Best Ice Fishing Rods

Updated April 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

27 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
450 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Shopping guide for best ice fishing rods

Last Updated April 2020

You can try ice fishing with your existing freshwater or saltwater rod, but you’re likely to struggle and be disappointed. As with every sport, doing it well and enjoying it to the fullest relies on having the right equipment.

Visually, ice fishing rods are much shorter than their standard counterpart since with a hole in the ice, you’re always pretty close to the action. But just because they’re smaller, it doesn’t mean they are any less complex. There are different construction materials and different actions, and more advanced models may be designed for a particular group of fish or a single fishing technique.

Choosing the right ice fishing rod is far from straightforward, so we’ve investigated both traditional favorites, as well as the latest developments to put together a shortlist of recommendations that provide solutions for all budgets. We’ve also compiled a thorough buyer’s guide to give you a detailed look at all the important aspects you’ll need to consider.

With any kind of fishing, local knowledge makes a big difference. Tackle shops in the area are likely more than just a source of bait and equipment — they will probably know where the ice is safe and where it isn’t.

Key considerations

If you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to look for a general-purpose ice fishing rod, but if you think you’ll carry on with the sport, that’s probably false economy. Good ice fishing rods tend to be focused on small groups of species. So, the rod that’s best for panfish won’t be nearly as effective when fishing for powerful muskie. It’s important to understand the differences at the outset. Keen ice anglers eventually end up with a number of rods. Fortunately, most aren’t expensive, so you won’t need to break the bank to put together a versatile collection.

Power and action

Power defines the size of fish you’ll be taking on, from ultra-light for panfish to light and medium rods for bass and walleye to heavy rods for muskie.

Action tells you the sensitivity.

  • Slow (or heavy) rods bend from the bottom but lack much feel and aren’t often used in ice fishing.
  • Medium rods bend from the middle — it’s often the action you’ll find in a general-purpose rod. You’ll get a clear indication of a strong bite, but they lack flexibility.
  • Fast and ultra-fast rods bend right at the tip and are ice fishing favorites. In the cold, fish can be sluggish and bites are less distinct. As your skill develops, these rods allow you to feel every nibble.


There is an exception to the above — an attachment called a spring bobber, which will identify very light bites. Some ice anglers use them on heavy and medium rods. It’s a matter of personal preference, as so many things are with fishing tackle.

Length

The length of your ice fishing rod also has an impact. Short rods — 24 inches, for example — are compact and easy to carry but don’t have a lot of give. You would think that would make them more powerful, and better able to handle large fish, but without a degree of flex, the most likely result is that the line will break. A longer rod will absorb the impact of striking a larger fish and allow you to play it successfully. Still, with ice fishing rods, a little extra length makes a lot of difference. A length of 30 inches makes for a comparatively long rod, and they seldom go beyond 36 inches.

EXPERT TIP

Gas- and battery-powered augers make light work of drilling a hole but are expensive and a lot of extra weight to carry. A hand auger is light, compact, quiet, and kinder to the environment.


Staff  | BestReviews

Materials

The two main materials used to make ice fishing rods are fiberglass and carbon fiber (also called graphite, though this is technically inaccurate).

Fiberglass is the cheaper option and is very durable, though it’s a little heavier than carbon fiber. While it bends predictably, it doesn’t have quite the sensitivity of carbon fiber, particularly where it gets thinner at the tip.

Fast and ultra-fast rods are invariably carbon fiber. It’s light and immensely strong directionally — along its length — but it is more fragile if struck or dropped and becomes more so as the temperature drops. Nevertheless, for all but the cheapest ice fishing rods, carbon fiber is the material of choice.

Eyes

Eyes (line guides) are almost always stainless steel, which doesn’t rust. Zirconium (also rust resistant) is sometimes used for inserts, and on high-end rods you might find titanium. These are better at resisting the abrasion from braided line, so it runs more smoothly. In freshwater and saltwater fishing, the reduced friction can result in longer casts — but obviously that’s not so big of a deal with ice fishing.

Rod butts

Rod butts are generally plastic and may have rubberised or cork inserts for added comfort — though with gloves on, the difference is limited. One advantage cork has for some ice anglers is that it provides somewhere to set the hook temporarily, while they’re sorting bait or changing lures.

DID YOU KNOW?

People often go ice fishing for panfish. This is not a specific breed — it’s anything edible that will fit in the frying pan!

Accessories

Ice auger: Eskimo Hand Auger
Before you can start ice fishing, you need a hole, so an ice auger is just about indispensable. This model has dual stainless steel blades, so they stay sharp longer and won’t rust. It’s available in 6-, 7- and 8-inch diameters and separates into 2 pieces for easy portability.

Tip up: Bocraft Ice Fishing Tip Up
Most keen ice anglers will fish more than one hole, but it’s difficult to watch several rods at the same time. The solution is this high quality device that holds your rod, and alerts you with a flag when you have a bite. It’s light, easy to use, and inexpensive.

Ice fishing rod prices

Inexpensive: Cheap ice fishing rods aren’t hard to find, and for under $20 you can get rod and reel combinations that are not just an ideal low-cost introduction to the sport but should also last many years.

Mid-range: You’ll find a wide range of quality ice fishing rods between $25 and $40, many with matching reels. Their affordability means ice anglers often own two or three and fish multiple holes at the same time.

Expensive: The few ice fishing rods that exceed $40 are usually innovative designs or tactic specific — designed solely for jigging or for trout, for example. The ones we looked at reached up to $75, and reels are not included.

EXPERT TIP

You need to keep your hands warm, but traditional gloves restrict movement. Proper ice fishing gloves have “cut” fingers — tips that can be slipped off temporarily so you can tie hooks, etc.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

It’s surprising how easily people get hooked on ice fishing. However, ice surfaces are unpredictable, so you need to take a few precautions.

  • There’s safety in numbers. Fish with a friend or two so you can look out for each other.
  • Even if you’ve got company, make sure someone knows where you’re going in case you break down in the middle of nowhere. Take your cell phone and, if you’ve got one, a two-way radio, as not everywhere has cell coverage.
  • Always wear proper cold weather gear. Hypothermia and frostbite can sneak up on you. They dull your senses, leading to accidents, and you could even lose fingers and toes.
  • If you’re not sure about the ice, never risk it. In sub-zero water you can be unconscious in minutes.
  • If you’re using a shelter and a gas heater, make sure there’s plenty of ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide build up. It’s invisible and has no smell but can be lethal.
  • It’s best not to take cars or trucks on the ice, but if you have to, keep the windows down and your belt unbuckled so you can get out fast if the ice fails.

Other products we considered

There are a few other rods that didn’t make our top picks but are still worth mentioning.

If you want to try ice fishing on the cheap, the Berkley Cherrywood Ice Fishing Spinning Combo is the solution. It’s a compact, ultra-light rod and reel that gets you going for very little money.

13 Fishing is fast building a stellar reputation for fine ice fishing rods, and their 27” Tickle Stick has some unique features. It’s made of linear fibers, and ends in a completely flat tip which, the manufacturer says, offers unrivaled levels of sensitivity. Judging by its popularity, a lot of anglers agree.

The St. Croix Avid Jigging Rod is a highly specific rod focused on one of the favorite ice fishing tactics. It’s super-sensitive from precision tip to handle and comes from a company known for their build quality.

Fish can feel vibrations through the water. If you’re fishing at depth, it’s not a problem, but if you’re fishing shallow waters, you should move with as much stealth as possible.

FAQ

Q. Can I go ice fishing anywhere the water is frozen?
A.
No. Each state has its own regulations — and they don’t just cover rivers and lakes but also how you can fish (things like limiting the number of hooks on the same line, for example). You risk a heavy fine if you don’t comply, so always check local statutes. Tackle shops are often a good source of information.
 

Q. What’s the best size for an ice hole?
A.
Your ice fishing hole can be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches across. A lot depends on your auger, of course. Many argue that 8 inches is the optimum size — it’s not too difficult to cut with a hand auger, it provides room to play the fish, and it’s big enough to get a pretty sizable catch out of.
 

Q. Do I need special line for ice fishing?
A.
It’s highly recommended. Manufacturers use different formulations for ice fishing line to cope with the drop in temperature. Standard line can be more brittle, resulting in lost fish. As to which type of line, that’s a subject that anglers love to debate. Your style of fishing has a big impact, though braid and fluorocarbon tend to be more popular than mono because of their added sensitivity.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Digital Content Producer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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