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Picking the Right Ice Rod

Matt Johnson

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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 rod...


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.

Good Fishin,

Matt Johnson

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Hey Matt what are ya going to run this year on those Ashland Smallies and Coho? My favorite is a 32" med/light St.Croix Avid with a Sedona 500. 6# power pro with a 6# florocarbon leader and a JR's Flasher spoon with extra wings on it. Plus the Coho love them. I cant wait!

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Last winter we used either the 32 inch Medium action Walleye Sweetheart by Thorne Bros, the 28 inch Medium action JR's Tackle Rod, or the 30 inch Medium action Genz Rod. You're gonna need that extra leverage and backbone for those hard fighting smallies.

When are you going to make it out there again?

This past weekend in Madison I showed a few people the video on the Cheqaumegon smallies and they were shocked. Right in the backyard for some of the guys and they didn't even know about it. A lot of fun up there thats for sure.

Good Fishin,

Matt Johnson

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