January 28, 2016
By Cory Schmidt
Been sorting through the ice rod collection the past week. It's something lots of us do while waiting for lakes to chill enough in November and December that we can shuffle out across the first sheet of hardwater. You look at the collection and wonder how on earth you could have possibly accumulated such a pile of ice sticks. They're a little like lures in the sense that even if you haven't used them in a few years, you're absolutely sure there will come a day when each and every one will come in handy. And you really have enjoyed fishing every ice rod and reel in the assortment — they all fish with distinction, bring individual strengths to a given situation, and heft with a comfortable familiarity that brings a smile to your face.
Especially interesting are some of the shorter, smaller and longer rods in the collection. Gotta love the palm rods. These sweet simple sticks fish tiny tungsten jigs and 1- and 2-pound test line with absolute elegance. Really, these great tools from our Russian and Eastern European brethren, take the game of microbait fishing to new levels of precision, including some of the most sensitive strike indicators in existence. And they will absolutely put more panfish on the ice for you. But perhaps the most beautiful thing of all is the pricetags on these hand-size fish sticks. You can buy three or four palm rods plus a half dozen strike indicators for under $50.
On the other side of the equation are the predator rods — 36-, 42- and 48-inch meat rods that not only aid almost any presentation for walleyes, pike, lake trout or catfish, but also greatly amplify your experience when fighting big fish. These longer rods also provide the forgiveness and cushion necessary to prevent slack line, the biggest issue most anglers face when battling hard pulling, fast surging species. If you're stuck inside a shelter, ok, the long wands aren't so great. But for hole hopping on open ice, especially for fishing while standing up, these extended rods are aces.
That's the long and short of the story. But as you'll see below, lots of other exciting things are happening in the ice rod arena. Remember, you can never have too many fishing rods. Might be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that rule applies equally to hardwater.
Akara Palm Rods — akarafishing.com — For presenting dainty jigs to shallow, picky panfish, palm-rodding has become a go-to method, particularly for taking the twist out of line and eliminating spinning jigs. Akara Fishing is leading this trend, featuring an array of simple, lightweight palm rods that can be matched with spring bobbers for specific jig weights. The Akara Balalaika TK0025 consists of a rigid fiberglass blank, matched to an open concept, anti-tangle reel. The reel has a variable drag and includes a foam pad for securing and stowing jigs.
Browse the Akara website and select any number of different specially designed silicone or metallic spring bobbers. You'll be blown away by the sheer number of versions, each built to fish a specific jig weight. The beauty of the system is, you can get a good palm rod and a handful of springs for under $20.
Thorne Bros. Stealth — thornebros.com — There are ice rods, and then there are Thorne Bros. ice rods — surely the finest instruments made for the hardwater angler. Designed and individually built by Thorne Bros.' master rodsmiths, a rod like the 27-inch Quiverstick Stealth is so light and sensitive that detecting subtle panfish bites with it doesn't even require a spring bobber.
Offered as an upgrade on most Thorne Bros rods, including the Quiverstick series, the Stealth adds a 6-inch Syncork contoured handle with a recessed reel seat. Syncork is more comfortable and 30-percent lighter than cork. The upgrade also comes equipped with a Recoil guide set wrapped in solid black — another drastic weight reduction that translates into one amazing ice rod. The 27- and 32-inch Quiverstick Stealth rods retail for $112.99 and $122.99, respectively.
Lunkerhunt First Ice Rods — lunkerhunt.com - Built with a unique flat, vertical blank technology, Lunkerhunt First Ice rods are amazingly flexible and durable, yet surprisingly sensitive and strong. The flat blank construction is quite unlike anything we've seen in an ice rod, or any rod for that matter. But when you pick one up, it seems to work, to make sense. Maybe it wouldn't translate to an open water rod that needs to cast lures. But ice rods don't cast, just jig. So because the blank moves only on an up-and-down axis, some of the inherent "slop" present in certain other ice rods seems to disappear, and you're left with a fluidly moving tip that aids easy, efficient jig strokes.
Tip sections on both the 30-inch medium action and 34-inch medium-heavy are soft enough to present baits naturally and detect delicate strikes. The two length/model options sport blazingly bright colors — fluorescent yellow and hunter orange, respectively. Universal reel seats are adjustable along the length of the composite cork handle for proper weight balance between rod and reel. These are certainly eye-catching ice rods that make you stop and pick one up to try. Props to Lunkerhunt for entering the ice market with some guts and gusto.
St. Croix Legend Gold Ice Rods — stcroixrods.com — Other than the custom ice rod arena, few hardwater sticks fish with such elegance and distinction as St. Croix's Legend series. Starting at the butt section, the rods feature an innovative Neoprene-Skin handle with a Fuji SK2 reel seat — the warmest, most comfortable grip available. Wispy Pac Bay Minima guides do what their name suggests — minimize rod weight. So when you fish one, all you seem to feel is the line, lure and the precision tapered solid carbon blank. You almost entirely forget about the rod guides, at least until you focus on the 24k gold-plated super-finesse, stainless steel strike indicator. These fine springs were designed by gold medal ice fisher, Greg Wilczynski, and can be adjusted to match different line/lure pairings.
Five Legend Gold Ice Rods make up these high-end ice rods, which retail at $90 each. All five rods are 24-inches in length, from UL to medium-heavy power. Separately, the Legend Silver Ice Rod series consists of ten additional rods, from 17- to 48-inches. 24K Gold Super Finesse Springs can also be purchased separately to add to other rods, and are offered in four Power designations, light to heavy.
Frabill Bro Series — frabill.com — If there's an angler on earth who spends more time fishing on ice than the legendary Brian "Bro" Broshdahl, it's news to us. Which is why this series of advanced ice combos heft so pleasantly and fish so effectively. Thirteen different rod and reel combos are all designated for a different specific technique — Micro Light Panfish, Walleye Jigging, Multi-Species Deadstick, etc. The rods are solid graphite, except the Quick-Tip models, which have a composite strike indicator built into the tip. Titanium guides throughout ensure a lightweight, yet durable tool, and ensure seamless line flow. Another sweet extra: select combos, including the Deadstick, include the "Bro Band," a simple but effective component that allows you to keep the bail open while holding your lure at a desired depth.
Bro Series Combos ($69 each) come in two reel options — the Bro Series Spinning Reel or the Straight Line 371 Reel. The 371 Reel features free-spool, for quickly dropping light jigs to the fish. It also has a 3.7:1 retrieve ratio that picks up 22-inches of line per revolution — the most user-friendly straight-line reel available today.
13Fishing Tickle Stick — 13fishing.com — The magic of the Tickle Stick lies in its innovative tip, which 13Fishing says is so sensitive that it "makes spring bobbers obsolete." This special flat tip is made possible by the Tickle Stick's parallel composite construction that increases your ability to detect strikes and by adding more rigidity to the blank by eliminating the spine. This also prevents the rod from rolling and ensures that every hook set drives the hook straight into the top of the fish's mouth.
This interesting rod also has a custom Evolve MYOL reel seat and stainless steel Evolve Fare guides, which are designed to shed water off the line to reduce ice build up. Made in six different models, the Tickle Stick includes several shorter panfish actions, plus a cool 38-inch "Hole Hopper" for stand-up jigging in shallow water. Each rod sells for about $50.
Eagle Claw Tony Roach Power Ice Finesse Rods — eagleclaw.com — What I've always liked about this line of ice rods, designed by ace guide Tony Roach, is that they're offered in extended lengths that match a run and gun style of ice fishing. Longer 36- to 48-inch ice rods are underused and underappreciated by ice anglers today, and if you want to really experience the fight of a big walleye, pike, lake trout, or even an outsized panfish, longer rods rock.
Within Eagle Claw's offering of longer ice rods, several of these Wright & McGill models also include extended split grips, awesome for tucking under your forearm when jigging or fighting a fish. I really like the 36- and 48-inch Power Ice Finesse rods, both featuring a lighter to medium power perfect for jigging downsized walleye spoons, or for fishing big crappies, perch or stocker rainbow trout. Powerful but light S-Curve graphite blanks transition into a composite cork/rubberized split grip. Beyond the weight reduction made possible by this design, the split grip also makes for an extremely well balanced combo, particularly when paired with a lighter spinning reel like an Eagle Claw Tony Roach Power Spin. Rods run $25 each with rod/reel combos priced at $50 each.
Frabill Black Ops Rod — frabill.com — Ice tournaments are no longer a flash in the pan, nor are the leading edge tactics that flow from intense competition. Frabill's answer to the palm rod trend, the Black Ops Rod couples a super light rod blank, titanium components and a high performance composite reel integrated into the rod handle. The ambidextrous oversized reel handle retrieves 8-inches of line per revolution. While the spool assures that line pays out straight and coil free, assuring a super natural jig presentation.
Three different Black Ops models include 18- and 22-inch ultralights and a 26-inch "Quick Tip," with an integrated strike indicator. Each combo and reel is sized to fit perfectly into the palm of your hand, yielding a fishing effect that feels like an extension of your jigging arm. Combos retail for $35 each.
Clam Genz LiteBite Series — clamoutdoors.com — Designed specifically for the panfish angler by the one and only Dave Genz, LiteBite ice combos are made to match pencil-gripping, a Genz trademark method that enhances presentation and bite detection. The rods are built on solid graphite blanks, wrapped with ultra-light wire frame guides and tip. The handle is extra short, tapered and made with EVA foam for comfort and warmth.
The combo also includes a sweet little spinning reel with a 2+1 ball bearing drive system and a convenient one-touch folding reel handle for easily fitting into smaller rod cases. Genz LiteBite combos are offered in three length/actions, including a 21-, 24- and 27-inch light action rod and reel, each retailing for $40.