Can You Ice Fish With A Normal Rod, Or Do You Need An Ice Fishing Rod?

UPDATED 25 AUGUST 2021

by Bill Laney

If you’re an ice fishing newbie, you may be asking yourself, “can I ice fish with a normal fishing rod?”

Here’s the quick answer:

Yes, you can use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing, but it’s not an ideal solution. Ice fishing poles are much shorter than regular rods on average. A short rod allows you to fish in the confined space of a shelter, and it also enables you to sit close to your fishing hole and your fish finder while fishing vertically below. In addition, a short rod is better for grabbing a fish with your hand when you pull it through the ice. So if you’re going to use a regular fishing rod for this purpose, try to choose one that’s as short as possible.

Hardwater fishing is very different from warm season fishing in many ways, and therefore requires using different gear. If you’re serious about ice fishing, you should definitely invest in getting the proper gear for it. 

However, I understand that you may want to try out ice fishing without being sure that you want to commit to it fully. In that case you could try it out with a regular fishing rod, though it won’t give you an ideal experience. Let me explain the reasons for this in more detail.

Can you use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing?

Yes, but in most cases that won’t give you a great user experience. The reason for this is that regular rods are 5-10 feet long on average, while ice rods are 2-4 feet long on average (for more details, check out our fishing rod length guide).

So, if you happen to have a regular rod that’s on the short side (around 5 to 6 feet long), you could use it for ice fishing. And while this length isn’t ideal for hard water fishing, it would allow you to have the experience of fishing on ice without having to buy an ice pole.

Ice rods & reels tend to be affordably priced on the whole, so in my opinion the easiest solution is just to get a good priced combo to get you started.

Let’s take a more detailed look at why ice rods are different from regular rods.

How long are ice fishing rods?

Ice fishing rods range from 2-4 feet in length, depending on the species you are fishing for:

  • Crappie, Perch, Bluegill: 20-30 inches
  • Walleye & Whitefish: 30-36 inches
  • Northern Pike & Lake Trout: 36-42 inches
  • Muskie:  42-48 inches

The shortest rods are around 2 feet, which is ideal for panfish that don’t put up much of a fight when you pull them up. The shortness of the pole allows you to sit very close to the ice hole, and to feel a bite instantly so you can set the hook right away.

When fishing for bigger and stronger fish such as pike, lake trout, or muskie, it’s better to have a stronger and longer rod that’s up to 4 feet long. This allows you to dip the tip of the rod into the ice hole when you’re fighting a strong fish, which is helpful to avoid line chafing on the bottom edge of the ice hole during a hard fight.

If you don’t want to use a rod, you can opt to use an ice fishing tip up instead, which is usually a little cheaper.

Why are ice fishing rods so small?

Now let’s look at why rods for ice angling are much shorter than regular ones. 

Here are the most important reasons why short rods are better for ice fishing:

1. A short rod allows you to fish inside the confined space of an ice fishing shelter. If you want to fish inside an ice shanty or an ice tent, pretty much the only way to do that is with a very short pole. A long pole would be a huge pain in the butt to work with, even if you could fit it inside the shelter.

2. A short rod allows you to sit close to your ice hole while you’re fishing. This is important if you’re using a flasher or a fishing camera to identify fish. If the water is clear enough, you can even use sight fishing to observe fish directly, and a short rod allows you to present your bait to them while you’re peering down the hole.

3. A short & light rod gives you much more sensitivity in terms of feeling a subtle bite, which is ideal for panfish. Ice anglers often hold a light ice rod like a pen between the thumb and index finger while they are jigging or moving the bait up and down. This gives maximum sensitivity to feel what’s going on with the lure, enabling you to sense even the slightest nibble.

4. A short rod is better for grabbing a fish with your free hand when you pull it up to the surface of your ice hole. Grabbing a fish with your hand is the best way to land most fish while ice fishing, and it’s trickier to accomplish this with a long pole.

As mentioned, a great way to catch fish in relatively shallow water is by viewing them directly underneath your ice hole, and presenting your bait to them while you’re watching. This requires a very short ice rod that’s 20-24 inches long, and you can’t do this with a long rod, since you need to sit right on top of your fishing hole while you peer into it.

Ice fishing rods are also built to be highly sensitive, allowing you to feel every single tremor in your line, with a brightly colored tip that’s sensitive enough to quiver as soon as a fish takes the bait. This is a great way to observe when you get a bite, which is harder with a conventional model.

Taken together, these factors make shorter rods much better than longer models for ice fishing, and using a short ice rod translates into a much better user experience than using a regular one.

See also: What is the best way to ice fish for walleye?

Can you adapt or modify a regular fishing rod for ice fishing?

Yes, absolutely. One possibility for this is to use the top half of a regular fishing rod, and to glue a handle to it with epoxy. If you have a one piece model, you’ll need to cut off the top half of your rod, and then glue it to the handle. If you have a two piece model, just take the top half as is, and glue on a handle.

This is a cheap way to adapt a regular rod for ice fishing, but obviously you won’t be able to use it for its original purpose anymore. So if you have an old rod that you never use, this could be an excellent way to put it to good use.

Also, if you decide to ice fish regularly, it’s also good to have several rods that you can set up on multiple holes at the same time, so there’s no harm in having one or two extra.

Can you use a regular fishing reel for ice fishing?

Yes, absolutely – you can use a regular spinning reel for ice fishing. Small spinning reel sizes from 1000 to 3000 are ideal for hard water fishing. You should use the smallest ones (1000 – 2000) for panfish, and the larger sized models (2500 – 3000) for bigger fish such as walleye, pike and lake trout.

Anglers often ask me if ice fishing reels are different from regular ones, and the answer is no they aren’t. Spinning reels are the most common types of fishing reels used for hard water fishing, and the models used are similar to the ones you would use during the warm season. However, they needn’t be as expensive as some of the high end spinning reels used for summer fishing. 

How to choose the best ice fishing rod and reel

If you’re a beginner, the best way to start would be to buy one of the affordable ice fishing rod and reel combos. You can get good ones starting around $30 (take a look at the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 combo) , and their performance is absolutely fine to get you started catching some decent sized fish on ice. 

If you already have a suitable spinning reel, you just need to get is an ice fishing rod, and with reasonably good ones starting off at $15 (take a look at the Shakespeare Wild Series), you really won’t have to break your bank account in order to get one.

See also: Pike ice fishing tips

Final remarks

Hopefully this article has convinced you that it’s worth getting a specialized ice rod, instead of trying to use your regular rod, especially since they start at a very affordable price range. Ice fishing is a wonderful sport if you have the right gear to do it with.

If you’re new to ice fishing, probably the best way to start is to find an experienced ice angler, or even a professional ice fishing guide to go with. This is highly advisable because it’s essential to learn about ice fishing safety before you do anything else on the ice.

If you want to know more before you start, check out our beginners ice fishing guide.

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