With winter about to make it’s appearance across Ontario, ice anglers are beginning to feel the excitement as open water lakes slowly begin their frosty transformation. Although it may be a month or two away, getting your equipment together now will save you frustration and headaches further on down the line. One of the most important aspects of hard water fishing is the rod itself. Using the appropriate style for the chosen application will help you land more fish this season – plain and simple.
The ‘Open Water’ Mentality
I see it time and time again on the ice each year. Anglers using the wrong kind of rods, or better still, pieces of apparatus that aren’t even rods in the first place! From the plastic fad rods that were popular a few years back to exceptionally thick chunks of wood – you may luck into the odd fish, but the potential can be so much greater when utilizing the proper gear.
Think of ice fishing in terms of open water fishing. You certainly wouldn’t troll for musky with an ultralight rod, much in the same way that you wouldn’t target perch with a flipping stick. For unknown reasons, when some people step on the ice, all the rules of fishing equipment are forgotten, and that can be a costly error in judgment.
Present-day ice fishing rods are technologically the best they have ever been. They come in a myriad of lengths, weights and thickness, and are tailor-made for different fish species and specific applications. In fact, ice rods are almost identical to their larger counterparts, in every way other than size and price.
Graphite is the way to go for ice sticks, offering the user the most sensitivity for detecting what is happening below the ice. Although premium glass blanks have improved greatly over the years, and certainly are stronger than graphite, they won’t allow you to feel a strike quite as well. For light biters or tiny lures, it has to be graphite.
The Length Factor
Ice rods come in a variety of lengths, and deciding on what species you are chasing, will help you narrow down the selection process. Short rods work best inside a hut, for obvious reasons, whereas longer rods will provide greater power for hooksets, yet are only viable on the open ice.
For panfish, a rod that falls between 20 and 30-inches is generally best. The shorter size will allow you to have better control over micro-sized lures, and will also transmit the fight of the fish much better.
When chasing walleye, an ice stick that measures 24 to 36-inches is the norm. The longer length will assist in driving the hook into bony mouths, while also allowing the angler to play the fish perfectly.
Salmon and trout require a longer rod in comparison to any other species. Trying to fight a laker with a short rod is asking for trouble, as is setting that hook on the initial strike. Look for a style between 36 and 42-inches in length.
As for pike, choosing a rod that falls somewhere between the walleye and trout length would be your best bet, with 36-inches being a great compromise.
The Positives of Power
The amount of force necessary to bend a rod is the definition of power. The three main categories ice rods fall into are light, medium and heavy, with a number of combinations found along the way.
Think of power in terms of the three main species of fish – panfish, walleye and trout/pike. The larger and more fight a fish can put up, the heavier the action should be.
For instance, panfish should be targeted with an ultralight or light-action rod, dependant on the size of the bait or lure that you are using. For walleye, light jigging applications will respond best with a medium-light action rod, whereas heavier jigs or spoons would fall under the medium-action category.
As for trout and pike, a medium-heavy to heavy rod will get the job done best.
The Action Plan
The speed or action of a rod is measured according to where it bends, generally in regard to the degree of taper from tip to butt. The three main speeds of ice rods are fast, medium and slow.
A fast rod bends mainly at the tip, which allows quick hooksets and excellent feel and vibration when jigging. For panfish, an extra-fast or fast tip is preferred, while walleye hunters should go for a fast to medium-fast setup, as should those in search of trout.
Medium speed ice rods bend at the midsection. This action is good for using baits that don’t require exact feel, or when using the rod as a stationary set line. Using a rod of this style as a dead-sticking setup for walleye can be advantageous.
If the rod bends throughout the entire length, then it is classed as a slow rod. For the most part, at least with the species listed, this style of rod wouldn’t be necessary.
For the most part, high-quality cork handles reign supreme for ice fishing. Sensitivity is greatly enhanced through cork, allowing you to feel the precise action your lure is performing below the hole. Cork is also warmer to grip than plastic and/or metal, allowing a more comfortable time for your hands when out on the ice.
Solid maple handles also offer great sensitivity, and many manufacturers are starting to go with this trend. Although I haven’t personally used a handle of this type in the past, I plan on testing a variety out this coming season.
When choosing an ice rod, pay particular attention to the line guides. They should be spaced evenly across the length of the rod, starting more than halfway up from the butt. Oversized guides work well for fishing during the winter, as ice build-up can be kept to a minimum, ensuring a clear path for your line to flow through.
Inferior or cheap-looking guides will only lead to problems, and should definitely be avoided.
As you can see, using the right equipment is paramount for fishing success. Although many of the ice rods may appear similar in nature, choosing the correct one for your style of fishing will lead you on your way to icing more fish this season.
Test drive a new ice stick – you’ll be certainly glad you did!
By…..Justin Hoffman. You can see more of Justins work at www.justinhoffmanoutdoors.com