Spend enough time on the ice in pursuit of panfish and you’ll quickly learn that unlike during summer, when sunfish will seemingly eat anything you put in front of their nose, winter bluegills can be finicky. Super finicky.
And when they finally get up the courage to nip at your lure, you need a rod that is sensitive enough to detect the subtle strike. For that reason, almost all of my winter panfish rods feature a metal spring-bobber. However, this winter I’ve fallen in love with a rod-and-reel combo that is unlike anything I’ve ever used before. And the rod doesn’t have a spring-bobber. Let me explain.
First a bit of background: The Frabill Straight Line 371 Bro Series 30-inch Finesse Panfish Combo was built in cooperation with ice-fishing guru and guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl (above). I’ve had the pleasure of spending a couple days on the ice with Bro, and I can flat out tell you that the man is dialed in when it comes to winter panfish. In my opinion, his understanding of panfish behavior all through the year, and especially under the ice, is unmatched.
So during the winter of 2016/17 when I realized that my two sons, then ages 11 and 13, would be joining me on the ice more often than not, I had to get a few more rods and reels. After all, there was no way the Old Man (me) would be using top-notch gear while they labored with stiff, cheap and inefficient jiggle sticks.
I spent one evening checking out the wide variety of rods and reels showcased on the Frabill website, but my eyes kept going back to one in particular, a 30-inch Bro Series combo mentioned above. But would my on-ice experience live up to my high expectations? Only time on the (frozen) water would tell.
True story: While I was still rigging lines on the tailgate of my pickup, my oldest son, Elliott, began screaming “fish on” from inside the nearby ice shelter. He’s caught enough panfish in his lifetime to not get overly excited on just any bluegill, so I quickly determined that something a bit out of the ordinary was taking place.
“Dad, I have a huge bass hooked on one of your new panfish rods!” I heard him yell as I shuffled toward the shelter. As I unzipped the shelter door, I could he was using the new Frabill Straight Line 371 rod-and-reel combo. Thankfully, we had spooled up the reel with 5-pound test Asso New Micron line the night before – and set the reel’s drag appropriately – so as long as my son took his time and let the rod and reel do the work, he had a chance.
“Dad, I watched him eat my jig on the camera,” Elliott said. “It was so cool. He’s a giant!”
Soon, flashes of white, green and black began to show under the 6-inch diameter hole, and we held our breath as he guided the big bass into the opening. And that’s the one good thing about a small-diameter ice fishing hole: once a decent-size fish is in the hole, it has only one way to go – out! Seconds later, Elliott (below) was holding his largest bass of his young fishing career, 20.5 inches long and a solid 5-pounder.
Since Elliott’s epic battle with the bass last winter, we’ve used the Bro Series Panfish Combo to catch too many sunfish, crappies, perch and bass to count. And, of course, it’s no longer my rod because Elliott has claimed it as his own. The photo below shows a 13-inch perch Elliott caught and released just last weekend with his favorite ice rod.
Rod features I like include:
- 30-inch length; I have other (shorter) rods for sight-fishing, but I prefer a bit more length when fishing with my Vexilar flasher or Aqua-Vu camera.
- Quick tip; the rod has an incredibly sensitive (think spring-bobber) tip section. It flexes downward when gills nip at your lure, and flexes upward during those times when crappies lift a jig while striking.
- Action; even though the rod is an ultralight and rated for 1- to 4-pound-test line, the mid- and lower sections of the rod are fairly stiff, making hooksets easy, even in deep water.
- Quality rod components; titanium main guides, through-handle graphite blank, solid cork handle with graphite reel seat. It looks and feels more like a custom rod than a store-bought model.
As for the Straight Line 371 reel (below), all I can really say is “wow.” I was skeptical at first having used only spinning reels on my ice rods through the years, but I have to admit that these new designs have some distinct advantages. Because this article is already getting too long, I’ll let you learn more about the reel by watching the video below. And FYI: Elliott and I decided on the longer neck for the reel; it’s simply personal preference.
Congrats to Frabill and Bro for knocking it out of the park with this rod-and-reel combo. Like last winter, I’m praying for cold weather and decent ice into March!