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Whether you’re a newbie to the sport of ice fishing or a seasoned angler, everybody needs that one ice fishing rod to handle multiple species. These versatile ice rods are sensitive enough for sunfish, crappies, perch, and small trout, while being powerful enough for the occasional bass and hopefully scores of small-to-midsize “eater” walleye.
I put several of the best ice fishing rods to the test throughout my home state’s hard water season. After thorough testing, here are my picks for versatile ice rods that will handle a variety of species and techniques.
- Best Overall: St. Croix Custom Ice Perch Seeker
- Best Combo: CLAM Outdoors Katana Combo
- Best New Rod: DAIWA Kage KAG28L
- Best Balance: JT Outdoors Products Shiver Stick
- Most Sensitive: Tuned Up Custom Rods FUSION
- Best For Big Fish: Thorne Bros. Perch Sweetheart
Testing the Best Ice Fishing Rods
With the help of my buddies and kids, all of the ice rods were tested for several months on multi-species waters ranging from metropolitan fisheries to the lakes of West-Central and Northern Minnesota.
I also talked with the manufacturers, some of the designers, professional anglers, and ice fishing guides who use these rods every day.
All rods were outfitted with a Daiwa QG 750 spinning reel and each reel was spooled with Sufix Elite 4-pound monofilament. For panfish, we used Northland Fishing Tackle Tungsten Mud Bugs and Tungsten Gill Getters as well as Custom Jigs & Spins Tungsten Chekai Jigs. Each was rigged with a micro-plastic and usually one or two Euro larvae to offer some bite-inducing scent. For perch and walleyes, we fished an assortment of spoons tipped with a minnow-head or a chandelier or wax worms or larvae. Fishing an assortment of baits and lures for multiple fish species helped us discern each rod’s strengths and weaknesses.
What follows is a guide to help you choose that go-to, do-everything ice fishing rod. Believe me, each product that follows has unique features and merits; it’s just a matter of sorting through them to determine the best stick for where and how you fish.
The Best Ice Fishing Rods: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: St. Croix Custom Ice (CCI) Perch Seeker
- Rod Length: 32 inches
- Medium-light power, extra-fast action
- TCG (tubular carbon and glass) blank material
- Green tip section for excellent bite detection
- Double-duty as jigging or deadstick rod
- MSRP: $150
- Designed and manufactured in Park Falls, Wisconsin, USA
- 32-inch rod length for fishing inside or outside larger portable shelters or hard houses
- Sensitive and strong rod
- Green tip section helps you see bites while jigging or dead sticking
- Premium price
Personally, I own five St. Croix Custom Ice “Perch Seeker” ice rods and have spent two full hard water seasons fishing them. Prior to the purchase, I did a lot of research for that one rod that does it all, and this is where that research led me.
Don’t let the name “Perch Seeker” fool you. These rods are good for a lot more than perch fishing.
I’ve caught crappies, bluegills, walleyes, bass, and even small- to mid-sized northern pike on this rod without any trouble. And, of course, the Perch Seeker is a great jumbo perch stick, if not the best one I’ve ever fished.
When targeting a multi-species fishery—especially those spots like weed edges where you can catch just about anything—this is the rod model I recommend my family and friends use.
The St. Croix Custom Ice line (CCI) offers a series of technique-specific rods with extreme performance blanks and materials specific to each of the 16 models. Across the family, there are five distinct blank platforms in solid and tubular configurations, each engineered specifically for ice rods and equipped with premium-grade components. While my favorite is the Perch Seeker, all of them are quality ice rods.
Best Combo: CLAM Outdoors Katana Combo
Key Features (Rod)
- Rod Length: 28 inches
- Medium-light power, fast action
- Oversized fly guides and stripper guide
Key Features (Reel)
- 6 + 1 ball bearings
- 4.8:1 gear ratio
- Holds 100 yards of 4 lb. monofilament line
- Combo MSRP: $89.99
- Designed to be as light as possible while still able to handle fish
- Easy-to-grip rod handle, even when wet
- Line flows seamlessly through guides
- Reel attachment bands have a tendency to come loose
I was immediately impressed with the quality of this ice combo from CLAM Outdoors. The first thing you notice when you pick it up is its tacky, soft Tsuka handle, which gives a comfortable and secure grip.
According to CLAM, the Katana series was designed and built to offer more anglers a solid graphite rod with enough finesse to fish smaller species but also handle bigger fish.
The reel isn’t a piece of junk, either—like what you find on a lot of ice fishing rod combos. The reel features a lightweight frame, smooth 6+1 ball bearing system, and very capable, proprietary SF Drag System. I had no issues fighting fish with this reel. The drag was smooth and kept the fish buttoned until topside.
At the price (and quality), the Clam Katana is definitely a great option if you need to purchase several multi-species ice rods for family and friends.
Best New Rod: DAIWA Kage KAG28L
- Rod Length: 32 inches
- Light-power, extra-fast action
- Seaguide eyelets
- MSRP: $119.99
- Securely holds reel in place
- Quality eyelets
- Green tip section signals bites when jigging or deadsticking
- 5-year warranty
The new Daiwa Kage took Minnesota ice head, Jeff Allen three years to develop. The Daiwa Kage ice rod has a slim blank that offers the strength and durability of a much thicker rod while maintaining finesse. Daiwa accomplishes this by using a material that requires less heavy resin.
The Kage’s green rod tip is ultra-sensitive yet strong and ideal for light bites from panfish or walleye. The KAG28L also features Fuji Tangle-Free Guides with Alconite Inserts that are durable and help for a trouble-free drop of your lure down the hole.
Although a departure from what most ice rod manufacturers are doing, the KAG28L offers a Crafted Cork Handle with a screw-in reel slot and hand-shaped reel seat. That means no need to add electrical tape.
Best Balance: JT Outdoors Products Shiver Stick
JT Outdoor Products
- Rod Length: 32 inches
- Medium-light power, extra-fast action
- Solid carbon blank
- Split-Grip Handle
- MSRP: $120
- Hand-built in Farmington, Minnesota, USA
- Lightweight and extremely balanced
- Cold-weather (-30 rated) rebounding titanium line guides
- Available in several handle options
- Not widely available
After talking with JT Outdoors owner, Joe Bricko, he said he sells more 32-inch Shiver Sticks as multi-species rods than anything else in his extensive line of ice rods. Especially for fishing outside, he recommends the Sure-Grip handle, which remains tacky and easy to handle when wet. And the 32-inch is perfect for fishing in hard houses, larger portables, and definitely outside hole-hopping.
Designed and engineered as the perfect rod for ice anglers targeting walleyes and perch, it also translates well to panfish, which we discovered during our testing. Combined with a Daiwa 750 reel, it’s super light and also perfectly balanced.
The solid carbon blank features rebounding titanium guides, which prevent breakage in cold temps and when stowed with other rods in cases or inside a 5-gallon bucket.. I found the rod sensitive enough to detect slab crappie or perch upward-inhaling a bait. Its quick-responding fast action also put metal in the maws of walleyes, immediately. Those characteristics make the Shiver Stick one of the best ice fishing rods.
Most Sensitive: Tuned Up Custom Rods FUSION
Tuned Up Custom
- Rod Lengths Available: 28, 30, 32, 34, and 36 inches
- Medium-power, light-action
- Carbon-fiber, graphite blank
- Slower action in tip transitions to solid backbone
- MSRP: $139.99
- Hand-built in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, USA
- Offered in straight-grip or split-grip
- Cork or EVA handle options
- Some anglers might not prefer the softer tip
My first experience with Tuned Up Custom Rods was almost 10 years ago, during those initial years when owner and rod-builder John Burback was building highly-specialized panfish rods for several professional ice anglers. A decade later, John and his expanding crew are still at it, and Tuned Up Custom Rods now offers everything from ice panfish rods to heavy-duty lake trout sticks, as well as open-water rods.
When I asked what his most popular multi-purpose rod was, he was quick to reply the 32-inch FUSION. On his expert recommendation, that’s what I tested.
The Tuned Up Custom FUSION works well for panfish, jumbo perch, and walleye anglers. It features a solid carbon-fiber blank for lots of sensitivity and feel. The tip of the rod has a slower action than most Tuned Up Custom rods, but it transitions to the backbone gradually, allowing the fish more time to get the bait into its mouth. There’s plenty of power in the backbone to land fish of all sizes.
Best For Bigger Fish: Thorne Bros. Perch Sweetheart
Thorne Brothers Custom Rods
- Rod Length: 32 inches
- Medium-light power, fast-action
- 6-inch full cork, Tennessee-style handle (other options avail.)
- Recoil guides
- MSRP: $99.99
- Affordable custom rod
- Hand-built in Blaine, Minnesota
- Numerous guide types available
- Numerous handle configurations available
- Handles big fish with ease
- Not ideal for light lures. It’s best for 1/8 ounce spoons or and heavy tungsten jigs for panfish
The Perch Sweetheart was conceived as the perfect ice stick for jumbo perch, which features the same ultra-fast tapers as the Panfish Sweetheart and Walleye Sweetheart but with an action that falls between the two.
But it’s a lot more than a perch rod. The guys in the Thorne rod shop says it’s one of their most popular walleye ice rods for 1/8-ounce spoons and when fishing heavier tungsten jigs for big panfish. As their website says, “To put it simply; if you can only bring one rod for every species, you bring this one.”
The Perch Sweetheart is available in numerous handle and guide options, and they’re also happy to help you build exactly what you want if you don’t find the options on their website.
I went with the 32-inch Outside model with Fuji guides and a 6-inch full-cork Tennessee-style handle. The rod does everything it purports to and I found it great for big crappies, perch, and walleyes. It’s an ideal all-around ice stick and has the stones to land bigger walleyes, too, which I found out on Lake Winnibigoshish earlier this season.
How to Choose the Best Ice Fishing Rod
First thing you have to consider is rod length. Will you be fishing outside or inside a portable or hard house? Personally, I’ve never had too many difficulties with a 32-inch rod in any of these scenarios and consider it an all-around good length. But, if quarters are cramped, you might want to size down to a 28- to 30-inch rod.
Next, most multi-purpose ice rods should fall in the medium-light to medium-power designations. As well, extra-fast or fast actions are recommended. Also consider your preferred grip material and style when choosing a rod because it has to be comfortable enough to hold all day long.
Q: How much should I expect to pay for a multi-purpose ice fishing rod?
While you can certainly go cheaper, prices for a quality multi-purpose ice rod range anywhere from $80 to $150. But remember: You get what you pay for, especially with ice fishing rods.
Q: What size spinning reel should I use with my multi-purpose ice fishing rod?
For the most part, you’ll want to stick to size 500 or 750 spinning reels, which don’t weigh much, hold enough line, and offer good drag systems for most multi-species fishing. We used the affordably-priced Daiwa QG 750 for our testing, although there are also quality reels available from Shimano, Pflueger, Okuma, and Abu Garcia. For deadstick or set-line applications, you may want to consider the Okuma Ceymar CBF-500, which features a unique bait feeding system that allows anglers to disengage their spinning reel spool and allow their bait (and the fish) to run freely before engaging the drag lever and fighting the fish at normal drag pressure.
Q: What test and type of fishing line is best with my multi-purpose ice fishing rod?
For our jigging testing we used 4-pound Sufix Elite monofilament, a suitable line-test strength for most multi-species forays. We’ve landed 5- to 8-pound pike and walleyes on 4-pound test with the drag set a little loose. Fished as deadsticks, we alternated between 6-pound Maxima Chameleon and 5-pound CLAM Frost monofilament (made by Sunline).
The nice thing about monofilament is it resists freezing up when used outside in sub-zero conditions; secondly, it offers stretch to allow larger fish more play and less opportunity for hooks to unsecure while fighting them; lastly, monofilament is inexpensive, comes in a variety of colors to match water clarity conditions and is easy to manage and tie.
How should I attach my reel to ice rods without screw-in handles?
While you can go the time-tested route of attaching your reel to rod handles with electrical tape, we’ve discovered a better solution in JT Outdoors’ Sure Grip Reel Tape, which remains soft and tacky even in sub-zero conditions. Unlike electrical tape, it’s not slippery in the palm.
What should I use as a rod holder when deadsticking?
Fishing old school, it’s still hard to beat setting your rod on the top of a 5-gallon bucket with a simple rubber band at the top of the handle, through which you loop the line loosely with the bail open. That way a fish grabs the bait, pulls the line loop out of the rubber band and you let them run until it’s time to set the hook.
But there are other systems out there—and we’ve tried them all. HT Enterprises’ Lift N’ Hook Rod Holder is one inexpensive option, which folds up nicely for easy storage. And there’s JT Outdoors’ Rod Holder that folds up like an accordion and allows various rod angle orientations for sticks between 28- and 42-inches. What we’ve discovered with super finesse bites is orienting the holder, so the rod sits perfectly horizontal can yield more neutral to negative fish.
Final Thoughts on the Best Ice Fishing Rods
While there are anglers who carry several cases of rods on the ice, you really only need one quality multi-purpose ice fishing rod. The best multi-purpose ice fishing rods will improve your entire fishing experience by limiting the amount of gear you need to bring with you. With some of these models, you might want to purchase two—one as a jigging rod and one as a deadstick.
If you’re interested in adding one (or several) of the best ice fishing rods to your arsenal, check out one of these top options.