
I’m confident that if you choose any of the ice rods I’ve recommended above, you won’t have any trouble detecting strikes from wary sunfish and crappies. Of course, you need to be using light line (2- or 3-pound test), and seeing your lure on a fishfinder or underwater camera helps tremendously, too.
One final bit of important advice: DON’T toss your new high-performance ice rod in a 5-gallon bucket with a steel ice skimmer and other gear and expect it to last a lifetime — or even the weekend. Treat it with care, just as you would (hopefully) a favorite open-water spinning rod. Spend another $15 for a dedicated ice fishing rod case (below) that will last a lifetime, and your ice rods will be in perfect shape after the holes are drilled and you’re ready to drop a tiny jig to waiting panfish.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s