The criteria for selecting the best rod and reel combos for ice fishing differ from combos for open water. The main reason is that there is NO casting involved; just drop the bait or lure down a hole. Another way to measure an ice fishing combo is the “action.” What species you are targeting, the rod sensitivity, and how much and where it bends can affect your fishing success on hard water.
Here are some things to consider when choosing the best ice fishing rod and reel combo for you:
• “Glass” (Fiberglas) ice fishing rods are generally thought of as ultra light action. These are great for smaller fish such as sunfish, crappie, and yellow perch. Look for a rod with a sensitive tip that allows for detection of tiny nibbles, but yet is rigid enough near the handle to assist with a quick hook set.
• Carbon fiber rods provide a little more power but slightly less of a soft tip. With a light or medium light action, they can handle larger fish such as walleye, pike, and bass in addition to the smaller species.
• Titanium. There is even an ice fishing rod that has a retractable titanium tip. This nifty feature lets the angler detect the slightest bite on tiny bait with this resilient material that has no memory, yet is built into a carbon rod that lets you jig heavy spoons off the bottom and handle the biggest fish through the ice.
• Spinning. This is found on most ice fishing rod and reel combos. It is a great all-around reel for any type of rod. Make sure it has a good drag control in case you connect with some really large brute.
• Inline. These reels may look a little odd but prevent line twist, which can be an issue with spinning reels. The line rolls straight off the reel instead of uncoiling. Since ice fishing uses very light line, any weakness such as excessive line twisting or a nick from scraping the ice, is magnified.
• None. Many ice fishermen may not even use the drag features of their reel, preferring to hand line the fish after the initial hook set. If the fish runs, they just let the line slide through their gloves or frigid fingers. Once the fish is landed, because no line was reeled in, the angler can drop the bait back to the exact depth, ready to catch the next fish.
What is “best” for you may not be the best for another angler. Most of the factors such as the rod length (23”-30”), handle material (cork or EVA), or how you grip the rod (“pencil” or standard), are a matter of personal preference. It is kind of tough to tell how a combo will work on the frozen lake by pretending in a store aisle. If you didn’t get an ice fishing rod and reel combo over the holidays, maybe borrow one from your slacker neighbor to see if it feels right. And before you go, make sure you’ve got your new fishing license.
Andy Whitcomb is an award-winning freelance writer, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad living in Pennsylvania. Visit him at www.justkeepreeling.com