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Best Ice Fishing Rod for Panfish: TUCR Bullwhip

How to Choose the BEST Ice Fishing Rods for Panfish

When it comes to finding the best ice fishing rods for panfish, many people don’t know where to start.  There is a multitude of different brands, styles, options, and of course opinions. It’s not just overwhelming to new anglers, but can even be a lot to digest for avid anglers making upgrades too. Let’s face it, in today’s world there is just a lot of noise.

That’s why this article is going to focus on what to look for when choosing the perfect panfish rod.  Nothing technical, just simple things to consider when picking out a rod that’s ideal for the fish and species you are targeting.

Then I’m also going to break down exactly what I use, why I chose it, and how it can help you turn over more fish too.

In this article, we are going to cover:

  • What to think about when picking an ice fishing rod for panfish
  • What rod terminology means
  • What I believe is a perfect setup when ice fishing for panfish

WHAT TO THINK ABOUT WHEN PICKING THE BEST ICE FISHING RODS FOR PANFISH

There are two questions you need to ask yourself when picking out a panfish rod:

  • What fish are you planning on targeting? 
  • What bait do you want to use to target that fish?

Those two applications (other than budget, of course) are going to be the primary factors when picking the rod you want to use in most situations.

In general…

  • The smaller the fish =  the lighter the lure =  the lighter the rod. 
  • The larger the fish = the larger the lure = the heavier the rod. 

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Sometimes you might need the lightest presentation imaginable, even when chasing an aggressive and large fish such as a walleye or smallmouth. However, in most situations, this can be your best guide when deciding what rod to have in hand and when.

Essentially, the key is to find a rod the has enough sensitivity to detect the smallest bites while still having the backbone to keep the biggest fish of the species pinned. It’s also essential that you can control the bait you have at the end. For example, if you want to try a little bigger spoon when targeting panfish, you are going to benefit from grabbing a slightly stiffer rod.

ROD POWER & ACTION: The KEY to Detecting the Bite

Detecting the bite on a panfish ice fishing rod

To determine what rod is best for this, we need to start by looking at rod “power” and “action”. In general, you need to have to light enough power and quick enough action to determine when the fish is actually biting, so you can then successfully nail the hookset. If you can’t detect the bite, you are going to have a difficult time hooking the fish – especially when these small panfish are finicky.

ROD POWER

The rod “power” is the amount of pressure that is needed to make the rod bend. You have likely heard this being referred to as ultralight, light, medium-light, medium, heavy, etc.. These terms are relatively universal, but their precision is dependent on the rod company. Not every rod company will offer a “medium-light” for example.

In almost all panfish circumstances you will use a light or ultralight rod when targeting panfish. This is because you need the lighter resistance and extra sensitivity to detect the bite.

When it comes to panfish, you will be fishing with ultralight and light-powered rods the vast majority of the time.

Tuned Up Custom Rods Review Power Chart
The Tuned Up Custom Rods guide to fishing rods.

ROD ACTION

Rod action is where the rod bends. Fast action rods will bend at the end (towards the tip) and slower action rods will bend closer to the reel. This is important because it determines how you control the lure and how you “work” a fish. For example, a faster action tip is going to allow you to control your jig better, allowing for quick movements.

Many panfish rods have a “noodle action”. This is a little bit different. This is almost a uniform flex across the rod, allowing for the very lightest bites to be detected . However, these rods shine when using the smallest and lightest baits. If you using something to heavy, however, it will take away from the sensitivity and you’ll struggle to detect the bite and hook the fish.

A noodle rod is your answer to the days when you have the lightest bites and are targeting the smallest fish.

In conclusion, the two best types of rods for most panfish application are an ultralight fast action rod and an ultralight noodle action rod. It’s key to have both ready to go, but determining which one to have in hand is determined by which fish you are targeting and which presentation you want to use. When set up properly, both will be light enough to detect light bites while having slightly different presentations when “working a fish”.

WHAT ABOUT SPRING BOBBERS?

If you are brand new to ice fishing and don’t have the budget for a variety of rods, then it’s definitely OK to purchase a few spring bobbers and put them on whatever rod you own. It will help you detect the bite for sure. However, when it comes to targeting fish with finesse strategies, having the right rod build will make a big different in your ability to properly hook into a fish. Even with a spring bobber, too stiff of a rod will make hooking into these fish rather difficult.

ROD LENGTH AND VISIBILITY

Finally, lets talk about rod length and visibility. Out of these two, let’s start with length.

ROD LENGTH

A longer rod is going to be more forgiving. It’s going to absorb more of the fight, helping you horse a fish in easier. It’s going to allow for more user error. When hooking a trophy fish, a longer rod can be very beneficial.

However, if you fish in a shack regularly, especially a flip-over, a longer rod can also be a huge pain. It’s in these conditions that most anglers prefer something much shorter, even if it means you might be in for a little tougher battle.

I often find that 28″ – 30″ panfish ice rods to be that “sweet spot”. They are long enough to help you out if you hook into that tank crappie but short enough to still be comfortable in most shacks.

VISIBILITY

Next, let’s talk about visibility. In most circumstances, you will need to detect the bite to catch the fish. That’s why having a fluorescent end on the rod can be a game changer. You can have the lightest rod in the world, but if you don’t see the bite you won’t catch anything. Make sure you have a rod that accounts for the visibility factor.

ICE ROD TECHNOLOGY MATTERS TOO

So we know that rod power, action, and visibility can affect the way you perceive a bite. However, manufacturer technology also has a lot to do with sensitivity. Premium rods generally come with premium blank technology and high end materials, allowing your entire setup to be lighter, stronger, and more sensitive to vibration. However, this also comes at a cost – expense. It’s hard to beat a premium rod when you have the budget for it.

MY FAVORITE ICE FISHING RODS FOR PANFISH

I have at least two rods ready to go at all times. One is for the smallest jigs and lightest lines and the other is for a little heavier setup. Sometimes I’ll have up to four. The more rods, the quicker you can make adjustments, and the more fish you are likely to land.

In addition, all of my ice fishing panfish rods have a high visibility tip that makes identifying even the lightest bites a breeze. I like them a bit longer than the typical panfish angler would, with a minimum length of 30″.

The TUCR PRECISION NOODLE

The Tuned Up Custom Rods Precision Noodle is the lightest rod in the TUCR lineup (from my understanding, they no longer offer the Maestro). This is my absolute go-to when I am using the lightest baits on the lightest fish. Pair this up with a 1/32 oz tungsten and there isn’t a better rod out there. It has all of the sensitivity you need when working baits this light, and also offers a high-vis end allowing for easy detection of even the lightest bites.

I personally like to pair this with an inline reel and 2 to 3 lb monofilament line.

THE TUCR BULLWHIP

The Tuned Up Custom Rods Bullwhip is by far my favorite rod for crappie. It will even work well for big bluegills when the conditions call for bigger baits.  It has a fast action end that transitions into a stronger backbone. It’s still considered an “ultralight” but it is stiffer than any other ultralights I own and is very capable of managing larger spoons and jigs. This not only allows you to target bigger, more aggressive fish but can sufficiently support the accidental walleye or pike that might strike instead.

Of course just like the Precision Noodle, the Bullwhip has a high visibility tip, allowing you to detect the lightest bites without a spring bobber. The Bullwhip goes from 28 to 36″ offering plenty of length for the outside fisherman who prefers to hole hop. I do a lot of shack sitting, so the 30″ has been a great length for me.

I pair my bullwhip a bit heavier. I like to use a standard spinning reel, and 4 lb to 6 lb braid. I then pair it with a 4 lb fluorocarbon leader. Braid has a big advantage of no line twists.

HAVING THE RIGHT SETUP MAKES A DIFFERENCE

When it comes to choosing the best ice fishing rods for panfish, it’s all about controlling the bait and being able to detect the bite. Spring bobbers can be a good addition to a cheap rod, but too heavy of a backbone can be overkill on a hook set. So if you have the budget, investing in one or two good panfish rods can go a long way in turning over more fish in a season.

When targeting panfish this spring, I also recommend pairing my favorite rod with one of my favorite panfish lures:

Get 15% off my favorite panfish lures by using NICOLE15 at checkout at Lurenet on all lures including the following:

Also grab one of my panfish Stone Tackle Boxes for 10% off (by being a Nicole Stone Outdoors reader) here.

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