Ice fishing doesn’t need to be expensive
The concept of ice fishing can be a little intimidating for those who have never tried it. You may imagine that to go ice fishing properly you will need loads of heavy equipment and fancy technology. There are some costly items and comforts that add a lot to the ice fishing experience, but the best ice fishing rod and reel combo itself can be fairly inexpensive.
New to ice fishing? Check out Ice Fishing 101
The top ice fishing rods can actually be far less expensive than their open water counterparts. It is fairly easy to get a great ice fishing rod and reel combo for well under $30. We’ll take a look at some of the best ice fishing combos under $30 in this article and try to determine what the best ice fishing rod and reel combo is for your dollar.
What to look for in an ice fishing rod and reel combo:
The perfect balance of lightweight and strong
The science and technique of developing ice fishing rods and reels have been fine-tuned and expanded over the years. This has made for some incredibly strong and efficient rods and reels that don’t have to break the bank. The top ice fishing rods and reels are generally the perfect balance of lightweight and strong.
The right size for your needs
You will likely want an ice fishing rod and reel combo that is lightweight yet still plenty strong enough to both fight fish up through the hole and vertically work your lures. The size and strength you will need from your ice fishing rod and reel combo will depend largely on the size of your shanty, the size of your ice fishing hole, and the kind of fish you will be catching. You will need a smaller ice fishing rod and reel combo if you plan on fishing in a shanty, especially a shanty designed for a small number of fishermen.
Four common classifications of ice fishing rods
There are four common classifications for ice fishing rods, those being ultra-light action, light action, medium action, and heavy action. Ultra-light action rods would be the top ice fishing rods for smaller fish such as panfish that generally stay well under 10 pounds. Heavy action rods would be the top ice fishing rods for larger fish, such as walleyes, pike, lake trout, and catfish. The largest ice fishing rod and reel combos you will generally want to use during open ice fishing. They tend to be a bit too large to fit comfortably in a shanty.
Fiberglass versus graphite
Graphite and fiberglass are the most common materials used to make ice fishing rods. Fiberglass is more sensitive, light and flexible. Graphite is much more durable, heavy, and resistant to corrosion. You will need to make sure the ice fishing rod and reel combo you choose is durable enough to hold up to the kinds of conditions you will be facing when ice fishing. You will also need to make sure the ice fishing rod and reel combo is able to hold its own against whatever kind of fish you will be going after.
Get a grip
You will want to make sure your ice fishing rod and reel combo has a good, solid, and comfortable grip suited for the cold and gloved hands that will be handling it. You don’t want your ice fishing rod and reel combo to slip out and fall down your ice fishing hole. A good handle material is EVA foam, as it provides a comfortable and sticky grip that makes your ice fishing rod and reel combo easy to handle in the cold.
The right amount of sensitivity
The last thing you need to make sure of is that your ice fishing rod and reel combo is sensitive enough that you will be aware when cold and lethargic fish are biting. Fish tend not to bite as hard during the winter as they do during the warmer months. This is especially true if you are going after panfish. Light and flexible rod and reel combos are great for showing you when weaker bites are occurring.
Know your ice fishing rod and reel combo needs before you purchase
There is a lot to take into account when it comes to ice fishing rod and reel combos. There are different needs for different situations and different types of fish. Some rod and reel combos will work great for some fish and not at all for others. There are some that will fit comfortably in a small shanty and some that will poke right through the windows. There are also a select few ice fishing rod and reel combos that are good middle-of-the-road options if you don’t wish to buy several poles for different situations.
The Best Ice Fishing Rod and Reel Combos:
Best Overall Ice Fishing Combo: Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2
Three sizes for different situations
The Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 comes in 3 different sizes for different situations. 2 of these sizes come in at a price point of under $30 on Amazon. There is the 26″ light for $24.99 (with a pink variant for an extra $2 that would be great for young daughters you wish to get interested in the sport), the 28″ medium for $29.99, and the 30″ medium-heavy for $31.87.
All variations of the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 include a size 20 spinning reel with 1 ball bearing. They have a ported aluminum spool which makes this combo the perfect balance of, lightweight and durable. There is a twist-lock reel seat that comes in handy for tough fights and EVA foam handles which provide a good and comfortable grip with no slipping.
Great middle-of-the-road option for all fishermen
This rod and reel combo would be a good option for both beginners and experienced ice fishermen alike. It is not too hard to handle. This pole would be a great option for kids, especially young girls who might like the unique pink design. Its lightweight and durable, making it a perfect middle-of-the-road rod and reel combo for fishermen who aren’t sure what they’re going to be fishing for.
Our experience with the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 was wonderful. I made my assistant use the pink one. The fiberglass tip makes this rod both durable and easy to sense fish bites with due to the flexibility. The rod bends very easily. These rod and reel combos held up very well during the extremely low temperatures we introduced them to. The handle was perfect and there was absolutely no fear of slipping.
Sensitive and strong
This one is sensitive and strong for a large range of fish, even large and aggressive ones. This option is light enough for crappies yet heavy enough for lake trout. And it’s a great value to boot. This ice fishing rod and reel combo comes with our highest recommendation. There’s nothing quite like seeing a 5-pound walleye lose the fight against a little pink rod in under a minute.
Best Gets the Job Done Ice Fishing Pole: Schooley’s Spring Bobber Pole
Ultra-light rod and reel combo that’s ready to go right out of the box
Schooley’s Spring Bobber Pole is a 21″ ultra-light rod and reel combo that goes for $19.99 on Amazon. It comes with a Del-Mar reel and includes a spring bobber, jig pole reel that allows you to adjust the drag, a marker pin for the reel line, a rod stand, and a little ice fishing jig so it’s all ready to go right out of the box. It even comes pre-spooled. This rod and reel combo is ultra-light and designed mostly for panfish. It would be good for kids and adults, but children especially.
Our experience with Schooley’s Spring Bobber Pole was good. This is an insanely great value if you’re just going after panfish and, as we said, would be the perfect size and fit for kids. It had no trouble at all detecting the light negative and neutral bites of panfish. This would be an especially good buy for a back-up rod and reel combo as it’s cheap and reliable.
A plethora of panfish
We caught a bunch of bluegills and crappie and it didn’t seem like many bites were going unnoticed. It has a plastic handle, however, which made the grip a little slippery. It also didn’t seem like the strongest pole, but this won’t be much of an issue with panfish. This would be a great and inexpensive option for beginners, or for veterans as a cheap back-up. Definitely a great option for the price.
Best Alternative Ice Fishing Combo: Shakespeare Glacier Ice Fishing Spinning Combo
Four sizes to fit your needs
The Shakespeare Glacier Ice Fishing Spinning Combo comes in four sizes with four different price points all for under $30 on Amazon. There is the 24″ ultra-light for $19.99, the 26″ light for $28.59, the 28″ medium-light for $25.97, and the 30″ medium for $23.55. They all feature an extended stem that increases the clearance, a 15-degree tilt on the pole for smooth line flow, a fiberglass body, stainless steel guides, and EVA foam handles for that solid and comfortable ice fishing grip. There is no locking reel seat, however.
No locking reel seat
Our experience with the Shakespeare Glacier Ice Fishing Spinning Combo was pretty good. Having no locking reel seat, however, makes it difficult to handle in the heat of the moment as the reel is held on by pressure alone. This made it hard to put our all into fighting larger fish like walleyes and lake trout. It’s still definitely a good cheap rod and reel combo that comes in a wide variety of sizes, all at a great price point. We would recommend it predominantly for weaker fish who won’t put up too much of a fight due to the lack of a locking reel seat.
Best Better Than A Stick Ice Fishing Combo: Berkley Cherrywood Ice Fishing Spinning Combo
Four sizes fit all
The Berkley Cherrywood Ice Fishing Spinning Combo comes in four sizes that all go for well under $30 on Amazon. There is the 24″ ultra-light for $19.49, the 26″ light for $19.99, the 27″ light for $20.44, and the 30″ medium for $22.63.
Not the best ice fishing rod and reel combo
Our experience with the Berkley Cherrywood Ice Fishing Spinning Combo was alright. It felt like it could break under pressure so we tried not to push it too hard. We certainly didn’t feel comfortable exerting a lot of force with it on tougher fish. It would probably be a good choice for those just going after panfish and is certainly a more than acceptable cheap option for fishing on a budget, fishing with children, or just to use as a backup.
Which one was best ice fishing rod and reel combo?
The Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 was the best ice fishing combo by far
The Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 was our favorite ice fishing rod and reel combo that we tried out. This is a great all-around rod and reel combo for ice fishing that feels just as comfortable jigging for panfish as it does wrestling against lake trout. The tight locking reel seat, EVA foam handles, and all-around durable and lightweight design would make this a great weapon of choice for any ice fishermen.
How do the rest compare?
Schooley’s Spring Bobber Pole came in second. This is a great little rod and reel combo for anyone on a budget and would be a perfect fit in cramped corners where you’ll just be going after panfish. It would also be ideal for children.
The Shakespeare Glacier Ice Fishing Spinning Combo is another good budget option and it comes in a wide variety of sizes all at a low price point. The plastic handle and lack of a locking reel seat, however, make this one a questionable buy for fishermen looking to go after larger fish such as catfish and lake trout, however.
The Berkley Cherrywood Ice Fishing Spinning Combo would be another good and inexpensive option as a backup, but it felt like it would break if it were forced to do battle with a larger catfish.
Have fun and stay warm!
Overall, any of these ice fishing rod and reel combos would serve the right fisherman well for their price. Your wants and needs will largely determine which option is the best option for you.