Rippled, open waters are rapidly flattening across the northern reaches of the country, igniting the passions of avid ice anglers as they freeze closed. Right now – as the arenas are formed – season goals are being set, local excursions and farther-reaching adventures are being planned, and all manner of ice-fishing gear is being prepped. Of course, many ardent hardwater anglers are also thinking about new equipment; specifically, they’re thinking about new rods to support the various tactics they’ll employ throughout the season.
Wisconsin-based fishing instructor, charter captain and St. Croix pro, Barb Carey, spends hundreds of hours on the ice each season. She enjoyed early access to several of St. Croix’s newly reimagined Mojo Ice models last season, and used them in many of her Wisconsin Women Fish educational fishing programs – including last winter’s Women on Ice event. One of the primary lessons Carey teaches new anglers – both on the ice and on open waters – is that quality equipment leads to increased success and satisfaction.
Reimagined for the 2020/2021 ice season, new Mojo Ice rods fall firmly in that category. They feature precision-tapered solid-carbon blanks, proprietary St. Croix reel seats with ergonomic split-grip EVA handles, and are equipped with lightweight stainless-steel guides. The rods also feature a stealthy new Carbon Dust color with striking Black Cherry Metallic accents. What’s more, these exceptional ice-fishing tools carry and angler-friendly retail price starting at just $50.
“One of the things I like about the new Mojo Ice rods, specifically, is how the reel seats and grips make the blank accessible to the index finger,” Carey says. “Maintaining contact with the blank enhances what are already really sensitive rods, and really helps to really what’s happening at the end of the line. The sensitivity is so good, I can tell if I’m on a sand bottom or a soft bottom just by maneuvering my tungsten jig around. It’s a small design detail that makes a big difference.”
Carey provides more context. “One of the places I fish, the crappies are pretty hard to find. There are isolated patches of cabbage and milfoil, and the fish roam from patch to patch, constantly on the move. The ability to know what you’re feeling – weeds, other bottom structure, or a bite – is critical,” she says. “The sensitivity Mojo Ice delivers is key. For me, as a fishing instructor, they’re ideal teaching tools because anglers can more easily differentiate what it is they’re feeling. These rods create what I call ah-ha! lightbulb moments for my students, which is great, because the more confident and successful I can get them to be, the more passionate they become about fishing.”
Carey adds that many of last season’s Women on Ice participants walked away from the event with their very own St. Croix Mojo Ice rod. “We received follow-up photos throughout the rest of the season from people who were ecstatic about how much the rods were helping them feel more bites and catch more fish.”
For early ice, Carey does a good amount of scouting, carrying a couple Mojo Ice rods, but largely relies on the 36” light (MJI36L) model. “When I’m searching for bites, I’m using micro-spoons which present really well with the MJI36L, so that rod really helps me cover water while searching for fish. The 36” length lets me stay on my feet and back a bit from the hole to avoid spooking fish in clear, early-ice conditions,” Carey offers. “On many of my local lakes, you have to cover some ground to keep on top of them. The early-season fish I’m pursuing are really dependent on those weed beds. That’s where the food and cover is, so a lot of times you’ve got to be right down in the thick stuff where it can be easy to get confused by what you are feeling… a weed or some other environmental factor versus a fish sucking in the jig. That sensitivity of the Mojo Ice blank, fast tip, and unique reel seat and handle design all work together to make it easy to tell the difference.”
St. Croix pro, Hunter Rud, also spent last winter putting new Mojo Ice rods through their paces. The 24” ultra-light (MJI24UL) quickly became one of his favorites. “First of all, I like the length of that rod for fishing inside a house,” the Minnesota pro says. “I sight fish a lot of really shallow water in the bays and backwaters of the Mississippi River, so the 24” length allows me to look down and see what’s happening without having my line pinch on the edge of the hole.”
Rud defines “really shallow” as three, four, maybe five feet of water. “As far as tactics go, my first priority during early ice is finding good, safe ice,” he says. “I spud my way out and pack pretty light, occasionally pulling a sled for extra gear to spread the weight out. I’m generally out fishing on the first two to four inches of ice – whatever I feel comfortable walking on – looking for that green vegetation that’s still producing oxygen. I catch fish in these spots every year; my dad took me as a kid to a lot of these areas and not much has changed. Now though, I’ll bring along a flip-over or a hub shack to keep things dark so I can sight fish the crappies, bluegills, and perch.”
Rud says the water is generally pretty clean and visibility is usually really good from inside a shelter. “The 24” Mojo Ice ultra-light is a great tool for this kind of sight fishing. I didn’t need a spring bobber or anything on it. It has a quick tip that translates bites well with a good backbone that delivers the power necessary for bigger panfish. A 14- or 15-inch perch is no problem on this rod.”
Rud expounds on Carey’s accolades to Mojo Ice’s ergonomics. “The unique, lightweight reel seat and blank-thru handle are perfect for a pencil-grip-style hold, and allows me to feel bites I may not see,” he says. “It’s light and crisp in the hand, and even though it’s an ultra-light – as I already mentioned – it still has plenty of power. I’m generally fishing really small tungstens or Lil’ Cecils, which present perfectly on this rod.”
Michigan-based St. Croix ice pro Chuck Mason has competed in ice fishing tournaments from New York to Montana. He preps and competes with a multitude of different St. Croix ice rods, including Mojo and Croix Custom Ice models, but says the St. Croix Avid Ice Jigging series still his favorite.
“I basically have my Avid Ice Jigging rods sized by the shanty I’m using,” explains Mason, who most often targets walleyes with the medium-power Avids on 8- 10-lb. line. “If I’m using my one-man Clam shanty, I’m fishing with the 27” (AIR27M). And if I’m using the small, two-man shack, I’m fishing the 30” (AIR30M). I use the longer 36” Avid Ice Jigging rods (AIR36M and AIR36MH) when I can get my big shack out onto the bay here on Lake Erie, and use those rods for fishing outside, too. The actions on all the Avid Ice rods are great, and even the medium-light power rods are designed to handle some pretty big fish.”
Mason gravitates towards the Avid Ice Jigging series rods because of what he calls a slightly faster tip – even compared to other fast action rods. “Their solid carbon blanks just seem to fish faster and feel a bit stiffer than comparable rods of the same power and action… which is what I like for the situations I often find myself in during tournaments. As soon as I start lifting I immediately feel anything that’s there with the Avids. There’s no play or slop in these rods, and the lightweight carbon handles really contribute to their excellent sensitivity, feel and balance,” he says. “Their sensitivity and power are perfectly matched for walleyes in my opinion, and they deliver incredible hooksets. I just love ‘em!”
Although he can fish whatever St. Croix ice rods he likes, St. Croix Factory Store Supervisor and avid (pun intended) ice angler, Dave Fischer, is another fan of the Avid Ice Jigging series. “They are still my go-to rods,” he offers. “At around $60 retail, the price is one reason Avid Ice Jigging rods are so popular. Another feature I personally like is the lack of a reel seat on the carbon handles. Some anglers like the reel near the back of the handle, while others prefer it up towards the front for a pencil-grip-style hold. With Avid, no matter what reel you’re using, you can place it precisely where it feels best, then simply tape it to the rod.”
Like many other anglers, Fischer deploys a lot of Rippin’ Raps, Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons, and Flutter Spoons in his walleye pursuits. “The 27” medium (AIR27M) works great for all of these popular walleye baits and are great in tighter quarters,” says Fischer. “If I have a little more room I’ll move up to the 30” (AIR30M).”
Like Mason, if Fischer is fishing outside, he’s often using the 36” medium (AIR36M )or medium-heavy (AIR36MH) Avids. “I really like the AIR36MH,” he says. “I fish on Chequamegon Bay a lot where I’m using heavier spoons for big browns, rainbows and lake trout.”
Closer to home, Fischer employs the medium-light power Avids (AIR27ML and AIR30ML) when targeting smaller to medium sized walleyes. “It’s generally shallow water stuff, ten feet or less,” he says. “I do make a trip up to Lake of the Woods every year and that’s all typically medium-power rods – although I will bring up the AIR36MH for going way out and fishing the 25- to 35-foot reefs. It does really well delivering solid hooksets on bigger fish in the deeper water. Even so, I won’t hesitate to drop down to a medium or even a medium-light light power Avid Ice Jigging rod in the deeper water if the fish require finesse and I’m using lighter line or braid. As Chuck already pointed out, all of these Avids fish a bit faster in the tip, and the medium-light Avids to a great job absorbing a lot of those headshakes and tail thumps when you’re bringing them up in deeper waters, especially on braid when fish are more likely to pull the hooks with a stiffer rod.”
Fischer says St. Croix’s Avid Ice Jigging rods have stayed popular over the years for their extreme performance at a realistic price, and suggests ice anglers investigate the line for their specific needs. “When you have multiple rods set up, it can be hard to justify spending a lot of money. The AVID Ice Jigging series delivers excellent performance at a really good price.”
Don’t get caught fishing the same old, outdated gear this winter. Whether you’re chasing predators or looking forward to dialing in epic panfish bites, consider the rods that will give you the upper hand. St. Croix designs and builds dozens of ice fishing models across several distinct series, including new Mojo Ice, Avid Ice Jigging, Avid Glass Ice, Legend Black Ice, Premier Ice Combos, and the extreme-performance Croix Custom Ice (CCI) series. You’ll find rods suited to exactly how you fish that offer the varying combinations of lengths, powers, actions and blank materials necessary to deliver pride and performance on any budget.