Choosing The Best Ice Fishing Rods
Looking for the best ice fishing rod? I've used nearly every ice fishing rod in existence, and I'll give my picks for the top 5 rods on the market.
Choosing the best ice fishing rod can seem confusing. There are a lot of different options, and there's very little consensus out there by experienced ice fisherman. Everyone seems to have their own favorite rod that they swear by. Some prefer to go the minimalist route, while others require only the newest, top of the line ice fishing rods.
While you may be tempted to just use any small spinning rod you might have on hand, thats usually not the best idea. Modern ice fishing rods are specifically manufactured and purposed for ice fishing.
Features unique to ice rods such as over-sized line guides and metal tips help prevent line icing, while their short designs enables you to fish very close to the hole, and within the tight confines of an ice fishing shelter.
Many fish also tend to have a softer, more subtle bite in the winter, and ice rods often have very sensitive tips which make it easier to detect these bites than a standard, open water rod.
When determining what the best ice fishing rods for you will be, there are 2 primary factors for you to consider. These will be the species of fish you will be targeting and the weight of the lures you'll be using. For instance, you probably don't want to use the same rod to fish for lake trout or pike that you would use for sunfish and crappie.
Most ice fishing rods are available with different levels of power. The main rod powers are light, medium, and heavy. There are also sub levels such as ultra light and medium heavy. Most fisherman use light rods for panfish, medium rods for fish like walleye, brown/rainbow Trout, and Black Bass, and heavy power rods for Pike, Muskie, and big Lake Trout.
Each brand and line of rods will have slightly different specifications. For example, one line of rods may have an ultra light model that feels stiffer or heavier than another.
At the end of the day, most of the choice comes down to personal preference that will only be be gained with experience using some ice rods.
Below, I'll give you my choices for the best ice fishing rods on the market, and I'll elaborate a bit on why I prefer them.
Top 5 Best Ice Fishing Rods Of 2019
HT Enterprises, 'Ice Blues'
The Ice Blues by HT Enterprises are an extremely popular line of rods. They do the job well, and are VERY economical. Cheaply priced, but certainly not cheaply made. Nearly every ice fisherman I know has at least one Ice Blue in their collection. They must be included in any list of the best ice fishing rods.
The Ice Blues feature an ultra sensitive, fast action, bright orange tip, which will indicate even the slightest of bites. I never use a spring bobber with this rod as its simply not necessary.
It's blue handle is made of a semi-firm EVA foam material known as Korkalon. Two graphite reel ring slips are included. In my opinion, the Korkalon handle grips the ring slips better than standard cork handles, and this helps keep your reel more securely in place.
The rod blank is mostly bright blue with glittery, dark blue guide wraps. Most of the models have guides made of chromed steel, with the exception of the 48" version(IB-48), which has standard aluminum spinning guides.
The Ice Blues are available in an array of lengths and weights. My favorites are the 24"(IB-24) and the 18"(IB-18). The 18" is a rod I really love. When the fish are biting very softly I like to be right on top of the hole, and this stout, but sensitive rod is perfectly suited to that. And when you unexpectedly hook a wayward walleye or bass while panfishing, you're in for one hell of a fight on this 18" stick. I also like the 24" model when I'm walking around, quickly hole hopping, without sitting or kneeling down.
Don't overlook the HT Blues rods. There's good reason for their popularity.
The 18" ultralight model can be ordered here.
I can't find them currently on Amazon, but you can order the 24" model rods here, on Ebay.
St. Croix, Avid Glass Ice Panfish Rod
St. Croix makes some really good ice rods, but the Avid glass, in particular is an exceptional rod to use for jigging panfish. Years ago, I purchased an Avid fly rod and was extremely impressed by the quality. I've been a fan of St. Croix's Avid line ever since.
The Avid Glass Ice is a high-end fiberglass rod at a very reasonable price. They're highly sensitive, but definitely have some backbone, which comes in handy when you run into larger, hard fighting panfish such as slab crappies. They're without a doubt one of the best ice fishing rods.
The rods come in lengths of 18", 26", 30" and 34". So far, my personal favorite has been the 26". It just seems like the sweet spot for these rods. For whats its worth, my father however, prefers the 30" model, and he's been ice fishing a lot longer than I have.
Slightly unusual for a line of rods specifically designed for panfish, the Avid Glass doesn't have an ultralight model. They are only available with a light tension rating. But, as I said, these are certainly very sensitive rods.
They're also built in the USA.
These rods feature top quality Kigan striper guides.
The running guides are lightweight, low profile, stainless steel. The tip is moderately fast action and has a highly visible, bright orange color.
The carbon handles are both comfortable to hold and very sensitive, allowing you to feel even soft bites very easily.
The Avid Glass has quickly become my favorite panfish rod. Try one out and I'm confident you'll feel the same way.
You can order the Avid Glass Ice rods here. If you do a lot of panfishing, you won't regret this purchase. Rest assured that you'll be getting one of the best ice fishing rods on the market.
Since the Avid series ice rods, and many others do not come with any reel holder rings, I like to use Cold Snap reel wraps. They come with an applicator that slides up over the rod handle and makes it really easy. They hold extremely firm. The reel won't come loose at all when using the Cold Snaps.
Fenwick, Elite Tech Ice Rods
The Fenwick Elite Tech Ice Rod is the real deal. A friend of mine had been raving about his, so I had to pick one up. I'm sure glad I did. I was so impressed in fact, that I've since bought 2 more of them!
It's got a very comfortable grip, what I feel is an optimal number of it's stainless steel guides, and its very light and sensitive. The blank is composed of high modulus graphite, which gives it some serious strength. Its also less expensive than it's main competitor - the St. Croix Mojo series.
The Elite Tech comes in a wide range of lengths and power ratings. The lengths range from 16" to 42". I think that the 25" ultra light is a great all around panfish rod with plenty of sensitivity.
Some people say that this rod is a bit too soft, with too fast an action, but I disagree. However, if you prefer a panfish rod with a bit more backbone, you may consider the 26" or 28" medium light. When it comes to walleye, smallmouth, and trout, I like the 30" medium model a lot. Its quite versatile as it can comfortably handle various lure weights, and has got the strength to take on some very large fish.
The best feature of this rod has got to be the handle. Its ergonomically shaped cork grip is really comfortable. And one more thing - IT'S GOT A REEL SEAT!
The lack of a built in reel seat is a major shortcoming of many modern ice fishing rods. But this is not the case with the Elite Tech. Not only does it have a reel seat, but it has a damn good one at that! Its a solid, down locking seat that will keep your reel soundly in place. That means no need for tape, wraps, or those ridiculous heat shrink tubes at all.
I also feel that this may be the most aesthetically pleasing ice rod. The cork handle, combined with the emerald green blank and glossy black guide wraps just give it a really classic look, in my opinion.
The Elite Tech definitely deserves some serious consideration as one of the best ice fishing rods.
The full line of Fenwick's Elite Tech ice rods are available for order here.
Berkley, Cherrywood HD Ice Rods
Berkley's Cherrywood HD line of rods doesn't get the appreciation it deserves. They're EXTREMELY ECONOMICAL, yet very well made. And these things are seriously durable.
The first time I used a cherrywood was actually in the summer, open water fishing. A few years ago I was visiting a friend who had just recently become a fisherman. I wasn't expecting to do any fishing that day, so hadn't packed a rod or any other gear. My friend however, decided he would like to visit a lake near his home where he had a Jon boat.
He offered to lend me a rod, but being new to fishing he didn't have a large selection to choose from. I ended up spending the afternoon fishing with his ultra light, 5', Cherrywood HD.
To make a long story short, I ended up catching about 20 Smallmouth on that little rod. A couple of them over 4 lbs! I was very pleased with the quality of the rod, and when my friend mentioned how cheap it was, I knew I had to get one.
I bought the same 5' ultra light and use it for trout fishing when I'm going to be somewhere that I'll have to do a lot of bushwacking to get around. I figured that if I ever broke it on a tree branch or something, I wouldn't feel very badly about it since it was so inexpensive. Well, I've got about 3 years of use and abuse on it, and it hasn't broke yet.
Then, last winter I became aware that Berkley had a line of Cherrywood HD rods made for ice fishing. So I hit Amazon, and bought a couple.
The Cherrywoods are 100% fiberglass rods with light and strong stainless steel guides. And their full length, cork handles are very comfortable to hold. The rod also includes 2 graphite reel rings.
They aren't as sensitive as some other ice rods, but they make up for it in strength, and have a solid backbone, setting you up for a great hook set. This strength makes the Cherrywoods a great choice when using automatic hook setters, such as a Jaw Jacker. Though, because they aren't very sensitive, I always pair them with spring bobbers, especially when panfishing.
These rods are available in 24" UL, 26" ML, 27" L, and a 30" medium offering. I own the 24" UL and 26" ML. The 24" ultralight, I use for panfishing, but specifically when I'm somewhere that I expect to hook a lot of larger fish, such as bass, because its got enough backbone to keep you from feeling overpowered when you do. The 26" medium light I really like when I'm targeting trout with heavier jigs.
The bottom line is that if you're looking for an inexpensive rod with a slower action, a bit more support, and a solid hook set, check out Berkley's Cherrywood HD.
You can order the Cherrywood HD here.
St. Croix Mojo Series Ice Fishing Rod
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the St. Croix Mojo ice rods. These are definitely the most expensive rods in my list, but they're absolutely top of the line, and quite unique.
The Mojo's utilize an incredibly light weight, flawlessly tapered, solid carbon blank, and stainless steel guides, designed to decrease ice buildup. These rods have a nearly perfect balance of strength and sensitivity.
The finest feature of the Mojo Series are the split grip handles. First off, these handle's have excellent reel seats. The Mojo rods use a twist-grip locking mechanism that keeps the reel completely secure. It never loosens up while you fish. Not even a little bit.
The split grip rod handles combine EVA foam and cork, and are at the cutting edge of ice fishing equipment. This design looks cool, but more importantly, serves a real function.
Notice the grip in the above image. As you can see by the placement of the index finger, this design enables you to be in direct contact with the rod blank while jigging.
A typical handle absorbs most of the sensation of a fish bite, but with the Mojo split handle you can feel very subtle bites right through the blank. This is a clever design feature which really shines through when dealing with neutral, finicky, soft biting fish.
The Mojo series offers rods in a variety of lengths and power ratings. They're all available with the specialized split grip handle. I spent a lot of time fishing with the 24" UL model. Its an excellent panfish rod.
St. Croix also offers a 34" medium heavy, and a 34" heavy rod with an option of a bait casting reel seat. I've recently bought the 34" medium heavy rod with the bait casting handle. I plan to use it this winter for walleye fishing. Its very light and has an extended cork grip. I can't wait to get it into some action.
The Mojos are serious rods for serious ice fisherman. They're more expensive, but in my opinion, are worth the price, and can surely be considered one of the best ice fishing rods.