Can I Use a Regular Fishing Rod for Ice Fishing

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As the winter drags on, cabin fever sets in and tempts a person to ask, “Can I use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing?” As someone with a modest amount of ice fishing equipment and plenty of conventional spinning rods, this question has also crossed my mind. We’ve researched and asked for first-hand accounts of this age-old question. 

If you’re wondering if it is possible to use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing, the simple answer is: yes, you can. After all, fishing is fishing- so there is more than one way to skin a cat, more than one way to filet a fish, and more than one way to fish through the ice. If you are considering using a regular rod for ice fishing, your shortest and lightest action rod will be your best friend, which we will detail below.  

However, there is a perfect reason anglers prefer ice fishing rods to conventional rods designed for the river or lake. So while you can use a regular rod for ice fishing, the better question might be, “Do I want to use a regular rod for ice fishing?” Before you decide to turn heads on the ice with your conventional rod, let’s discuss the details. 

Reasons To Fish With A Regular Rod

If you’re like me, there are likely two reasons you want to use a regular rod on the ice. The first reason is simple: you want to save some money! After all, inflation is up, and graphite doesn’t grow on trees. Plus, choosing from the endless options of ice fishing rods can be overwhelming, encouraging many people to save their hard-earned money.  

The second reason: your equipment is limited, and you want to see if it would work! I’ve had plenty of friends try this tactic, and though their success rate was low, any catch was well-earned, and the story aged well. However, by the end of their day, standing six feet from the hole, they were grateful to return to their ice-rod tactics.  

Advantages Of Ice Fishing With A Regular Rod

Here is where my optimism for the regular-rod-endeavor wears thin, and we must be candid. There are limited advantages to a regular rod on the ice, and though there are many fishing gear gimmicks on the market, an ice rod is not one of them. A standard rod’s most justifiable advantage is its strength, as its length and backbone can offer more stability and leverage. However, even that is a short-sided argument due to the range of short-rod options suitable for any species, large or small, for the ice.  

Advantages Of An Ice Fishing Rod (Why You’ll Want One): 

With all of that said, there are many reasons why ice fishing rods are so popular and so effective. Let’s get into it.  

Proximity to fish finders

Nearly every person who is ice fishing will utilize fish finders, with the most common style being flasher-sonar equipment. These fish-finders will be close to the hole, requiring the fisherman to also be within a couple of feet of the hole. You can conveniently sit by the hole and accurately read your fish finder with a shorter ice fishing rod. Standing six feet away with a regular rod would be a tricky task.  

Rod sensitivity & bite

Companies design ice rods to be very sensitive, allowing anyone ice fishing to detect bites relatively easily. But more importantly, the shorter rod allows for a quicker hookset.  

Shorter rod length

When thinking of that hookset, most fishermen raise the rod tip high. Logistically, this likely won’t be possible while in an ice shack with a six-foot rod unless you don’t mind breaking rod tips on your ceiling (I don’t). Even if you’re not in an ice shack, your hookset on a standard rod will likely be slower.

Regarding rod control, a shorter rod is more suitable for fishing through a 6-12 inch diameter hole. Using a shorter rod, you can stand directly over the hole to ensure your line isn’t cut on the edge of the ice. Last but not least, when the time comes, a shorter rod length makes it easier to grab the fish.    


With an ice fishing rod, you can sit in the cozy confines of your ice shack. If you manage to fit a regular rod inside your ice shack, the rod will make things cumbersome and clumsy. You then run the risk of tipping over someone’s drink while fighting fish- that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.  

How to Modify Your Regular Fishing Rod for the Ice

You’re not alone if you’re tinkering with shortening your regular rod. Many people take the last sections of their conventional rods to create a 2.5-3 foot rod. The idea is simple. Take off the last section of your rod, and use some epoxy to install a handle, and voila: you have an ice fishing rod!

Can I Use a Regular Spinning Reel? 

Absolutely. If you use your summer-time spinning reel, try to use the smallest version possible. Most open water reels will have a measurement size using a four-digit number (for example, 2500, 4000). The smaller the number, the smaller the reel. Ultra-light rod setups, such as a reel in the range of 1000-2500, would work well for the ice. If you go this route, the key is to apply powdered graphite rather than Wd-40 to lubricate any bearings, as the powdered graphite will shed water from your line.  

Additional Related Questions

Types of Ice Fishing Rods?

Manufacturers design ice rods for specific species, lures, or water depths, and they will come in different lengths, power, and action. The power rating of a rod will be referred to as “light,” “medium,” or “heavy.” These terms reference the amount of weight it takes for the rod to bend.

For example, a light rod will bend easier on a smaller fish, whereas heavy rods require more weight. The rod’s action (fast, slow, or medium) refers to where the rod will bend on the rod blank. Think of this like the backbone of a rod, where a fast-action rod will be much more stiff compared to a slow-action rod. Each action has its advantages, and choosing a rod’s action comes down to application and the fisherman’s preference.  

What is the Best Length for an Ice Fishing Rod?

The most common ice fishing rod lengths run 20-40 inches long. Your desired length will depend on the species you are targeting. Generally speaking, bigger fish require a longer rod, and smaller fish require a smaller rod. For example, ice fishing for panfish is most common with rods in the 20-30 inch range. If you’re looking for an “all-around” rod length, a 28-inch rod is the most common. Also, an appropriate rod size will react appropriately to your bait. For example, a smaller rod will easily control a micro jig, whereas a larger rod will easily control larger bait. You can catch bigger fish on a smaller rod, but you should avoid over-tiring the fish in a long fight, which is likely with an undersized rod.  

What Are The Technical Differences Between Ice Rods and Regular Rods? 

As we reference “regular rods” throughout this post, we are talking about spinning rods or casting rods. Compared to the ice fishing counterpart, the most significant difference between the two groups is the length. Where ice rods can drop the bait into a hole, conventional rods require leverage to cast that lure or bait into open water. This leverage comes from the rod’s length. 

The diameter of ice fishing rods will also be much smaller than a regular fishing pole. This makes an ice fishing rod more sensitive to delicate bites under the ice. However, this means an ice rod is more susceptible to breaking because of the fragile nature of a thin rod and harsher elements from the ice and cold weather. Therefore, manufacturers use durable materials such as fiberglass and steel to make ice fishing rods (though graphite is also used).  

Last, some ice fishing rods do not use a reel, whereas a spinning or casting rod always includes a reel.   

Can I Fish in the Summer With My Ice Rod? 

The better question might be, “When would an ice fishing rod come in handy in open water?” Again, since they do not have the length and therefore leverage to cast out a line, the open-water application of an ice fishing rod is limited. If you’re fishing narrow, wooded trout streams, try an ice fishing rod, as it would easily avoid tangles and snags from brush or overhanging trees. However, I don’t know that the effort would be worth it.  

The Summary

“Can I use a regular fishing rod for ice fishing?” Of course, you can, and it will be possible to catch fish through the ice with a conventional rod. However, the limitations and disadvantages of a regular rod will become apparent- including but not limited to proximity to the hole and slower hook sets. If you try this tactic, your shortest and lightest rod will be your best bet for success. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to fish through the ice.  

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