Ice anglers really only have two main choices when it comes to rod materials and that’s fiberglass and graphite. There is plenty of debate as to which material is the best for ice fishing but it ultimately boils down to deciding what is right for you.
Each material has its perks as well as its flaws. If you could only choose one, which is better, fiberglass or graphite ice rods?
Generally, fiberglass ice rods are excellent when ice fishing for panfish, small walleye and stocked trout using finesse jigs or small bait. When visual bite detection is a priority, fiberglass is better. Graphite ice rods excel when jigging larger spoons or plastics for anything from panfish to monster pike. When power is the name of the game, graphite is better.
But, of course, it’s actually not that simple. There are so many styles of ice fishing and everyone has their favorite species to target. If you want to know what the best rod material is for you then keep reading for the most in-depth comparison on the web.
Power and action
When you are shopping for a new ice fishing rod, the first specifications you’ll see are power and action. Power ranges from ultra light up to heavy and common actions include slow, medium and fast action.
For ice rods, the power rating defines the backbone and hook setting ability of the rod. When you are fishing for trophy fish with big jigging lures or fishing in deep water, a higher power rating is needed.
The action determines a rod’s responsiveness and the speed at which it returns to a neutral straight position when tension is released from the rod. A softer action, in the slow or medium range, allows the rod to bend deep into the butt section which keeps your hook pinned in a fish’s mouth during hard head shakes. Fast actions bend mostly at the tip and stay more rigid in the butt. That makes them ideal for snappy jigging in deep water.
Okay, but what does all this mean when comparing fiberglass and graphite ice rods?
Fiberglass ice rod power and action
Most fiberglass ice rods have a slow or medium action. Commonly, fiberglass rods range from ultra light panfish setups to light or medium light rods great for a variety of fishing applications. Especially, deadsticking with bait.
With this combination of power and action you’ll get awesome bite detection for the softest bites while still getting enough strength in the base of the rod to handle the occasional big fish. Some glass rods with medium power ratings are geared towards large predatory fish.
One advantage of fiberglass rods is their ability to handle bigger fish without breaking. The glass has a ton of strength and flex that makes battling big fish possible. Even the lightest power glass rods let you tangle with trophy class fish without catastrophic failure.
It’s nice to know your crappie rod will stay in one piece even if an aggressive 40 inch pike comes along. Whereas getting out classed by a monster laker or pike with graphite could absolutely destroy the rod.
Graphite ice rod power and action
You’ll find that graphite ice rods are offered in the fullest range of power ratings. From the daintiest panfish rod to ultra heavy sticks designed to horse huge lake trout up from deep water.
Graphite with light or medium light power are your middle of the road rods. Kind of a jack of all trades but master of none. In addition, almost every graphite rod on the market is going to be fast action.
The power rating is the deciding factor when determining what a graphite ice rod is capable of doing. Either way, graphite rods with their fast action tips are superior jigging rods. It’s hard to beat the responsiveness of graphite when lure action matters.
Best rod length for fiberglass or graphite rods
Rod length is a whole topic on it’s own and we cover it in depth in another article but we’ll just touch on it here.
For both fiberglass and graphite, rod length depends more on your fishing style and setup than the material it is made of.
Most ice fishing rods are 24 to 48 inches in length. Shorter rods work a little better when you’re inside a shelter and longer rods are nicer when you are outside and on the move.
I prefer fiberglass rods from 27 to 39 inches in length with 34 inches as a sweet spot. A 34 inch glass rod maintains the flexibility of a noodle rod for deadsticking while also being short enough inside a pop-up.
With graphite, I like longer lengths to compensate for the fast action. Longer graphite rods bend a little deeper than short rods so fish stay pinned on the hook. 36 inch graphite rods give the best balance of performance and fishability in various settings.
Without a doubt, fiberglass ice rods are going to survive just about any abuse you give them. Like I said earlier, even an ultra light fiberglass rod will withstand blistering runs from big fish without snapping in two.
Fiberglass also won’t get brittle in extreme cold. The flexibility of the glass coupled with the strength from tip to butt makes these rod the most durable on the ice.
Graphite ice rods are plenty durable and should last years without failing. However, they are susceptible to micro fractures if they are tossed around too much. Eventually, fractures cause graphite to break when enough force is applied.
With all the rod manufacturers competing for angler attention, there are plenty of options available in every price range. There are just as many budget graphite rods as there are fiberglass rods.
In general though, fiberglass rods are going to be cheaper across the board. You can find quality glass rods for $15 or less. On the flip side, custom fiberglass rods with premium components like titanium guides and top grade cork handles might cost $100 or more.
Most budget friendly graphite rods are $20 and above. Custom options are generally well over $100.
If you are looking to build a full arsenal of rods for every situation you may encounter on the ice, a combination of glass and graphite is the most economical choice.
For anglers new to ice fishing, a fiberglass rod it the cheapest way to get started.
The divide between fiberglass and graphite starts to widen once you look at the way bites are detected on each type. Detecting every bite is the goal and is one of the biggest factors for determining success on the ice.
As a rule of thumb, fiberglass ice rods let you “see” the bite and graphite rods let you “feel” the bite.
Fiberglass has the obvious advantage if you target panfish or you like the hands off deadstick approach to fishing. Panfish that subtly slurp up your bait and swim around a bit show up nice on the super flexible fiberglass rod tips. Most of the time the fish won’t feel any pressure from the soft tip, giving you time to set the hook.
Soft bites with a graphite rod are nearly impossible to see but are easy to feel in your hand. The fast responsiveness of graphite gives you the edge when setting the hook with quick hard bites from finicky fish. You’ll feel it before you see it.
By adding a spring bobber to a graphite ice rod you get the best of both worlds. You’ll feel the bite and see it register on the ultra sensitive spring bobber. (Don’t know what a spring bobber is? Read our spring bobber article to see why you need one.)
In reality, a graphite rod paired with a good titanium spring bobber and low stretch braided line is the most sensitive ice rod out there.
Hook setting ability
Without question, graphite rods are better for getting a solid hook set. Graphite is a little stiffer and transmits your upward force directly to the hook better than fiberglass. For water deeper than 40 or 50 feet, a good hook set is key.
If you like chasing after lake trout in deep water, braided line and a graphite rod are the best. Fiberglass absorbs too much energy in the bend of the rod keeping you from driving that hook home in the fish’s hard mouth.
From the opposite perspective, a softer fiberglass rod delivers all the power you need to sink small hooks and micro jigs into a panfish or trout’s mouth. Anglers often favor the soft hook sets of glass for thin mouthed fish like crappie. A home run hook set with graphite would tear a hook right out of a crappie’s mouth.
Setting the hook is also about being able to react to a bite fast enough. Species like trout often strike quick and won’t hold bait in their mouth long. Graphite gives you the split second advantage over fiberglass.
Do you mostly ice fish with bait? How about artificial jigs and spoons? Or do you prefer a combination of both?
These are all important questions to consider when choosing between graphite and fiberglass. Your predominant style of fishing determines what rod is best suited for you.
Here is a simple chart to help you decide.
|Fiberglass Ice Rod
|Graphite Ice Rod
|Jigging (light jigs)
|Jigging (heavy jigs)
|Deep water (40+ feet)
|Shallow water (less than 40 feet)
|Hook setting device (JawJacker)
For me, I mostly target panfish, trout, walleye and the occasional bass. I use a combination of baits, small tungsten jigs and light jigging spoons. Fiberglass handles all of those species and styles well.
If you prefer deadstick fishing with bait, go for a fiberglass rod. It will show bites better than graphite and fish won’t even feel resistance from the rod until you set the hook.
For just about every other scenario, graphite is pretty versatile. Keep in mind, while graphite is usable for just about any style of fishing, there is plenty of overlap with fiberglass.
Unless you constantly fish in deep water for trophy class walleye, northern pike or lake trout, fiberglass adapts to different fishing styles better than graphite.
Fiberglass vs. Graphite based on species
Here is where we, quite literally, get into the meat of the debate. It’s fair to say that most ice anglers choose a rod based on the species they fish for the most. At least, I do. After all, targeting panfish with a heavy power graphite rod is counter productive.
Just as you tailor bait to the species of fish, you should also tailor your rod material. Fiberglass has a few qualities that make it superior for some species while rendering it almost useless for others. The same is true for graphite ice rods.
- Fiberglass ice rod: A light power, medium or slow action fiberglass ice rod in the 36 inch range is capable of handling crappie, perch, stocked trout, whitefish and even trophy walleye. Fiberglass can handle all but the biggest predators.
- Graphite ice rod: A light or medium light graphite ice rod with a fast action and a spring bobber will work for larger panfish, whitefish, stocked trout and trophy walleye. You’ll need to have multiple rods to step up into the big predator class of fish.
As you can see, it is hardly a clear-cut decision. Once again, there is overlap. Graphite has the edge when it comes to larger fish species like lake trout, pike and muskie though.
Fiberglass takes the cake with panfish. Graphite rods do work but they lack the soft tip that helps you see the bite. There are some composite graphites aimed at panfish anglers that incorporates a glass “quick-tip.”
These composite rods are a great option that blends the best of both worlds in theory. Some people love them but for panfish, full fiberglass is hard to beat. It’s also a blast fighting smaller fish with a glass rod.
For other species, it’s a 50-50 split between fiberglass and graphite. You’ll need to look at all the other factors we talked about to make the best choice.
If you could only choose one
This is probably the part you have been waiting for. If you could only choose one type of rod, fiberglass or graphite, what would it be?
It’s a hard question to answer but let’s dive in.
- For panfish gurus: Go with a fiberglass or composite rod. You’ll enjoy the easy bite detection and the versatility to fish with small lures or deadstick with bait.
- For stocked trout and walleye diehards: Graphite is probably the better choice. Fast hook sets in mid to shallow depths, plus the ability to fish with a variety of lures and baits is the biggest benefit of using graphite.
- For trophy fish addicts: Graphite is king. Power and backbone is what it takes to steer giant fish up through the ice. Fiberglass just won’t get the job done as cleanly.
- For deadstickers and bait anglers: Got to give this one to fiberglass. It’s critical to let the fish take the bait without feeling tension from the rod tip. If you use a JawJacker however, graphite might win out because the fast recoil of graphite sets the hook better when the device is tripped.
- For hole hoppers and active jiggers: Go with graphite. When moving fast and going for reaction bites, graphite excels at delivering the right lure action and feeling the bite.
We all dream of fishing for every species across the country but in reality, your average angler fishes in a few lakes for a half dozen different species. For most, a single rod will cover the bases. And both fiberglass and graphite will work.
My advice to you… Try Both! Get a fiberglass ice rod for all your finesse baits that you use for panfish, trout and walleye. Then add in a heavier graphite rod that can handle slightly larger lures for bigger fish.
Although, if you are like me, stopping at one or two rods in the collection is nearly impossible. I can always find another reason to buy a new ice fishing rod.
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