Choosing an ice rod for panfish sounds easy, just walk into the fishing department of a store and grab a 24″ ultra light rod with some reel and go fishing.
If you really think that, then this is probably the article you need to read the most, more than any other ice fishing piece you may read while considering what rods to get this year.
My philosophy came about almost 20 years ago while fishing my first Ice Team Trap Attack on a lake in Brooklyn, Michigan. At first I just wanted to have more than a couple of rods so if something happened I would not be wasting valuable time trying to retie jigs in cold weather while dealing with numb fingers. Within a year or two of that, I looked at the multiple rods bass anglers were using on open water and how they were specialized for particular techniques.
Taking that approach I started looking at various rods and how they might handle my approach to catching more panfish. By that I mean, the different techniques I use for …you know what, lets scrap the panfish moniker, and just pick one, and in this case lets center on Bluegill. Why bluegill, because they taste the best of course!
Looking back at that 24 inch rod off the shelf, although it’s not ideal rod for gills there are some purposes where the rod will shine. Here in Michigan we are allowed three rods each while fishing any body of water, so if you are fishing multiple rods, why not have at least one rod as a bobber rod. By taking a small slip bobber large enough to balance out with the jig you are using below, you have used up one of your three rods. It’s also a great presentation for getting kids involved in the sport.
Taking that same rod, you can add a quality spring bobber to the end to make it more versatile tool. Where to start on the spring bobbers is the next question, luckily you have many options. Depending on how you want to allocate your “fishing” funds, you can have set-ups for 3, 4, or 5 mm tungsten jigs. If you want to start out slow, in my opinion I would choose the 3 mm set up. On the tourney trail over the years I have learned you can never go wrong with a 3 mm in all situations. If you are fishing lakes that aren’t pressured on a regular basis, then you can jump up to the 4 mm, specially if you fish some deeper water. Will a 5 mm catch fish, yes, but in my book this is a highly condition specific type of approach that will rarely present itself to someone not fishing some deep water bite tourneys.
One last thing considering that off the rack 24 inch rod, and I know I stopped at only discussing gills for this piece. That said, they make excellent spoon and swimbait rods for crappie and perch. For a clear translation on swimbait, I mean a Jigging Rapala type presentation.
For the ideal adjustable spring bobber already on a rod, that will be covered by the Legend Ice Rod from St. Croix Rods. It’s a 24 inch ultra light rod with a unique “light” spring that can be adjusted for the weight of the jig. This is accomplished by carefully pushing the spring in for heavier jigs, or further out for smaller presentations. If I had to give a percentage on what a bluegill bite will look like while using a spring, it would be that 90% of the time a gill pull the spring down. 5% of the time the jig will not move the spring, just straighten it out. The other 5% of the time, although more common with fishing for crappie, the spring will jump up while fishing shallow water weedbeds where the gills come up to aggressively feed.
Some rods, specifically custom rods are made with different presentations already in mind. I don’t need a rod that looks like its been designed to be hung on the wall like a piece of art, which is not to say they wont catch fish, just not my style. I do have some custom “noodle” rods from Minnesota that are very sensitive, and I don’t mean so much by the feel, but what the rod tip will visually tell me is going on below. These rods are usually my scout rods when I am looking for fish with a multitude of presentations. This way I can go big or small.
My sight fishing rods are SHORT, 16 inches in length, but no bigger than 18″ is where I would tell anglers to start with while looking for a good rod. My dual purpose sight and spring bobber rods are 17 inch lights from St Croix’s Legend series. For those not familiar with sight fishing, it’s a method where you look directly down the hole and watch the fish as they come in to take your bait.
Tightlining rods are usually 20-22 inches in length, and they designed, or used specifically for watching the line in your hole. Michigan anglers came up with this method before the introduction of electronics like Vexilar. A common misconception is that you just watch the line at the top of your hole, but you are really watching the line in the hole. What the line is doing will show an experienced tightliner whether you have a fish on or not. Since one indication of a fish taking your bait might be your line showing some slack, it’s generally accepted that your rod be a stiff ultra light or light action rod in order to set the hook.
And that would be your starting guide for choosing a good rod for bluegills, many of the same rods can be used for perch and crappie though. Once you decide on how you want to approach a lake, you can determine which set ups will work best. Don’t be pigeon holed by what others are doing though, find rod that feels right for your methods, and don’t be surprised if you look at multiple rods to find the ones that will fill your arsenal and help you catch the most fish.