Without a doubt, quality matters when it comes to ice fishing gear. After all, it has to handle brutal conditions while still performing flawlessly every time. One piece of gear that takes the brunt of our abuses and is vital for fishing success is our rods.
Ice fishing rods are more than just sticks with a reel attached. They are the link between you and your lure and hopefully, a fish. Not only does it need to deliver finely tuned action to your bait, it needs to act as a super sensitive bite detector.
Unfortunately, not all ice rods are up to these demands, especially big box store combos that are often sub-par. But does that mean custom rods are the answer?
Let’s take a closer look at the question and we’ll give you our honest answer. We’ve put many hours of use on custom ice rods and store bought rods in equal measure so we can give you a highly informed look at what really matters and if custom ice fishing rods are actually worth it.
How much do custom ice fishing rods cost
The real reason most of you are asking if custom ice fishing rods are worth it is because you’ve heard they are expensive. Well, the truth is, they are.
Most custom ice fishing rods cost at least $120. By the time you add titanium guides, a premium cork handle, high quality blanks and custom colored guide wraps, plan on spending closer to $150 or more.
Honestly, you do get the best components available for that cost. Plus, you definitely get much finer craftsmanship on the finished product than you get from a store bought rod. Just be aware, you’ll be sinking well over $200 into a single rod and reel setup (depending on the reel cost) before you even start fishing. You probably won’t put a $20 reel on a $150 rod.
Compare that to a typical ice fishing rod made by HT Enterprise, St. Croix, 13 Fishing, Fenwick or Clam. Most of those range in price from $20 to $80.
Why get a custom ice fishing rod
So what makes custom ice fishing rods so special and why is it that so many ice anglers get them?
There are certainly good reasons to consider when getting custom rods but here are a few features that make them more appealing than any store bought rod.
- Custom blanks tailored to specific techniques and species
- Custom lengths
- Wider range of handle choices (EVA vs. Cork, Split grip vs. Full handle)
- Top quality guides like titanium recoil guides
- Custom rod and thread colorings for a personalized look
While the reasons for going custom are compelling, maybe we should pause and ask ourselves why you wouldn’t want to get a custom rod.
First and foremost is cost. Obviously, you’ll spend at least double to get custom ice rods. A close second is lack of versatility. A custom ice rod is often tailored to specific situations which means multi species anglers need several rods. Although, some custom rods are excellent multi species rods too.
Lastly, most custom rods don’t have a reel seat and instead require you to tape your reel onto the rod. This is preferred by experienced ice anglers but may be a put off to others. (Check out our article on how ice rods with reel seats compare to rods without reel seats).
Will I catch more fish with a custom rod
This is a tough question to answer but here goes.
The average angler probably won’t catch more fish when using a custom ice fishing rod. There are so many other limiting factors affecting your success and most have more impact on your catch rate than the rod itself.
The biggest reason for going home empty handed is fishing in the wrong spots and poor timing. Both are problems a custom rod won’t solve.
However, there are times a custom rod could lead to better success. From first hand experience, we can tell you that a custom rod with better sensitivity leads to better bite detection and more fish on the ice. Regardless of the angler’s skill.
Another reason why you might catch more fish on a custom rod lies in the action. The high quality blanks used in custom ice rods often have a superbly balanced mix of action and power, giving you better control over a fighting fish.
There are plenty of non-custom rods that can deliver the above advantages but they can be hard to find among the duds.
So are custom ice rods worth it
At the end of the day, the main question is this: Are custom ice fishing rods worth buying?
Honestly, based on our experience, custom ice rods are not worth it for the average ice angler. There are many quality ice rods that aren’t custom for a fraction of the price. Most will do everything you need them to. Only avid ice anglers who have refined their skills will squeeze out a slight improvement by using customized ice rods.
Where you sit on the scale of novice to pro is entirely up to you. If you think you have mastered ice fishing to the point that a custom rod is the only thing holding you back, then go for it. You’ll probably love fishing with custom gear and there are some fantastic companies that make some pretty slick ice rods.
But if you are just starting out, spend your money on other things first. A decent flasher or fish finder for starters. Buy a quality rod and pair it up with a solid spinning reel. Better yet, build yourself a Smitty sled so you can get to more fishing spots.
Either way, a custom rod is a purchase best left for when your ice fishing passion is fully fledged and borders on obsession.
What if I don’t want custom
Once you realize that custom ice rods aren’t for you, now what?
Luckily, there are great alternatives. Most of which will satisfy the needs of almost every ice angler. Including us. Big brands like St. Croix, HT, Fenwick, Clam and 13 Fishing do make some really good rods. They are used by thousands of anglers with pretty high praise.
To begin your search, check out our line up of the 9 best ice fishing rods actually worth buying. Some are fine tuned for specific situations and others are geared towards the absolute newbie who prefers spending the bare minimum.
For a more refined selection of what we call “semi-custom” ice rods, you’ll definitely want to check out Frostbite ice fishing rods. We are not sponsored by them in any way but we do love their rods. You get the custom feel for half the price. Plus, their rods are made by ice anglers that know their stuff and the quality of craftsmanship is commendable.
Before you go out and buy Frostbite rods though, be sure to read our full on the ice review of their rod line-up.
Best custom rod makers to try
If you know that custom is the only way to go for you, there are several custom rod makers to take a look at.
- Thorne Bros.
- Tuned Up Custom Rods
- Della Bay
- DH Custom Rods
These are among the most popular rod builders but there are many more smaller companies that are worth checking out. These kind of builders work on a smaller scale but produce the highest quality rods. However, finding these rod builders is tough. But rodseek.com makes it a lot easier. It’s an online market place that connects you with skilled builders that focus more on quality than scale. You’ll probably find one you can trust to build exactly what you want.
You can also make your own ice fishing rods that are as custom as it gets. We’ve bought supplies from mudhole.com before. They have a huge selection of custom rod building supplies. Be aware that building your own rods is a hobby in itself and quite addictive. And eventually, the start up cost will pay for itself when you make enough rods. Learn more about the pros and cons of building your own rod from our recent article.
Gearing up for fishing is half the fun so it’s completely reasonable to want custom ice rods. However, they are not a magic bullet for anglers struggling to catch fish. Custom rods are a highly tuned tool for the serious angler wanting a slight edge that only custom can deliver.
With that said, don’t be afraid to do your own research. Just know that custom rods are expensive and you may find that more moderately priced rods without the custom label are also fish catching machines in the right hands.