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4 Best Ice Fishing Rods for 2023

If you haven’t tried ice fishing, you’re missing out. It’s a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air, and make friends on the lake. Catching fish is a nice bonus. Since you’ll be able to access entire lakes without a boat and use relatively simple equipment, it’s also one of the most accessible forms of fishing from a cost standpoint.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, you’re going to need a rod and reel. Take a look at some of the best ice fishing rods for anyone interested in spending more of the winter outside.

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Our Picks for the Best Ice Fishing Rods

Best Overall – Vexan Ice Fishing Rod

Vexan ice fishing rod
Image by Vexan

If you’re new to ice angling and want to build the best ice fishing rod for your favorite fishing hole, Vexan is a great place to start. This rod comes in several configurations aimed at a range of species to take out some of the guesswork.

Power ranges from ultra-light to medium. Some use a solid fiberglass blank while others use carbon fiber so you can get the perfect feel for you. Rod length ranges from 18 to 32 inches. 

At less than $40, this is a good way to give your ice fishing setup a solid foundation for a reasonable price. Whether you’re pursuing lake trout, walleye, finicky panfish, or larger species like northern pike, there’s a Vexan rod for you.  

Why we love it: Wide range of rod lengths and power options

Things we’d change: Do your homework so you know which rod is most appropriate for the fish in your area.

Best Value – Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2

Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 ice fishing rod
Image by Ugly Stik

Ugly Stik has never been bashful about caring more about the fish you haul in than how you look doing it. With the Ugly Stik GX2, your reeling hand should stay pretty busy this winter.

This ice fishing rod comes in three variations:, a 24-inch light rod, a 28-inch medium rod, and a 32-inch medium-heavy rod. Fiberglass and graphite combine to provide a refined feel so you can detect light bites, set the hook firmly, and reel in big fish with confidence.

Shakespeare made the Ugly Stik brand famous for being all business and nearly indestructible. This is one of the best ice fishing rods for heavy use in adverse conditions.  

Why we love it: Fantastic value makes this one of the best ice fishing rods out there.

Things we’d change: A few more power options wouldn’t hurt.

Best Premium Combination – 13 Fishing The Snitch Descent Inline Combo

13 Fishing The Snitch Descent inline combo
Image by 13 Fishing

Ice anglers consider 13 Fishing to be one of the best brands in the ice fishing space, and right now you can get a full setup with a Snitch rod and Descent inline reel that’s ready for a spool of your favorite line right out of the box.

The Snitch ice fishing rod uses a solid graphite blank, high-visibility yellow tip, stainless steel guides, and cork handle to let you detect every nibble and light bite. The Descent reel comes with features like a graphite composite frame, drop speed control, and instant anti-reverse to keep you in control no matter how nasty the conditions get. 

This is our most expensive pick, but it’s a fantastic way to get great gear with no fuss. You know it’s good, you know the rod and reel work well together; all that’s left is to drop a line and start icing fish. 

Why we love it: This is a seriously capable inline-reel setup out of the box—and it looks great, too.

Things we’d change: If you’re not into the inline reel, check out 13 Fishing’s spinning combo.

Best for Beginners – Bass Pro Shops XPS Whuppin’ Stick Combo

Bass Pro Shops XPS Whuppin' Stick combo
Image by Bass Pro Shops

If you want a complete setup but need to save money for bait and hot chocolate, Bass Pro Shops has a surprisingly affordable solution in the XPS Whuppin’ Stick combo. Aside from having an awesome name, this rod and reel will get you on the ice for less money than you’d spend on most rods alone.

You can spec the XPS Whuppin’ Stick ice fishing rod with ultra-light, light, medium-light, or medium rod power in a 24-, 25-, 26-, or 28-inch length. Stainless steel guides and a single ball bearing system should be reliable on the ice, and the lightweight spinning reel will be familiar to anyone who’s used open water rods.

At this price, you should know that you’re getting a bargain setup that’s very beginner-focused. That’s not a bad thing, though, because we’re all for removing barriers and getting more people outdoors. 

Why we love it: This rod-and-reel combo also puts a whuppin’ on high prices.

Things we’d change: This combo costs less than a lot of rods alone, so costs have to get cut somewhere.

What to Look for in an Ice Fishing Rod

Before you click “buy now,” remember that your rod, reel, line, and tackle all need to work together to catch the specific kind of fish you’re after. Quality aside, you’ll want to get equipment that’s compatible and can give you the best chances of landing heaps of fish.

Types of Ice Fishing Rods

Ice fishing rods are very similar to spinning or casting rods anglers use during the summer. Since ice fishing doesn’t involve casting, they’re much shorter. You’ll still need a reel—either spinning or inline—but there’s not much of a learning curve if you’re familiar with other kinds of fishing.

You can go hands-free and increase your odds of success with tip-ups. This style of ice fishing is more like trapping since you can set the tip-up and go about your business. State laws dictate how many lines you’re allowed to have in the water, so check your local regulations if you plan on using these. 

Features to Look for

Finding the best fishing rods involves knowing which rod and reel are most effective for the species of fish in your area. Price also plays a part in determining the perfect rod for you.  

Vexan ice fishing tip-up


One factor to consider when you’re trying to find the best ice fishing rod is power. Power describes how flexible the rod model is; a rod that’s too powerful won’t bend enough to let you detect light bites, while an underpowered rod might struggle to bring in bigger fish. Power ratings span from ultra-light to heavy, and Scheels has a nice breakdown of which ratings work best with certain species.

The action of an ice fishing rod describes (on a scale from slow to ultra-fast) where the rod bends once a fish is on the line. Your preferred technique and the type of fish you’re chasing will determine which action works best for you.

Rod length does vary among ice fishing rods, but they’re all shorter than standard rods. You won’t be casting through ice and many people prefer fishing inside a small shelter that restricts movement, so the best ice fishing rods generally run between 28 and 32 inches.


Many ice fishing rods use a spinning reel just like you’d find on a casting rod any other time of year. Spinning reels are popular and readily available, but not all of them can hold up to use in freezing temperatures. Wet lines tend to build up ice in the bail and jam your reel. 

Some people prefer an inline reel, which is specific to ice fishing. They’re not sold as widely as spinning reels and they can be expensive, but some ice anglers prefer the way the simpler nature of inline reels handle ice buildup in cold weather.

Line, Tackle, and Bait

As with any other kind of fishing, the line, tackle, and bait people use varies widely and everyone seems to have their own favorite combination. Different species of fish respond better to some bait and techniques than others, so research the fish in your local lake or pond before spending all your ice fishing money.

We don’t have a silver bullet for you, but we can recommend that you buy fishing line designed for ice fishing, and factor in the species of fish you’re likely to encounter so you can choose appealing bait or lures.

If you want to figure out what the best bait for ice fishing in your area is, make friends on the ice or visit a local outfitter. Some people are very protective of their methods, but you might meet someone who’s willing to take a newcomer under their wing and share some secrets.

Brands We Trust

There are a lot of brands making great ice fishing gear, including some nifty custom shops. Brands like 13 Fishing, Clam, Fenwick, Frostbite, St. Croix, and Vexan all have strengths that make them popular with ice anglers. 

We’re partial to accessible gear that makes it easy for newcomers to get into the sport, so this list focuses on the best ice fishing rods at the more affordable end of the spectrum. Whichever brand you choose, it’s a good idea to protect your gear with a hard fishing rod box.

Ice Fishing Rod Q&A

Shakespeare Ugly Stik ice fishing rods

Is ice fishing sustainable? 

Responsible fishing and hunting aren’t just sustainable, they’ve become paramount to supporting and growing wildlife populations with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. In addition to buying your license, supporting conservation groups, and following local fishing regulations, you can help by using more sustainable fishing gear.

Is ice fishing dangerous? 

Ice fishing can be extremely safe—if you’re careful. The biggest risk comes at the beginning and end of the season when ice is at its thinnest and conditions are unpredictable. Injuries from extreme cold are surprisingly rare; the Mayo Clinic reports that many people injured while ice fishing suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by space heaters in an ice shanty.

Where can I get an ice fishing license? 

Check with your state’s department of natural resources or fish and wildlife to purchase an ice fishing license and brush up on applicable laws. 

How thick does ice have to be to ice fish?

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (and they would know), ice that’s four inches thick is safe to walk on and drill through for ice fishing. Ice should be at least five inches thick before you drive on it with a snowmobile or ATV, seven inches thick before you drive on it with a UTV, 11 inches thick before you drive on it with a light truck, and 20 inches thick before you think about towing an ice shelter onto a frozen lake (that does for retrieving your shelter, too).

What other ice fishing gear do I need?

If you have a rod, reel, basic tackle, and a way to cut through the ice, you’re in business.

An auger will make it a lot easier to drill through the ice, though. Hand augers are fairly inexpensive and simple to use, but you’ll get a workout. Motorized augers cost several hundred dollars but they sure speed up the process.

Some ice anglers use fish finders to increase their odds of success. Gadgets like the Garmin ECHOMAP can spot fish below the surface and bundles with all the tools you need are more affordable than you might think. This much tech is overkill for casual ice fishing, but it’s a serious advantage if you’re committed to putting food on the table.

The more time you spend on frozen bodies of water, the more sense it will make to invest in an ice shelter. Pop-up ice shelters can help block the wind and make your time on the water more comfortable. The sky is the limit when it comes to ice shanties and some rival permanent cabins. Entire villages form on northern lakes every winter, with some on-ice gatherings exceeding 15,000 people

While you certainly don’t need a heated cabin with electricity to enjoy ice fishing, the lengths some people go to are pretty impressive; keep an ear out for invitations to other anglers shanties to see it for yourself.

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