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Just because it’s winter and freezing cold doesn’t mean you have to stop fishing. Ice fishing can be a great way to spend time in the winter but, while it can be exciting, it can also be a little different, including some of the gear.
Top Choices: Rods For Ice Fishing
- St Croix Legend Black
- Frabill Straight Line 261 Bro Series Combo
- 13 Fishing Tickle Stick Ice Rod
- Fenwick Elite Tech Ice Spinning Rod
- Cabela’s Clam Outdoors Genz Elite
- Frabill Black Ops Combo
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik Ice Spinning Rod
To make it easier, we’ve put together some information that can help you on your next trip, as well as a handy guide on how to choose ice fishing rods and what features you might want.
What Is Ice Fishing?
Ice fishing is basically the act of fishing through the ice. Mostly associated with cold winters, ice fishing can be a fun way to fish when the lakes or other bodies of water are frozen solid.
It means that instead of casting your line into the distance like traditional styles of fishing, you drop it through a hole in the ice.
When a lake freezes the ice forms on the top because it’s closest to the cold air and underneath the ice remains water. This water is then insulated from the cold air by the ice on top, allowing the plants and animals in the lake to stay alive.
This means that you can cut a hole in the ice to catch the fish that are in the water below. Ice fishing can give you the perfect opportunity to catch fish all year round.
Wrapping up warm with lots of layers is essential, but you can also bring your own shelter or rent one from a local outdoor store near where you plan to ice fish. But make sure you check the local rules about ice fishing shelters, as some places might allow the non-portable shelters to stay on the lake all winter.
Is Ice Fishing Dangerous?
You need to be careful when it comes to standing on frozen lakes, as the ice can crack and break if it’s too thin, which could cause you to fall in.
Falling into water in low temperatures can cause your body to go into cold water shock, which can be fatal.
It’s recommended that you make sure the ice is at least 4 inches thick before you head out if you’re walking but if you’re taking an ATV on the ice you’ll need a minimum of 7 inches of ice underneath you. Larger vehicles will need more than a foot of ice to be safe.
Where To Go Ice Fishing?
No matter where you go ice fishing you will likely still need a fishing license. So before you head out, make sure your license is valid.
There are many lakes where you can go ice fishing, especially in the northern United States and Canada.
However, you will usually have to wait until at least the middle, if not the end, of winter to do it, as the ice may not be thick enough to stand on at the beginning of winter, unless you’re closer to the Arctic Circle. February can be a good month for ice fishing.
States such as Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan and Illinois can be ideal places for ice fishing. Many of these states offer an abundance of ice fishing opportunities and it is a popular winter sport.
Almost a quarter of the fish caught in Wisconsin annually are caught through ice fishing in the winter. And certain lakes can prove to be popular for ice fishers, such as Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, which reportedly hosts around 5,000 ice fishing shelters in an average winter.
Features Of Ice Fishing Rods To Look Out For
Types Of Rod
There are many options when it comes to ice fishing rods. The most common type of rod used for the ice is probably a spinning rod, as there are very few baitcasting rods available that are designed for ice fishing.
Fast action rods can be more suitable for ice fishing because it can be easier to set the hook in a smaller area. Remember you only have a small area to work with compared to the actual size of the body of water that’s underneath you, so you usually have to be quick.
Weight And Strength
You will probably want a lightweight ice fishing rod, as these can often be more sensitive, which is useful when you need to be able to feel the slightest bite from a fish under the ice.
A medium to medium-light action rod can be a good choice if you’re looking for a versatile ice fishing rod and can be ideal for walleye and perch, which can be common targets for ice fishing.
One thing you will notice that might be a little different is that ice fishing rods will tend to be much shorter, often only around 24 to 28 inches in length. However, it is possible to ice fish with your traditional summer fishing rod, even up to 7 foot long.
But this may not be the best choice for more finesse style techniques such as jigging, as you may not be able to feel the bite of less active winter fish with such a long rod and it can be more awkward to use in a small area compared to a short rod, which can be more suitable for the conditions.
This is because you don’t need a long distance casting rod as you will be fishing vertically through the hole in the ice rather than casting across a lake. The shorter the rod, the more comfortable it might be to ice fish, for example if you’re inside a shelter or sitting close to the ice hole.
Tips On How To Go Ice Fishing
Cut A Hole
Once you’ve assessed your ice and you know that it’s thick enough for you to walk on, it’s time to cut your hole. You can also use a fish finder to find a more exact location for the fish before you cut your hole.
Ice fishing holes can be cut using an ice chisel, which you operate by hand. It’s sharp at one end to allow you to cut into the ice but it can be difficult to use if the ice is very thick.
Video: Ice Fishing Basics : Cutting Ice Fishing Hole
An auger is a tool that can be used to cut a hole in the ice by drilling. It can be better suited for cutting into very thick ice where your ice chisel may struggle.
Video: How To Cut A Hole For Ice-Fishing
It can be worth noting that the hole you cut should be around 6 to 8 inches across and no more than 12 inches, or it could lead to someone falling in.
Remember to remove the excess ice from the hole. You might find you have to continue removing through the day if the water starts to refreeze.
How To Jig
Ice fishing is not about distance casting, as all you have to work with in terms of access to the water is through an 8 inch hole in the ice. So it can be more about your jigging technique.
Both artificial jig lures and live baits can be used, depending on what type of fish you want to catch and your personal preference.
Video: How to Fish Rapala Jigging Raps for Walleye Through the Ice
When you’re jigging, you’re essentially moving the bait on your line to make it appear alive to your target fish. So mimic the movements of the natural prey of that species. You can shake your rod quickly and then let the bait fall, or move it more slowly, giving it a couple of seconds without moving to allow it to fall.
Video: Ice Fishing Jigging Motion
7 Best Ice Fishing Rods (And Reel Combos)
1: St Croix Legend Black Ice Fishing Rod
- Length: 24 inches
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Power: Light
The St Croix Legend Black is a spinning rod built for ice fishing. It has a solid carbon blank, giving it a lightweight feel and helping to provide added performance and durability.
A handy feature on this St Croix Legend Black rod is the strike indicating spring bobber system, which is made from anodized stainless steel and features an adjustable anodized coil spring. This can be a great feature for detecting small bites on your line before you can feel them.
The rod also benefits from a secure locking reel seat and durable stainless steel guides with anodized rings and frames to add extra corrosion resistance. This 24 inch light power rod is also available in a range of power options, as well as a 17 inch and 30 inch option.
2: Frabill Straight Line 261 Bro Series Light Ice Fishing Combo
- Length: 30 inches
- Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Power: Light
This Frabill Straight Line Bro Series is a rod and reel combo that can be an ideal option for beginners or if you’re looking for a lightweight rod and reel designed for ice fishing that can let you get out to catch fish right away.
The 30 inch composite Frabill rod features aluminum oxide guides and an aluminum reel seat which can help give the rod added durability and resistance against corrosion. The aluminum components can also help to give the rod its lightweight feel.
The composite reel is designed to minimize the cold feeling when touched. It features a 2.1:1 gear ratio with 4 plus 1 ball bearings and benefits from a smooth drag with anti-reverse. It also has an oversized handle which can make it easier to operate when you’re wearing gloves on the ice.
3: 13 Fishing Tickle Stick Ice Rod
- Length: 27 inches
- Weight: 11 ounces
- Power: Medium Light
The 13 Fishing Tickle Stick is a 27 inch medium light rod that’s built for ice fishing and also comes in light and ultra light powers. The rod is made from Parallel Composite Construction (PC2) and features a totally flat tip, which is designed to offer more sensitivity and strength.
The rod also features ALPS line guides made from thin wire, which are strong, durable and they don’t weigh the rod down. It has a cork handle for comfort and an ergonomically designed Evolve reel seat which can help with sensitivity and let you notice the smaller bites quicker and more easily.
4: Fenwick Elite Tech Ice Spinning Rod
- Length: 16 inches
- Weight: 2.4 ounces
- Power: Light
This Fenwick Elite Tech is a 16 inch spinning rod that is designed for the ice. It’s a light power, fast action rod constructed with high modulus graphite blank and smoked stainless steel guides with strong, durable zirconium oxide inserts.
The ergonomically designed cork handle adds comfort and grip, which can be helpful in cold, harsh conditions. It also has a down locking reel seat for added balance.
The Fenwick Elite Tech comes in a variety of other lengths and powers to provide added versatility for other styles of ice fishing but this 16 inch one could be good for small panfish.
5: Cabela’s Clam Outdoors Genz Elite Series Ice Rod
- Length: 28 inches
- Power: Medium Light
This Clam Outdoors Genz Elite rod is a lightweight, medium light power ice fishing rod. It has a solid graphite blank to improve performance, sensitivity and strength, and benefits from a woven graphite butt section with an up locking reel seat.
The rod features a comfortable cork composition handle that is built to be easy to grip in cold weather, even when you’re wearing gloves. The Genz Elite rod also benefits from having lightweight guides to avoid weighing the rod done and can help with the improved sensitivity of the rod.
Additionally, the rod has a handy hook keeper, to help protect your line and guides from damage.
6: Frabill Black Ops Combo
- Length: 22 inches
- Weight: 5.6 ounces
The Black Ops Combo is a spinning rod and reel combo that is designed specifically for ice fishing. This 22 inch rod features titanium components to provide added strength and durability while keeping the rod feeling lightweight for added comfort when you’re on the ice all day.
The reel features a composite spool and body and has a 1:1 gear ratio with an 8 inch line retrieval per turn rate. It offers smooth drag and the line is designed to feed straight off the spool to avoid coiling and so help to prevent your lures from spinning.
The reel is designed to fit in the palm of your hand so you can better detect small bites. The handle has also been designed to optimize use for when you have gloves on.
7: Shakespeare Ugly Stik Ice Spinning Rod
- Length: 28 inches
- Weight: 7 ounces
- Power: Medium
The Ugly Stik Ice Spinning Rod is a 28 inch medium power spinning rod that’s built for the ice. It features Ugly Tech construction which is a blend of graphite and fiberglass for combined strength.
The Ugly Tuff guides are each made from one piece of stainless steel. This means there are no inserts, which can be more convenient and mean there’s no risk of inserts falling out.
This Ugly Stik rod is designed to offer a high level of sensitivity so you can detect even the lightest bites from slow moving winter fish. It also has an EVA foam grip handle.
What Is The Best Fishing Sonar?
The Marcum LX-7 Ice Fishing Sonar can be a good choice as it features a clear 8 inch LCD color screen, a rechargeable battery and features vertical water column displays and comes with a soft case to keep it safe while you’re on the ice.
Another option is the Deeper Pro Smart Portable Sonar which allows your phone or tablet to be used as the display. This can be ideal if you want to pack light. It also has a feature that lets you create bathymetric maps so you can record the depths of the water under the ice in several locations on the lake or river.
What Should I Wear When Ice Fishing?
Layers can be key when dressing for the ice, with moisture wicking layers as your base layers, insulated layers for your middle layer and a final layer that’s also insulated and water resistant.
Your outer or middle layer should also be wind resistant so that the icy breeze doesn’t get through. Moisture wicking socks can also be ideal underneath warm socks.
Of course, you will probably also need a warm hat, neck cover and gloves. Remember you’ll be walking on ice so your boots will need to have a thick sole and good traction so you don’t slip.
Do I Need An Ice Fishing Shack?
You don’t necessarily need one. However, an ice fishing shack can come in handy when you’re in the middle of a frozen lake with nothing around you to offer protection against biting, icy winds.
By offering you shelter, it could help to keep you warmer and could be a good idea if you plan to ice fish all day long or head out frequently all winter.
Ice fishing can be a great way to spend some time outdoors in the winter when you might not otherwise be able to fish. There are plenty of locations across the northern areas of the United States and Canada where ice fishing can be a popular winter activity.
Remember, short, sensitive rods can be useful when it comes to catching fish under the ice but you may need to adjust your technique to more vertical styles, such as jigging.
Being on ice does come with some risks so it’s important to stay safe by following local rules, wrapping up warm and making sure the ice is thick enough before you set foot on it.
Where’s your favorite place to ice fish? Or do you have a particular rod and reel combo that you prefer for the job? Tell us about it in the comments. And remember to share this so that others can get involved in this exciting winter sport.