Can You Use a Normal Rod and Reel for Ice Fishing?

Can You Use a Normal Rod and Reel for Ice Fishing?

Conventional rod and reels can be used for ice fishing. The same rod and reels used for open water fishing will work for ice fishing; however, ice fishing rod and reels are adequate.

Using Conventional Rod and Reels

It is acceptable to use a conventional rod and reels to go ice fishing. If you are new to ice fishing and don’t want to spend a ton of money before you know if you enjoy it, then using your open water rod and reels will work. If you only go ice fishing once a year, you can use your typical rod and reels. When using your conventional rod and reels, be sure to use the shortest, most sensitive rod you own. The fish are meeker during the winter, and the bites can be difficult to detect. Arm your light rod and reel with a light line such as a 2-lb test or 4-lb test. The ice fishing line is available on the market and a good investment. You might have a conventional reel that is set aside for ice fishing so you can put the ice fishing line on it and not have to change it out each time you fish.

As you fish with your rod and reel, keep the hole in mind. A longer rod will be hard to control at the side of an 8-inch hole. You will not cast your conventional rod and reel like in open water fishing. In ice fishing, you will drop your bait into the hole. Open the bail and let the lure/bait drop. Jigging is difficult with a long rog, so dead sticking is the way to go. To see bites, keep the rod stationary.

Much like open water fishing and deep-sea fishing, it will take time to learn how to ice fish, especially if using conventional rod and reel. 

Why Should You Use an Ice Rod and Reel

Using an ice rod and reel will make ice fishing more enjoyable and successful. An ice rod comes in much smaller lengths than conventional rods. Ice rods come in lengths from 18”-48”. These lengths make operating in tight places easier. Extra sensitivity, big guides, and brightly colored tips are some characteristics of an ice rod. Big guides freeze less but are not very flexible. Poles with big guides are only ideal when it is well below freezing, and everything is freezing while you are fishing. Fishing ice poles with smaller guides have more bend but will freeze as you fish. A brightly colored tip makes it easier to detect a fish bite.

When it comes to an ice reel and ice fishing line, conventional will work. The grease in a traditional reel can get sticky when it gets cold. This problem is remedied by removing the grease and replacing it with a low viscosity grease. Spooling the conventional reel with the ice fishing line is ideal. This line is more durable to help prevent the ice from cutting/fraying it as it rubs against the sides of the hole.

When it comes to reels, you can easily use a conventional reel on an ice fishing rod. You can also use a fly fishing reel. However, using an inline ice fishing reel will help keep the line from tangling and kinking as you reel in the fish. There is a trigger or button that will allow you to drop the bait straight in the hole faster and more accurately than a conventional reel. The inline reel will also prevent the line from twisting. The twisting of the line gives the bait/lure an unnatural movement, so stopping the line from twisting is essential. Using a conventional reel can cause the fishing line to get tangled, and the line has to be changed more often. An inline reel is an active reel for ice fishing. 

Which Ice Rod and Reel Combos Are Best?

When choosing the best rod and reel, there are several factors to consider. The smaller the bait, the lighter the rod you should use. The smaller the fish, you are targeting the lighter the rod you should use. The species of fish you are targeting is directly related to the type of rod and reel you should use. When you are ice fishing, you should pick a rod and reel as if you are finesse fishing in open water. The rule to remember when picking any rod and reel combo is to match the rod power to the size of the fish. 


If you target smaller fish like bluegill or perch, you should use an ultra-light rod. If you plan only to have one ice rod and reel, you should use an ultra-light rod. This rod needs to be between 18” and 24”. Ideally, the rod would be made from fiberglass to make bites from the small fish easier to detect. Paired with a 500 size reel, the ultralight rod will best be set up from micro baits. Spool your reel with 2-6 lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line. If you prefer braid, a 5 lb braid is sufficient. If you want just one ice fishing rod and reel, the ultralight is the way to go. It can handle the small fish, and if a bigger fish like a small walleye or crappie takes your lure/bait, you will still be able to reel it in. 

Light-Medium Light

Using light to a medium-light rod is technique specific. This rod and reel combo is best when targeting bass, walleye, and crappie. If you plan to use a treble hook, this is the rod you should use. In open water fishing, the “crankbait” rod is equivalent to the light-medium light pole. Paired with a 1000 size reel, this rod is designed for jigging and spoons. The rod should have fast to extra-fast action. Made from graphite, the rod should measure 18”-24”. A 2lb-6lb mono/fluoro line is ideal, or a 5 lb-8 lb braid with a fluoro leader will be strong enough to pull in slightly bigger fish. 

Medium-Medium Heavy

The last rod and reel combo you should have in your ice fishing arsenal is a medium to a medium-heavy rod with a 2500 size reel. This set up is for big, white fish like lake trout, walleye, northern pike, and muskie. The 2500 reel will allow you to use a heavier line, and a heavier line will allow you to use bigger bait. Using a 4 lb-10 lb fluoro or mono or 5 lb-10 lb braid with a short 10 lb- 12 lb mono/fluoro leader is ideal for this reel. In the cold weather, the 10 lb line will get stiff, so be sure to use the ice fishing line. The graphite rod length varies depending on if you will be in a fishing hut or just outside in the elements. If you will be in the shelter, use an 18”-24” rod. If you are out, use a 28”-36” rod. 


The type of rod and reels you use for ice fishing are dependent on which fish you are targeting, as well as whether you will be in a shelter or out in the elements. You can easily purchase one ice rod and reel and get by, or you can buy three different ones and be armed and ready for anything. Buying ice fishing reels and rods will run you about the same amount as conventional rods and reels. A decent, cheap rod and reel combo can be picked up for about $50. A good quality rod will run between $60 and $130. A good quality reel will run between $60-$80. To budget for a new, good quality rod and reel combo, you should budget between $100 and $130. 


We briefly discussed baits as we went through rods and reels, but we wanted to tell you the four most used baits in ice fishing. First is a teardrop. The teardrops are hooked with live bait or a plastic. Ideal colors for the teardrop include a bluegill coloring, pink, purple, or a white glow. The next bait is a spoon. Walleye and bass love the spoon. If the water is stained, a spoon is an effective lure. These spoons can have a rattle that may attract larger fish like pike and muskie. Jigging wraps are easily fished in an ice fishing hole. Simply drop the jigging wrap to the bottom and quickly pull up six-twelve inches, then let it fall slowing. Do this until a bass, pike, or walleye bite the end. Ideal colors for the jigging wrap are perch colored, chrome, or orange. The final bait is live bait, such as a wax worm or minnow on a hook with a spilt shot. You can’t go wrong with the traditional!


You can successfully ice fish with conventional rod and reels. If you don’t ice fish a lot or don’t know if you will like it, use what you have. If you decide it is something you will do more often, splurge and get ice fishing equipment to be even more successful! So bundle up and get out there whether you use your conventional equipment or your ice fishing equipment. 

Read: Can You Go Ice Fishing at Night?

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