Why Are Ice Fishing Rods So Short: Mystery Solved

Anglers new to the sport of ice fishing often see the stubby little ice rods as somewhat silly.  Ice fishing rods may be short but they are fish catching machines designed with functionality in mind.

While conventional fishing rods are usually 6 or 7 feet in length, an ice fishing rod is seldom longer than 48 inches.  This leads many anglers to ask if they really need to be so short?

Ice fishing rods are usually shorter than 48 inches, which allows you to fish inside an ice shelter.  Even when not in a shelter, you’re still within close reach of the ice hole.  At the same time, small ice fishing poles are specifically designed to be ultra sensitive while still having enough backbone to hoist large fish through the ice. 

At first glance, ice fishing rods don’t look like much.  However, read along to see how these small ice rods pack some big performance.

How long are ice fishing rods

So we can see that ice fishing rods are shorter than standard fishing rods.  But how short do they need to be?

Well, that depends on the type of ice fishing you do and the type of fish you plan to catch.  Obviously, battling a giant northern pike with a 24 inch ultra-light panfish rod is a problem.  On the flip side, going after light biting perch with a stout, 48 inch ice rod geared towards monster lakers will leave you frustrated.

Most anglers choose ice fishing rods that average 24 to 32 inches in length.  This rod length is common when ice fishing for panfish, stocked trout and walleye.  

Generally, ultra-light or light action rods with soft, fast action tips are preferred.

When fishing outside a shelter or when hole hopping, experienced ice anglers prefer a slightly longer and more versatile rod measuring 36 to 39 inches in length.  Any gamefish from perch to trophy walleye is fair game with this length rod with either light or medium-light action.   

Once you shift your focus from smaller fish to true, trophy species that prowl the frozen waters of the north, you should step up to heavier rods with a bit more length (48”-50”).  This provides better control and leverage during the fight.  

A firm backbone on a longer ice rod helps you turn and lift a big fish towards the ice hole.

Important features of a good ice rod

As I alluded to above, ice rods are short for a reason.  Yet length is not the only feature of an ice rod that makes it well suited for hardwater fishing.  

Because most ice rods are smaller than their open water counter parts, they need to be designed a bit different.  Take a close look and you’ll see how much different an ice fishing pole is.  Here are the key features that make an ice fishing rod perfect for fishing through the ice.

  • Short overall length to keep you within arms length of your ice hole
  • Compact grip and reel seat section for reduced length and better handling in tight spaces
  • Sensitive tip for detecting lethargic winter bites
  • Solid backbone for controlling the fight (depending on size of target species)

The specifications of any ice rod depends on the type of fishing you do and the species you are targeting.  How tailored your ice rod is for a specific fish is a personal choice.  Although, always keep these key features in mind when selecting a rod.

On top of all that, you still need to match up the smaller rods with an appropriate size reel.  The most common reels paired with ice fishing poles are ultralight spinning reels.  These size classes are usually 2500 or smaller. 

Inline reels are also growing in popularity and for trophy, big game fish, even bait casting reels are a popular choices.    

How to ice fish with short rods

There are a few subtle differences in lure presentation with a regular rod versus an ice fishing rod.  Knowing how your lure or bait responds to rod movement is crucial to enticing more fish to bite.

At a base level, there are two different styles of fishing with an ice rod.  Deadsticking (letting your bait sit stationary without holding the rod) or jigging with artificial or natural bait.  

Because ice rods are shorter and more sensitive than regular rods, they excel at both techniques.  

When deadsticking, you are watching for the most subtle bites.  Frigid water makes fish less energetic when they strike.  So the slightest dip in your rod tip is the only hint you’ll get indicating a bite.  

Shorter ice rods with soft noodle tips make seeing these bites much easier.  Mostly because you’re simply in closer proximity to the tip of a short rod.  

Jigging is also easier with short ice rods.  Micro jigging movements are often what trigger a bite.  This is especially clear when watching a fish respond to your bait on electronics.

Small ice rods give anglers the ultimate in finesse and control when fish are finicky.  With a rod that’s too long, delivering the appropriate action and bounce to a tiny jig is a challenge.  

One advantage of a short ice rod that is often over looked, but painfully obvious after the fact, is setting the hook inside a shelter.  Small ice rods require less room to drive the hook home.  A wide swing hook set in an ice shack with anything more than 48” could spell disaster.

Can you ice fish with a regular length rod

There are no hard-fast rules in ice fishing.  If all you have is a regular, open water rod and you want to try ice fishing, then use it!  

You can go ice fishing with a regular rod and catch plenty of fish doing it.  In fact, we wrote an article explaining how to use a regular rod for ice fishing, so check it out.

Just keep in mind that it will be a little more awkward to fish 6 feet or more from a small hole drilled in the ice.  

One of the reasons a regular fishing rod is longer than an ice rod is for casting long distances.  In open water, casting is a primary tactic for presenting lures and bait to fish.  Ice fishing, on the other hand, does not involve casting.  Instead, everything is done vertically through the ice.  

You’ll also have a harder time fighting a big fish with a long rod.  One of the great things about short ice rods is that you can stay next to the hole to better feel how the fish is fighting and which way they are pulling.  You can even dip a short rod into the hole during the fight to avoid slicing your line on the sharp ice edges.  

Still planning to go ice fishing with a regular rod?  That’s fine.  Ideally, a rod less than 6 feet should work well.  Although, if you plan to cram into an ice shelter with a buddy, they may not appreciate getting smacked in the face when you swing it around.

Final thoughts

I know ice rods look more like kid toys but ice anglers are a clever bunch.  There are good reasons for the size and design of ice rods which become more apparent the more you fish on ice.

Ice fishing rods are short but mighty.  They are also extremely fun to use.  Some anglers even enjoy letting their small kids use them on the dock when fishing in the spring.

Want to get the most out of your ice fishing season? Check out our Washington State Ice Fishing Secrets book. Our book highlights the 10 best lakes for ice fishing in Washington State with actual coordinates to some of our most productive holes. Plus, we thoroughly cover everything from gear selection, tactics and travel planning. To top it off, you also get information on 41 other lakes with superb ice fishing! Check it out before ice fishing season passes you by!