Choosing the Right Ice-Fishing Rod

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    With the sheer number and variety of ice fishing rods available in today’s market, choosing a new one off the shelf is no small task and can cause anglers heartburn if they’re unsure of what type would best suit their needs.

    “For a new rod, we always start by asking people what do you want to fish for, and how do you want to fish,” said Andy Stromsness, co-owner of Glacial Lakes Outdoors, a custom rod-making company based in Brandon, S.D. “You have to then identify rods that fit those needs or cater to the type of fishing you prefer.”

    Stromsness said answering those questions applies to anyone looking for a new ice fishing rod, regardless of whether they’re shopping at a sporting goods store, online or visiting with a custom-rod maker. He said the answers can narrow down the available selection in a hurry.

    Many people look at ice fishing rods as a totally different animal than rods used during open water seasons. However, ice fishing rods are built using the same materials and with the same basic guidelines in mind, Stromsness said.

    “You’ll either have rods made out of carbon, which are sometimes called graphite rods, and there are also fiberglass rods,” he said. “With that being said, then you have the action of the rod and the power. Power means how strong the rod is, and action is how fast the tip bends.”

    Paying attention to a rod’s power is extremely important as it should depend on what type of fish an angler expects to catch.

    “When it comes to a rod’s power, you have to think about if you’ll be catching a pike versus a small little bluegill,” Stromsness said. “Power is how much lift or backbone a rod has. You don’t need a broom handle to catch a bluegill, but if you have a tiny rod and a big pike bites, it’ll bend the whole rod in half. On the other hand, rods with less power can make it more fun to catch crappies or bluegills, as those rods are much more sensitive.”

    Stromsness said choosing a rod’s action is often determined by whether anglers would rather see or feel the bite.

    “With a fiberglass rod, which typically has a real fine tip, you can see the fish bite — you’ll see the rod have tension pulled off of it,” he said. “With a carbon rod, you’ll feel it.”

    Stromsness said fiberglass rods are favored by anglers targeting light-biting fish such as crappies or bluegills, which are prone to sucking a bait in rather than hitting it hard. He also said carbon blanks are often the go-to choice for anglers in northeast South Dakota.

    “Here in the Glacial Lakes Region, we typically fish for perch, walleye and northerns, which are more aggressive,” he said. “For those fish, a good all-around rod is a solid carbon 28-inch rod with a medium to medium-light action that’s paired with a good reel. With that setup, you can do almost anything fish-wise with it.”

    With Christmas around the corner, Stromsness said he and his business partner, Jim Girard, are busy filling orders for custom rods.

    “During the ice fishing season, I could easily build every night. Both of us are that way right now,” Stromsness said. “We have our own blanks made for us, and for our handles, we glue together quarter- or half-inch cork rings, and then Jim and I turn them all down on a lathe by hand. We want to stay truly custom, so every rod is a one-off. That’s our pride.”

    Stromsness said talking with customers is still the part of the gig he enjoys most.

    “After we answer those two basic questions of what people fish for and how they like to fish, then we just talk to them and probably ask more questions than you ever thought possible about fishing and rods,” he said. “Through conversation, we’ll take that journey down the road until we understand exactly what they want and how they want it.”

    For more information or to see the selection of custom-made ice fishing rods available from Glacial Lakes Outdoors, visit to glaciallakesoutdoors.com.

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