Panfish Ice Rods - Which one "works" best?
Today's market offerings are loaded with great options when choosing the perfect ice fishing rod that suits your style of fishing and the fish you choose to target. In some cases it is convenient to have a single rod that can do it all, and although it may be better suited in one scenario than the other, it is almost a guarantee that a single rod will not give you the full experience or give you the full advantage in a technique specific setting. Have you ever heard the saying "good at many things, or great at one"? Same concept when choosing your ice rods! Having a selection of rods to choose from that performs best when fishing specific baits, locations or techniques is what often leads to more fish caught, better tournament finishes and ultimately more productive time on the water. Tuned Up Custom Rods offers a loaded lineup of high end ice fishing rods to cover every technique in the book and in this article, I aim to touch on a few points that help me choose which rods I use for different species of panfish, types of lures and why the composition of your ice rod contributes to your success on the ice.
Let's set the records straight right off the bat. The "sensitivity" of a rod is not necessarily measured by how flexible, forgiving or how noodle-like the rod is. Instead, it is measured by the rod blank's ability to distribute vibrations of activity (a bite) throughout the entire rod blank from the very beginning to end of the rod. Some rods are meant to fish lighter lead or tungsten jigs and offer a lighter backbone while maintaining precise sensitivity throughout the blank when the bite is lite. The Precision Noodle shines best in these conditions and is recognized as one of the greatest panfish rods to date for it's ability to deal with lite finicky bluegill bites or up-bites which crappies are notorious for.
Because the Precision Noodle offers a high visibility tip, spring-bobbers are no longer necessary. Bites are detected by visually watching the tip for the slight "tick" downwards and felt throughout the blank. There's nothing like the feeling I get from watching a Precision Noodle load up an a big bull bluegill!
"So because my Precision Noodle is the lightest rod offered in the TUCR panfish line, does that mean it will break if I hook into a surprise predator fish?" In short answer, NO. Precision Noodles and have been known to stand up to and out-match big walleye and northern pike with it's fiberglass composure.
The Precision Noodle acts as my bluegill work horse. If I am targeting bluegill in specific, I almost always have three of them rigged and ready to cover the types of presentations I expect to work at the start of my excursion. One with a small lead jig tipped with a single wax worm for a slower fall when fishing in submersed vegetation, another rigged with a small tungsten fly jig tipped with a wax worm as another natural presentation alternative, and the third rigged with a smaller tungsten jig tipped with a flange plastic bait for power fishing. I have found these lighter finesse baits to fish best when rigged on a Precision Noodle and really get active fish charged up!
The name "Bullwhip" is fairly self explanatory. It's been a proven workhorse in the panfish realm of ice fishing and continues to set the bar high. The Bullwhip in my opinion is the greatest panfish rod ever made, hands down! Much like the Precision Noodle, the Bullwhip features a solid fiberglass blank with a Hi-Viz yellow tip for visual bite detection, again, eliminating the need for a spring bobber. It offers a very forgiving soft tip but stout enough to fish larger tungsten jigs and small spoons while still having control of the bait. The quick, noodle tip transitions into a very strong backbone that gives me the confidence to land a solid hook set into monster crappies.
The Bullwhip is my tried and true crappie hunting rod. Crappies are capable of opening their mouths wider and are a bigger specimen in general in comparison to bluegills, bigger baits are often used, and this is where the Bullwhip excels. Often times I rig a small jigging spoon loaded with spikes or wax worms as a "meaty" option, a large tungsten fly jig without live bait when the bite is hot, or a bigger tungsten jig tipped with a plastic flange or creature bait when power fishing. The bullwhip is able to fish these bigger baits yet with such a soft tip because of the backbone to back it up, and when your crappies are exceeding 12 inches, you'll be thankful for the extra backbone!
No, the Fusion is not offered with a Hi-Vis ultra quick tip to detect the lightest of bites possible, but don't let that stop you from thinking this ins't a must have rod to have in your arsenal for panfish. Because the Precision Noodle and Bullwhip are masters of finesse fishing, a panfish rod that can handle even bigger baits for power fishing the hot bites is absolutely necessary, and that is exactly what the Fusion is known for!
Instead of a noodle-like tip with a quick taper into a solid backbone like the Bullwhip, the Fusion's tip has a slower action and transitions to the backbone more gradually, allowing for a solid and secure hook set as it loads up on the fish. The Fusion gives panfish anglers the option to fish bigger and heavier baits when the bite is fast and furious. When I am power fishing big gills or big crappies, I am fishing baits like small puppet minnows, bigger spoons or bigger tungsten jigs tipped with plastics. The sensitivity, or the rod's ability to disperse the vibrations of the bite all the way up the rod into the handle, is the real indicator of a solid bite. Often times during a hot bite, crappies and bluegills will suck in and spit out your bait before you even get a chance to set the hook, and it is important to fish a rod with this sort of action during hot bites for the ability to drive the hook home quickly to not miss out on opportunity. This rod really allows me to fish more by feel than by site and is a masterful rod for power fishing!
I hope this feedback on three of the main panfish rods in my winter arsenal of rods helps when deciding which rod may fit your style of fishing best. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but are masters at what they are built for! There is still plenty of time and ice left to be on the hunt for panfish this ice season, so take advantage of the late ice bite, be safe and most of all, happy fishing!
Garrett Haglin Outdoors