Recently I was asked this again, or more directly, “What is a good ice rod?”
When it comes to ice fishing, more than any other type of fishing, in my thought processes, it all boils down to personal choice. Because, unlike any other sport in the fishing realm, the only method available to you is vertical jigging, the rods you choose absolutely have to fit your likes and wants! In order for the angler to have confidence while fishing, he or she must have confidence in the equipment being used.
Small disclaimer, there are rods out there that are referred to as “dead sticks”. It is important to get the right action with those as well, but since you do not actually have “hands on” all the time, will leave those out for another discussion. Under this topic, for all intents and purposes, they could fall under the tip-up category.
My personal belief is that there is an ice rod out there for all occasions, with that in mind I have assembled a collection of more than 40 panfish rods and almost 30 walleye rods. Before you say it, I know…..I have an addiction to say the least. Could be worse is my only excuse, and some of you have seen my crankbait and spinnerblade collection when it comes to walleye fishing open water, so you know that is true!
When it comes to icing panfish though, and I know this is not the first time I have said this, I take the bass fishing approach. Bass anglers have rods for every method of fishing bucketmouths and bronzebacks that there is. Although ice fishing is an uniquely vertical jig presentation, there is vertical jigging, and then there is vertical jigging. Deep vs. shallow water, in the shanty or running and gunning, pounding the jig, sight fishing and tightlining….etc., the rod combinations are not quite countless, but it can be extensive.
Lets just say for argument’s sake, you are brand new to the sport of ice fishing, and wanted to get one rod for panfish to get you started. Since the typical setting is something like 12 foot in water depth, and usually over a weed bed, there are two approaches you want will want to look at.
First, more often than not, you will want to mix it up in the weeds when targeting bluegills, and the second approach is looking for crappie to be above the weeds, or down lower on the outside of the bed. Sometimes the big specs will be right under the ice, depending on water conditions and food sources. Question is, can you get one rod to cover both circumstances and the answer would be yes. Would it be perfect, not really, but pretty close for the novice just getting started.
This is where the tools of the trade come in, specifically do you have a Vexilar flasher or are you fishing blind? If you are fishing blind then you have a couple of options, first go with a shorter 20 inch something rod and depend on tightline tactics. This is where you read a bunch of factors, including your line. Your other option would be to get a rod with a very sensitive tip or spring bobber system. St. Croix makes an excellent spring system on their Legend series of ice rods and personally, I prefer the 17″ rod, but if you think you might want the 24″ rod, that is just personal choice and you will not go wrong with it.
Then you have fishing with your Vexilar unit, and I will not go without it, so if you are ready to step into ice fishing full swing, start with the best unit made! Now with the flasher I take another approach, I still want to incorporate a spring bobber onto my rod, but not as soft. I will say this, I get totally geeked when I see a panfish rushing my jig on the Vexilar’s screen. And there have been times, more than I care to admit, where I set the hook on the first movement of the spring and rolled the fish right off the hook. So, when fishing, as I do with the flasher, the springs I choose are just a hair stiffer than the “soft” spring approach. This can actually be accomplished with the same St. Croix rod, just push your coiled section of the spring back a bit and it deadens the action just enough where you will not miss the bite.
Actually, that could be the tip of the year when it comes to my approach on the hardwater. I better shut up before I give away all my secrets. It has come back to bite me in the tail more than once, and while giving a seminar once in Ludington it did. One of the local teams won the tourney, and they were nice enough to tell my partner and I, it was because of the info they learned the night before at the rules meeting from our seminar.