All Wrapped up for Ice Fishing
In the winter of 1995, I went out on Lower Pine Lake loaded for bear. I had my drywall mud bucket of Schooley poles, a small selection of lead teardrops, some waxes, a hand auger, a skimmer, and a lead weight clipped to my zipper. This was the average arsenal of pert near every ice angler in north-central Iowa at the time. With the vast improvement in gear and technology, my bucket is now a sled, my lead teardrops are now multiple boxes of the finest tungsten jigs and spoons available, my lead weight is now a Livescope, and my auger runs with a battery drill. I will make the educated assumption that no other outdoor industry has progressed as much as fishing has since 1995. I will also argue that ice fishing has progressed substantially more than open-water fishing. The biggest change is the available selection of quality rods and reels, and what a welcomed change.
Ice Fishing Rod
I think nearly every major rod manufacturer now has a series of Ice rods. All are available in every action and speed of their open-water cousins. Noodles, power noodles, graphite, carbon fiber and even hybrid rods are available for every angler and every style of fishing. With this comes countless custom rod builders as well. This can make selection a bit tough. Keep in mind that when fishing hard water, we want to choose a rod for the jig or spoon that we intend to use on it; we want the tip to "set" just right. For example, I use a 32-inch power noodle probably 75% of the time when I'm chasing most panfish. I also use a 4mm tungsten jig about 75% of the time. The power noodle is perfect for this. If I'm dropping a 1/4 oz jigging minnow for walleye, I'm going to select a rod suitable for that. You all know this. This is not front-page news. Bear with me, and I promise you'll get something from this.
Ice Fishing Reels
Along with rods comes an assortment of fishing reels. Our two biggest (and best) options are in-lines and spinning. I know of a few guys that fish lakers and other big fish with bait casters. They work, too, but I recommend using a rod designed for those reels because when building rods, the eyelets are placed with the natural spine of the blank in a position suitable for spinning or inline reels, and using them upside down will cause the blank to twist.
Reels have been my demise. They each probably have their place. I will openly admit that inline reels are cool, and I have tried all of them. Going back to choosing the combination best suited for the jig being used, I tend to struggle with inline reels. I forget to adjust the drop speed, and then I'm on the ice, with cold fingers, fighting the wind to fix the mess I created by forgetting. Cold fingers and small parts don't always mix. I have switched out almost all my inline reels for spinning. I do have two power noodles set up with inline reels that I use in water under 15 feet with light droppers. Those have been changed out through the years also due to design flaws I have caught. I settled on the newer Piscifun ICX Frost in-lines. I think they are by far the best design currently on the market. Hell… I will double down on that. I know they are the best design currently available. The drop speed is easy to access with gloved hands, and the drag is smoother and stronger than anybody else's. The other benefit to in-lines is that they don't twist while fishing a vertical presentation like spinning reels do. This is the reason I keep a couple around for finessing crappies and bluegill.
Spinning Reels for Ice Fishing
I started converting over to spinning reels after our 2021 ice season. I was just tired of pulling spools to untangle the line that constantly wound up behind the spool. This is a stressor for me. Nobody needs additional stressors while on the ice. Stress builds stress. Untangling in lines made cold fingers and cold toes that caused shivering. Cold is the most important stressor to avoid while on the ice, so I guess you can say in-lines make me cold.
Spinning reels are just easier for me. I can control the speed of the drop and watch my Screen to hit the precise spot. I like the stronger drags and the smoothness of the reels. The open spool makes pulling any twists or tangles out a piece of cake, too. I have tried several brands but have switched everything out to various Piscifun 500 or 1000-size reels. I am fond of the quality, and it's really tough to beat the price. I opened them all and cleaned the factory oil out. I use a cold-weather lubricant like the WD-40 Specialist gel lubricant. It's good to go from -100 F to 500F, and I don't plan on fishing in either of those temps! The only drawback to spinning reels is the inevitable line twists that occur from vertical jigging. This brings us to my last topic. Line choice and line management.
ice fishing lines
The line is probably my second nemesis. So many choices, and none are perfect. I like monofilament best but have started drifting more towards braid and fluorocarbons. I especially like the Sufix Advance mono in hi-vis orange or yellow. I use a 6-pound test on almost all my panfish setups. I know, I know, 6- pounds is too heavy. I use the same 6-pound line on my walleye rods as a backer, then use 75 yards of the Sufix ice braid after that. I use the heavier, colored line because I can see it if it goes slack on an up-bite, and I can see it in the wind and on the ice. These are what I have been using on all my reels for at least the last three years.
The sure stop to line twists is a #4 swivel above whatever size fluorocarbon leader I am using. The #4 swivels will reel through the eyelets on all of my ice rods with no issues at all. I use Sufix Invisaline fluorocarbon for my leaders. I carry 2, 4 and 8- pound spools in my rod locker at all times. I usually start with about a 24-inch leader and replace the entire thing once it's about a foot long. Most seasons, I don't need to replace my leader at all because I only need to use a few of those designer jigs and spoons I carry, Just Like the rest of you!