By Daryl Bauer
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
LINCOLN, Neb. – Venture to a tackle shop where ice-fishing gear is on display and you will see aisles filled with ice-fishing rods and reels. The first thing you will notice about that equipment is the length. The rods are short. They are short to allow anglers to fish closer to their hole.
However, if you are just getting started ice-fishing, do not think you have to purchase specialized ice-fishing rods and reels. You can use some of the rods and reels you already own. You will just stand a little farther from the hole.
Generally, you will want to use lighter lines and corresponding rods and reels to catch fish through the ice. Waters tend to be clearer under the ice, and fish tend to feed less in the colder water. Therefore, lighter lines, and the tackle needed to handle those lighter lines and smaller baits, are most appropriate for ice-fishing.
For panfish, lines as light as 2- and even 1-pound test may be needed to catch fish in the clearest water. However, 4- and 6-pound test lines are good all-purpose lines for most panfish caught through the ice. Heavier lines may be appropriate for larger predator fish like bass and walleyes, but even 6-, 8-, and 10-pound test lines will work for almost all situations. Any lines heavier than that usually will only be used for specialized ice-fishing gear like tip-ups.
If you are going to use some of the open-water gear you already own, you will probably want to select the lightest and shortest to get started. Also consider that you might be able to take retired gear and even broken rods and modify them for use on the ice.
If you are ready to invest in rods and reels specifically designed for ice-fishing, you will find a variety of options and prices. You do not have to spend a lot of money to get started, and rod-and-reel combinations are good starter outfits. Fiberglass rods and matching reels can be relatively inexpensive and work very well. Keep in mind that the main variables to consider are length of the rod, weight and action. Stay on the light side for panfish, tackle up to heavier rods with stiffer actions for larger fish, but even then think light for ice-fishing.
All ice-fishing rods are relatively short, but it is all relative. The shortest rods are best for fishing inside shelters, while longer ice-fishing rods are favored by anglers who stay mobile and fish outside of shelters.
Spinning gear is most commonly used for ice-fishing, but spincast and even casting gear can be adapted and used in some situations. Again, select reels that are appropriate for the lines being used and can be matched to the corresponding rods. Spend what you can afford, but quality reels that will get the job done do not have to be the most expensive. You may be able to “double-up” and switch some reels from open-water to ice-fishing, or if you wish, devote reels to full-time ice-fishing use.
Dress warm, be safe and have fun on the ice this winter. For information on ice-fishing safety, watch a video at outdoornebraska.gov/howtofish.
Anglers can learn the basics of ice-fishing or pick up a few new tips from experienced anglers at virtual Discover Ice-Fishing clinics in Jan. 16 and 19. Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Fish and Game Association will host the classroom clinics via Zoom. Register to attend one or both sessions by going to the calendar event entries at calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.