Friday, January 6, 2012

Gill Chasing on the Ice: Volume 1 - Rod Selection

One of my favourite species to target on the ice are gills.. blue gills, sunfish, red ear, and any other name there is for the various members of this family of panfish. Gills encompass the 3 things ice anglers look for in a targeted species, they school up, put up some epic battles when hooked, and they taste great.. what more can you ask for?

I have been chasing gills on the ice for just over 7 years now. Slowly over that time I have been adjusting my arsenal to find the perfect combination of gear to take with me when chasing gills, and since I'm in a generous mood I thought I would share some of my findings with you. This is part 1 of of a 3 part blog. Today we will focus on the 4 styles or rod that I take with me to ensure a good day on the ice. Like you do with your tackle, you can and should adjust the rods you are using when the bite is tuff.

A quick disclaimer here before we jump in. This post is about rod/reel style and not so much brand. I will be sharing the brands I use, because that's what I use, that is not to say you need to load up on Thorne Bros rods if you want to be a good gill fisherman (but it cant hurt)

1) Noodle Rod

Many of you may use different names for this style rod, Jason Mitchell calls his version meatsticks (pictured below) Frabill calls theirs a Quick Tip, and thorne bros agrees with me and calls theirs a power noodle. What these rods all have in common is that they have a super sensitive tip with long soft tapers into the backbone of the rod. A good noodle rod tip will taper 1/3 to 1/2 way down the rod blank. The tip is usually painted a high vis color or marked in some way to help you train your eye on the tip while jigging.

(Jason Mitchell Meat Stick)

These rods are excellent for Gill fishing and remove any need for a traditional or spring bobber. The rods are weighted for ultra lite jigs and should show the slightest bend/arch wen the jig is tied on. I use various sizes of noodle rods but prefer to use one in between 28-34" in length, this ensures I still get some backbone and allows the rod to be used for larger species like perch and crappie. I do carry one noodle rod that is 48" in length that I use on days when i will be fishing outdoors and moving from hole to hole. This longer rod is a saint for those who have back issues and want to stand-up

In my opinion the best three rods in this category are..

Thorne Bros Power Noodle

Jason Mitchell MeatStick

Whip'R Rod


Noodle rods are my go-to panfish rod. It is the rod I start my day out with, they give you a good mix of sensitivity and fun. They are designed to handle the standard micro jigs that are used day in and day out when gill fishing. If the bite it tough, and I'm missing fish, its time to jump down to rod #2 (see below)

2) Spring Bobber Rods

You may argue that any rod can be made into a spring bobber rod and your probably right. Many companies sell spring bobber tips you can add to a rod, some are small pieces of wire and others are long springs that love to freeze solid when fishing outdoors. I have done some serious testing in the Spring bobber market and as with many areas in fishing equipment.. you get what you pay for.. so for me, there is no better spring bobber and spring bobber rod on the market then the St.Croix Legend. The adjustable coil body slides in and out of the holder to adjust tension without having to change bobbers and the high vis gold color and beaded tip is easy to see in all conditions. Best perk.. Since the line and water do not travel through the spring portion of the bobber there is no freeze up like that seen on the Frabill Panfish popper.. also no need for a threader when using the Legend.

My first ever spring bobber was a frabill panfish popper, a rod I truly hated, but over the past few season Frabill has really stepped up to the plate and given some of their rods a new life,  the panfish popper is one of those rods. Avoid the blue rod & reel combo at all costs, but the new popper rods are a quality product available in various sizes and power levels. They stepped up the rods durability but still rely on the solid coil spring, a bobber that causes many anglers fits, due to constant freeze ups and the threading concerns.

(St Croix legend)

Best Spring Bobber Rod Choices:

St Croix legend

Frabill Panfish Popper


Although the noodle rod is my go-to rod when panfishing, the spring bobber is a close second. I switch up to a spring bobber for the following reasons..

 - I want to use jigs that may outsize some of the noodle rod tips (St Croix bobber is available in L,M, MH and H).
- I want a firmer backboned rod but still use the ultra sensitive tip.
- I need an even more sensitive tip then the noodle rod can provide

In all these instances I will switch up to my spring bobber, and hopefully increase my catch ratio. But if I'm still missing bites and fish, then there is still one place I can go to increase the sensitivity and hopefully my catch..

#3) Palm Rods

There are a ton of guys out there that hate palm rods.. I'm not one of them.. but I also hope I never have to use one! The palm rod for me, is the ultimate rod for those days that the bite is so lite it is nearly no-existent. I carry two with me, and they are kinda like my emergency kit, rigged up with some super lite line (Asso Line 1-2lb) and baits that are so small I don't even know how I still manage to tie them (baits range from 1/16 down to 1/128). Like all emergency kits, you never want to have to use them, but sure glad you have them when needed.

(Marmish Rod)

My Palm rod of choice is the Marmish rod, a rod shown to me by a friend who was a former member of Canada's Ice fishing team, sadly he is longer with us (Terry Sweet) but his gift of the marmish will live on in my arsenal. Palm rods are simply that, a small plastic rod that fits in the palm of your hand, there is no reel, but a small plastic spool that will hold small diameter line. When fishing a palm rod you are really "hand over handling" you drop your jig down the hole, and using the bobber to detect the bite. A marmish spring bobber is the most sensitive spring bobber I have come across and detects the slightest movement including up-bites.

Once a fish is hooked similar to tip-up fishing you simply hand over hand you line back in. The rod is not meant to fish fish, it is just a high end bite detector . A nice perk to the hand over hand technique is that since you never reel in the line, it is super easy to drop back down to the same spot/depth you caught your last fish.. on the down side if you are fishing deep water the excess line on the ice can be a pain and a mess if you are not careful when bringing in your fish

(Marmish Tip with Wolfram Jig)

Palm Rod of Choice: Marmish

The Application:

I think I covered this above, these rods only leave my rod case when all else has failed. They are a way to redeem myself when I know there are fish down there, but cant get them to bite. The sensitivity of this bobber is incredible, you will be amazed at how many bites you were missing.

Rod #4: Straight Line Combo

I have already spent some time on a separate blog covering straight line combos so I wont dwell on them here. What I will say is that I like to move to a straightline line combo when using more non traditional Gill baits, like spoons or small lipless cranks or jigging raps. Many guys live and die by the micro jig when gill fishing, and I agree they are a great way to start, but it is allot of fun to use other baits not commonly used. these are baits the fish have not seen often and they help draw in some of the bruisers in the school

(Okuma Sierra Fly Reel)

To pull this off I move to the straight line combo as it gives me a stouter rod with a fairly soft tip, that is much firmer then noodle rods or spring bobbers. The firmer tip allows you to "snap" this style of bait. Snapping is just a more forceful or erratic means of jigging. Thorne Bros make a rod called the Quiver stick, it is one of the best rods I have ever purchased and gets some serious use with gills, perch and crappie.. strong but sensitive.

Some Straight Line options

Thorne Bros Quiver Stick

Frabill Straight Line

When Gill fishing I like to utilize all of the above rods, some see ice on every trip and others might only get one use a season. To be they are all an important part of my arsenal when chasing gills, although I don't always use them, I'm always happy they are there. Give some of these a try when your on the ice, and you may just land a few more gills for the pan

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