Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Ice-fishing rods and reels: You’ve come a long way, baby

By Jeremy Smith

Angling Buzz

I’m really fussy about the fishing equipment I use, and I must have it set up perfectly for a given situation. That means a rod that’s the right length, power, and action, a reel of the proper size and speed, and the appropriate line and leader for my fishing presentation. 

While having the right setup aids in catching more fish, it also makes the experience far more enjoyable. To me, there’s nothing worse than fighting with marginal equipment while on the water or ice.

Today’s equipment is outstanding, and many anglers are jumping on board with the same principles of technique-specific setups in open water and for ice fishing. Some of the most avid ice anglers balk at spending $50 to $150 for a new ice-fishing rod, yet they don’t think twice about forking over $150, $300, or more for a technique-specific bass, walleye, or muskie rod for open water. 

Many of us have made the mistake of skimping when it comes to power tools for home maintenance and upgrades. Buyer’s remorse kicks in after we buy a cheap cordless drill or circular saw and end up retiring it because it just doesn’t work all that well. Then we buy the right tool for the job.

Buying the right tool in the first place would have saved us money. This “right-tool” concept definitely applies to ice-fishing rods. While you can catch fish from below the ice with a cheap rod and reel, a decent ice wand can enhance your presentation, help you detect more bites, and allow you to hook and land more fish and enjoy the experience even more.

The hardcore ice crew has been fishing with custom, technique-specific combos for decades, and now manufacturers are supplying these quality tools to the mass marketplace. For instance, in St. Croix’s high-end Croix Custom Ice Series, rods are available from a little 20-inch light, extra-fast Sight Bite rod for sight-fishing panfish to a 42-inch, heavy-moderate stick for giant lakers.

Of course, in between it has perfectly-designed rods for the most popular panfish and walleye techniques. When the market pushes the envelope of high-end equipment, everyone benefits. As designers refine the manufacturing process, top-end technologies trickle down as quality equipment at a lesser cost. 

When it comes to reels, there have been major improvements, too, especially in drag systems and the weight of reels. Many of the reels today are made from ultra-light and ultra-strong carbon fiber. Compare an expensive reel from 15 years ago to a new $50 reel and you’ll likely find the less expensive one is smoother and lighter.

For most of the panfish setups I use, I fish with a size 750 or 1000 reel. Back in the day, the only option was really a size 500. I believe larger reels offer some great benefits, including better line management and smoother drags. 

For a lot of my walleye applications, I’m fishing a 2000 size reel, which might seem big to a lot of ice anglers, but in my opinion, it fishes far better. Here’s the other thing: I fish with Daiwa reels, and the size 1000 and 2000 are exactly the same weight.

The old saying that you get what you pay for applies to ice gear, just as it applies to power tools. Higher-end implements not only are a pleasure to use, but they also almost always have better warranties. 

If it’s been a while since you purchased a new ice-fishing combo, check out what’s new this winter. You won’t be disappointed.

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