Ice fishing is a great way to target popular ice-fishing species ranging from panfish to walleye and trout or big lake trout, salmon, or steelhead, but you need the best ice fishing rods suitable for the species you are targeting.
Quality ice rods are essential equipment that enables you to use a spinning reel to catch your favorite fish through the ice.
The best ice fishing rod length is shorter than what you would use for even an ultralight setup during the spring and summer. Ice fishing rods are one-piece and rated for ultralight through heavy power for catching bigger fish. The action is fast so the rod can absorb a lot of the power and weight of a larger fish.
The three best ice fishing rods are:
- FishUSA Flagship Ice Rod: Best Overall Ice Fishing Rod – Sizes for all species.
- Fenwick HMG Ice Spinning Rod: Best Big Fish Rod – Comes in Medium Heavy.
- HT Enterprises Ice Blue Super Flex Ice Fishing Rod – Most Popular Ice Rod and For Panfish.
The Importance of Sensitivity in The Best Ice Fishing Rods
It’s very important to pay attention to the tip of an ice fishing rod while you have a line in the water. Fish seldom hit hard during the winter because the water is ice cold.
You need a very sensitive tip that detects even the lightest of nibbles by bobbing up and down. You can add especially sensitive bite detectors that will bend downward when a fish takes an interest in your bait or lure. Using very good ice fishing lines also helps.
There’s no real secret to ensuring a successful catch while ice fishing. You need to use good ice fishing baits or and good ice fishing lures that attract the particular species of fish that you are trying to catch through the ice.
When I am targeting panfish, I use minnows for crappie and perch and waxworms for bluegill. I like to use a glow-in-the-dark teardrop ice-fishing lure to help attract fish in the dark water below the snow-covered ice.
Versatility: Catering to Different Types of Fish
Ice fishing rods generally are used to catch panfish using an ultralight setup with a spinning reel or a dedicated ice-fishing reel. Some older models are fiberglass poles with a round plastic takeup reel that you don’t really use to reel in the line.
Instead, you find your preferred depth, place a plastic pin that stops the line from going deeper, and pull up on the ice fishing rod and line when you have a fish on the line.
You will need a more durable rod if you are fishing for larger species, like walleye or pike, with an ice fishing rod. The best ice fishing rods are exceptionally durable, have lots of action, and might have between three and five eyelets and a reel seat for a spinning reel.
When you are targeting lake trout, northern pike, and other large species, you will need at least a medium rod power paired with a reel that can handle heavier fish and wear them out with a quality drag system.
Budget-Friendly vs. Premium Rods: What’s the Difference?
One of the great things about ice fishing rods is that even the best ones don’t cost a lot of money. If you have a $100 budget could buy two or three rods and reels and have money left over to buy fishing line and lures.
Here are some of the respective advantages of budget vs. premium ice fishing rods:
Features of budget rods
Budget ice fishing rods are simple fiberglass rods with three of four eyelets and a tip that might include a strike indicator. They are the best ice fishing rods for catching panfish and keep the line on either a simple metal bracket around which you wrap the fishing line or a round plastic reel that has a plastic pin and hole so you can mark your preferred depth.
If the budget ice rod doesn’t come with a strike indicator, it’s best to add one so you can see when a panfish is nibbling on the bait or lure. Then you set the hook and land the fish by pulling the line up by hand or backing up until the fish is out of the water, then you remove the hook, add more bait if needed, and put the line back in the water at the same depth so you can catch the next fish.
Advantages of investing in premium rods
Premium rods are important for targeting larger fish and having the ability to land the occasional predator fish that you aren’t targeting but that still takes your line. You might be fishing for crappie or perch with minnows, but a northern pike might decide to take your bait.
Using a premium ice rod and reel combo gives you a better chance of landing the big fish.
A premium ice rod is much more affordable than a premium rod that you would use during the summer months because the ice rod is much shorter and just one piece with fewer eyelets. The best ice fishing rods enable you to change reels as needed to better target your prey while ice fishing.
Pro Tip: If you are going to use a good ice rod, make sure it’s paired up with a good ice fishing reel.
Our Expert Recommendations For The Top 5 Ice Fishing Rods
Let’s take a quick look at some of the best ice fishing rods for the upcoming winter:
1. FishUSA Flagship Ice Rod: Best Overall Ice Fishing Rod
This is a very good ice fishing rod that is well-built with a durable graphite blank which provides great sensitivity and a solid backbone.
I would recommend both the 27UL for panfish and the 30L for a general-purpose ice fishing rod.
I like the cork-beveled split handle and the heavier fly guides. The heavy-duty hook keeper, rubber reel bands, bright colored rid tip, and stainless steel Seaguide guides are a bonus.
Combined with great reviews from user, this is also a great value for the money and that’s hard to beat, which is why I think this rod is the best overall ice fishing rod.
2. Fenwick HMG Ice Spinning Rod – Best Big Fish Rod
The HMG is one of the best ice fishing rods for pulling big fish through the ice.
It’s made from a carbon blank that is sensitive and strong and has five stainless steel guides with aluminum-oxide inserts, a cork handle, and an ergonomic reel seat.
The rods are available in several lengths from 26 inches to 38 inches, and in medium-light, medium, and -medium-heavy power.
3. HT Enterprises Ice Blue Super Flex Ice Fishing Rod – Most Popular
This rod is by far the most popular panfish ice fishing rod but has enough backbone to get the occasional four or five-pounder in. It is sensitive and the longest 36 inch model is nice for keeping out of site over the hole.
I really like the blue rod blank and orange rod tip which make it easier to see in the snow. It is an ultralight ice rod.
It also comes with fly rod snake eye rod guides which do not ice up as easily as regular rod guides. Lastly, it is very inexpensive so it’s a great rod for guys that need a lot of rods to cover a lot of holes.
4. Clam: Jason Mitchell Dead Meat Rod
This is another good ice fishing rod but this one has a fiberglass blank with medium power, five stainless steel guides, and a high-visibility tip to help you see strikes and set the hook.
Many anglers like the feel of fighting fish on fiberglass rods.
The rod comes with a cork handle and is available in 28- 32- and 36-inch lengths.
5. Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Fishing Rod
A good durable ice fishing rod that gets very good user reviews.
I use this ice rod in the medium action for walleye and trout but the medium heavy is better for pike and steelhead or bigger fish.
It has a good soft, sensitive tip that transitions nicely to the backbone. I love the twist lock handles reel seat, which makes swapping out reels easy and quick without the need for rod tape or sliding sleeves.
Other Recommended Ice Fishing Rods
To be sure I covered all the best rods for ice fishing, I researched online and found a bunch of other ice fishing rods that other are recommending.
As a professional guide for over 20 years, it’s not uncommon for me to see rods and reels being used or being recommended that I would never use or recommend. But to save you from wasting time searching other sites, I’ve listed them here.
Abu Garcia: Vendetta Ice Spinning Rod
Solid carbon blanks, stainless steel eyelets, and an EVA foam grip make the Vendatta comfortable and effective. Lengths range from 25 inches to 30 inches and rod powers in light, medium-light, medium, and medium-heavy.
Thorne Bros.: Custom Ice Rod
You can order the perfect ice fishing rod by choosing among a variety of options for grips, blanks, lengths, power ratings, and much more while buying a truly custom ice rod.
Shimano: Sienna Ice Combo – Best Ice Rod Combo
The spinning combo for ice fishing pairs Shimano’s FG-series spinning reel with your choice of ultra-light or medium-light power with a high-visibility tip to detect strikes.
Berkley: Lightning Ice Combo
A medium-light fiberglass rod with five guides, a cork handle, and a four-bearing spinning reel make the Lightning Ice Combo a great ice fishing value. You get an ice rod in your choice of 24- or 28-inch lengths with a great spinning reel whose handle collapses with just a touch of your finger.
13 Fishing: Microtech Walleye Combo
The Walleye Combo is recommended as one of the best ice-fishing setups for catching walleye with a carbon fiber ice rod with four eyelets and a cork grip. It’s available in medium or medium-heavy power in 26-, 28- or 36-inch rod lengths. It is paired with a three-ball-bearing spinning reel.
Frabill: Bro Series Straight Line Combo-28 Noodle
Angler and the other websites claim you’ll have fun catching panfish with the best ice-fishing rod combo for smaller fish species with this noodle rod that is paired with an inline ice-fishing reel.
Eagle Claw: EC2.5 Ice Rod
You can buy the 28-inch EC2.5 ice rod by itself or as a combo with an ice fishing reel. The ice fishing rod has a solid carbon blank, a sturdy reel seat, and an EVA foam grip. The ice rod has six eyelets and is available in medium-light power.
Fiblink: Graphite Ice Fishing Rod
A graphite blank that is 24 inches for the medium-light or 30 inches for the medium-power rod makes the Fiblink ideal for bigger fish. It has five eyelets, a cork handle, and an ergonomic reel seat.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Ice Fishing Rod
Rod length and action
If you are fishing on the ice you can use a longer rod than you would inside an ice shanty. You should match the action and rod length for the fish you are targeting. A big fish needs a more powerful rod with lots of action, while panfish are easy enough to pull in with a noodle rod or budget ice rods with fiberglass blanks. If you are targeting big fish, you need a little more length and medium-light to medium-heavy rod power.
You can’t choose the best ice fishing rods and reels without knowing the type of fish you are trying to catch. A general rule of thumb is ultra-light ice rods for panfish, medium-light ice rods for walleye, and medium to medium-heavy ice rods for lakers and other big fish.
Fishing location and conditions
You should know which bodies of water contain the type of fish that you want to catch and match your ice-fishing gear to the location and conditions. Winter fishing means cold weather and slowly moving fish and light bites, so you want ice rods that will detect subtle bites with a very sensitive tip.
FAQs: Common Questions About Ice Fishing Rods
Why can’t I use my regular fishing rod for ice fishing?
If you’ve ever jigged for walleye or other fish, you have a good idea of what you need to do to catch fish through the ice. Ice fishing doesn’t require a long rod because you can’t cast the line and lure. Instead, you drop the lure or bait through a hole in the ice and try to catch fish. A good ice fishing rod is between about 2 and 3 feet in length and has plenty of flexibility and durability to land a bigger fish.
You could use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing, but it won’t work as well as a dedicated ice fishing rod that is designed for catching fish through the ice. Even a relatively short ultralight of 4’8″ is too long for ice fishing because you need to keep a close eye on the action at the rod tip. The best ice fishing rod has a very sensitive rod tip that will tell you when a fish is nibbling on the line.
If you ever use an ice shanty, you will need a short ice fishing rod to fit properly and not get in the way like a longer spinning rod or baitcasting rod would. There is a good chance that you could use your regular spinning reel or even a baitcaster, but the rod must be no more than about three feet in length to fit comfortably inside an ice shanty.
What other gear is essential for ice fishing?
My essential ice-fishing gear includes teardrop ice-fishing lures, including some that glow in the dark. A rod holder keeps the rod and reel positioned perfectly at the hole so I can grab it quickly when a fish bites. Forceps will help remove the hook faster and get your line back in the water.
A fish finder can help you find the depth, but I also use a clip-on weight that I use to find the bottom, mark it, and then fish a foot or two off of it. If no fish bite after a reasonable amount of time, I raise the lure a bit higher until I find the fish or move to another hole.
You also should have an ice auger or at least an ice spud that doubles as a way to check ice thickness while you are walking on it. An ice scooper will clear the ice shavings and pieces from the fishing hole. You can use a lantern, propane heater, and a seat to stay comfortable while on the ice.