Which Croix Custom Ice (CCI) Rod?


Matt R. asks:

I saw St. Croix released their new CCI rods. I just had a couple of questions in regards to them.

First, as far as for panfish what rod would you recommend for fishing tungsten flys, jigs, smaller spoons, and number three rip n raps. I would also like to be able to see the bite.

The other rod would be for walleyes. This I would be fishing number 4 rip n raps, 1/8 spoons, jigging raps. Which one of the CCI’s would you suggest for this type of fishing. Thanks for your reccomendations! I look forward to hearing back from you! Thanks, Matt Rischette

Appreciate the questions Matt, and I know there’s lots of people that will want to know the same thing. You’ve highlighted a number of techniques for several species. I want to point out that there would likely be a few ways to address these needs, depending on what you want to spend and how much you do each of them.

You may be able to get away with 2-3 rods that are multi-faceted enough to satisfy many different roles, but keep in mind that these rods were designed to address specific situations, and the very best experience may involve getting a rod for each style or bait you’re fishing. I’ll break them up in that scenario to address strong suits for each rod/technique, but ultimately it’s up to you as to how much you fish each tactic and whether or not a rod-per-bait is the right approach for each person.

  • Panfish Tungsten flies and Jigs - You indicated you wanted to see the bite, and in that scenario, the Tungsten Tamer (CI28MLXF) is the far away best choice. This rod was crafted to deflect easily enough to detect both “up-hits” and standard bites, while standing up to the weight of today’s tungsten jigs and not overload. More importantly, the backbone of the rod and where in the hookset that power is felt, will make it one of the most popular panfish rods in the lineup.

  • Small Spoons - Tony spent alot of time with this rod, and without speaking for him I know he spends a good deal of his winter for perch and panfish with micro spoons. The Micro Spoon Rod (CI28LXF) addresses the popularity of tiny spoons being used for big gills and other panfish, that can often be lighter than the tungsten jigs we’re using. This rod’s power accounts for that and just like the Tungsten Tamer, properly handles the weight of the bait used for each technique.

  • #3 Rippin Raps - This bait is a feel bait. Pull it through the water column at even a slight “rip” and you' know what I mean. It would stand to reason that you’d want a feel-rod to pair it with. If you fish the smaller #3 alot, or simply prefer feel over the visual for most of your fishing, the Pan Finesse (CI24LXF) is the right tool to use. Taking a cue from their open water sticks, no one does a true XF action like St. Croix. You’ll see that same lightning fast deflection in this feel-rod, and specifically for this bait, you want to know the nuance of this bait’s action at all times. Most people overwork these baits, as they strive to feel that vibration, leading to the bait tangling itself or just scaring too many fish away. Feeling the subtlety of a Rippin’ Rap in action leads to working it more properly, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the smaller Jigging Raps with this rod either.

  • 1/8 oz. Spoon Rod - Pat Smith of the old Thorne Bros. days really changed my line of thinking on these styles of rods maybe 15 years or so ago. Take a look at your ice tackle, and you might find that 60-75% of what you own for perch and eyes anyway, is of the 1/8 oz. size, which makes finding the perfect rod to fish that size paramount to your success for those species. The Perch/Eye Spoon rod (CI28MLF) was designed to be an 1/8 oz. staple, and swiss army knife rod for most walleye applications. If you own one walleye rod from this lineup, this is likely the one.

  • #4 Rippin’ Raps and Jigging Raps - Both baits will fish better on the Search Bait Rod (CI32MF) given the weight of them, the power of these rods (M) and action (F), with the action being a key component. Ultra fast actions are the rage for ice rods, and though they certainly have their time and place, too fast for crankbaits in open water is just the same as too fast with hard baits through the ice. Keep in mind, a St. Croix fast action is already a touch faster than most manufacturers, but too fast prevents maximum swing, action, and fish-landed. I’m of the opinion that a fast action keeps more fish buttoned all the way to the hole, which is a huge consideration with hard baits and hard walleye mouths.

  • Bigger Jigging Raps and #4 Rippin’ Raps - Certainly the largest baits, and even the #4 Rippin’ Rap work better on the open ice with a slightly longer rod. Think trophy scenarios, big head-shakes, and trolling the open ice. If a good portion of your fishing involves these baits on these waters, I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Outside Eye (CI36MF).

So there you have it, it’s what I’ve been fishing for the same baits in last winter’s testing phases, as well as what I’ll be stringing up this winter. Let me know if you have any followup questions, and kudos to you for doing your homework, as pairing the best rod to the job at hand will always lead to a better experience and more fish.


Mid-Summer Crappies

Dan M. Asks:

We vacation near Park Rapids in July and by then the crappies can be hard to find. What tips do you have for locating them and what baits seem to work best. Thanks


Good question Dan.  You're right, when it comes to mid-summer, crappies can be a bit more challenging.  In most places I fish, early morning and evening low-light periods are definitely where most of the action happens, so be ready to fish when fish are active.  Also, be sure to target lakes where crappies are abundant in the first place.  Typically, I focus on one of a few patterns for mid-summer crappies depending on the lake.  

Pattern #1 - Slow rolling a jig and paddle-tail or twister-tail of any variety is a great way to catch weedbed fish.  Especially cabbage or lily pad bound fish that hide in the depths, or smack in the shallows during the day, you'll have good luck staying off of inside turns and/or points in the cabbage and casting up to them.  1/16 oz jigs are about the right size, but pair the weight to where and how you're fishing.

Pattern #2 - Increasingly, I'm falling in love with trolling Northland Tuff Tubes under the power of a trolling motor in the wide-open.  This may be a flat, or out over 50FOW, but use your electronics to side-image new paths, and your down-imaging or 2D sonar to find fish under you.  Various jig weights and plastic sizes get the job done, and this will be the subject of upcoming articles because of how well it works.

Pattern #3 - Don't forget vertical jigging over open water schools, or even weedline fishing for crappies that choose to feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates like bloodworms.  The best weedlines are deep, dense, and form some sort of point or inside turn.  Soft bottom adjacent or butting up against these weedbeds are what crappies need to find food.  

Fish some new areas, and use your electronics to dial in new spots during the day, so you'll be ready to take them on at dawn or evening hours.

Good luck,


Which Fillet Knife, Why?

Erik V. asks:


On opener, you posted some pics of you cleaning some eyes. What kind of electric knife do you use and why? Do you ever use a "traditional" knife?

Great question Erik.  For those walleyes, I was using a Lithium Ion Cordless Fillet Knife.  I've got a few sets of blades for different sized fish, and for fish that are walleye sized and up, they're the best I've found.  They make quick work of knocking off the sides, and yet are able to cut out the rib cage portions from fillets easily as well.  I like a fixed blade traditional knife for eyes too, but feel I'm a bit faster on the electric for those species.

I own a number of smaller traditional knives for panfish and walleyes, and the upside to these are that they're relatively inexpensive, sharpen easily, and are better for detail work.  For $50, you can have a few of them everywhere, in the boat, at the cabin, in the truck, etc.  I like the simple rubber handled versions with a non-slip grip.  Wood handled versions are great, and that's what I started on, but much of that part is personal preference.  


Fishing Log Hack

Tom M. asks:

This season I’ve been pushing myself to explore new fishing spots rather than relying on the regulars. I’ve found that between contour maps and a few DNR resources there is a ton of great information out there to prepare for a trip, rather than walking in blind (thanks for the resources, btw).

With all the new information both from the prep and actual fishing I’m struggling to stay organized. Navionics markers are great, but just scratch the surface. Do you have any tips of how to keep fishing records aside from a manual log book? Things such as trip dates, fish caught, successful lures, weather, ice conditions, etc. would be nice to look back on when planning future trips. Thanks!

This is a great question.  I find myself wishing at times I still kept a written log, as especially in a wheelhouse, when you have time on-ice you can really get detailed.  I did this for two seasons religiously in 2002 and 2003, and I can attest from experience that it makes you a better angler.  Not only do you record what you're seeing, you're exercising the idea of being observational, which makes you look at all of these details in a deeper manner. 

There's some great online apps like Fishidy, Pro Angler, etc., with each having their own Pros/Cons.  The upside for many of them, map-based, log information in pre-formatted entry forms, but the downside is often lots of stuff you don't need.

These days, our phones go with us wherever we go, and there's a great built in camera.  Photos tell the story, and more than anything, help jog our memories when we forget some crucial details.  Unlocking these key parts of your brain that store the information is something a simple photograph can do, so at least take plenty of pictures.

Even better, I've been using the Google Keep feature on my Android phone to gather some great information.  I can use it on my phone, then log-in at anytime from anywhere to see the information - https://keep.google.com/

It really organizes a few quick text blurbs, along with any photos or other information you have.  I can take screen grabs of the current weather, Navionics app location, along with some fish and bait pictures, then store that to a single Note I write for myself.  It's been a quick and handy way for me to stay organized and on top of what I do!

Marcum LX-7 Gain Settings

Anthony V. asks:

Hi Joel sorry to bug you had a question about the new lx7 lithium combo. In the settings do you know what the difference between sonar 1 and sonar 2 are ? I could not find it anywhere. Thanks

Each gain option on the LX-6, LX-7, or LX-9 represents a different gain curve, 1 shifts things less sensitive. Use it with a huge lure or target rich environment, super, super hard bottom, tons of signals dual returns, things like that. Gain 2 is a more normal curve assumed with most of the rest of Marcum products.

Good luck! Joel


Flasher Upgrade - Which One?

Bobby K. asks:


Hey Joel,

In the market to upgrade flasher. Looking at the LX5i vs the new M5. Is the only difference the brushless technology in the M5? Is the brushless tech worth the $150 extra? Looking to put the one I decide on on the new shuttle. 



Thanks for the question Bobby - The primary difference on the M5 is brushless tech, but colors are better defined and brighter yet through a patented design called the "light pipe."  Detectable to the avg. angler?  Yes, but moreso in a side by side comparison.  Staying ahead of the tech curve is a philosophical question mostly.  You’re always going to pay more to be on the cutting edge, but depending on your view, it may or may not be worth it.  What I can tell you about the M5 is that there’ll be less antiquated parts to worry about in years to come, as some of those parts are getting as hard to find as an 8-track tape player. 


How to Fish a Lake with No Contour Map?

Andrew H. asks:

Good morning Joel,
I have several new lakes I want to try fishing but the kicker is there’s no lake map. My question is how do you approach a new lake that has no lake map?
Thanks, Andrew

This is a great question, and something I'm faced with anytime I fish something off the beaten path.  Over the years, I've found a few ways of getting at that problem, though it does involve some digital reconnaissance as well as some on-lake interpretation.

From a digital perspective, here are just some of the resources I utilize:

2017-12-19 09_23_16-Environmental Data Application - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.png
  • MN DNR Recreation Compass - useful resource for just looking around and understanding how/where to navigate to
  • MN Landview - online GIS platform to compare multiple natural resources layers, aerial photos, etc.
  • MN Lakefinder - even when there's not a lake depth map, the other tabs, like "water quality" databases can provide very useful information.  For example, on this lake, though there's no depth map, I know that max depth is sampled at 13 feet, making me comfortable that it can withstand winterkills and maintain a fish population.  Not to mention, I know it's likely a shallow depression with little in the way of offshore structure:

After sleuthing what database information I can, I next look to aerial photos, primarily with Google Earth.  Comparing historically different dates of photography is ultra helpful, especially in larger water bodies with no map that also contain offshore structure.  This is especially useful in remote areas like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Compare these two dates of photos, with the second showing you just how shallow and boggy a portion of this lake really is.  Only look at one date, and you'd be misled:


From here, I turn to elevation information from the shoreline.  Often, shoreline features are great indicators of what's going on beneath the water surface as well.  For this resource in MN, I utilize LiDAR elevation information, which may or may not be available where you fish:

MN TOPO - LiDAR Elevation Website - For example, on the below lake, you've got a pretty good idea of where the steepest breaks will be based just on shoreline elevation.

2017-12-19 09_36_23-MnTOPO.png

On The Water - From here, you need to use your electronics, plenty of holes, and a good amount of determination to mentally map the lake bottom.  Always in the back of your brain be conceptualizing how a lake bottom looks like while you push on.  Let your focus first guide understanding of the structure, or lack thereof, and what it's doing to fish you mark.  People rush to the fishing part too quickly without fully understanding what's going on below.  A bit of time working on the front end, usually translates to better catching on the backside. 

Fishing these bodies of water constitutes some of the best fishing, and most fun I have annually.  Of course we strike out constantly, but finding a gem of your own makes it worthwhile.


What Kind of Line for Panfish and Walleyes?

 Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Chad S. writes:

I have a couple poles just for panfish and some that i use for walleye and panfish sometimes. What is the best line to use for panfish and is there a certain line that you would recommend for both walleye and also be used for panfish ? Do you prefer braid over mono and what brand do you normally use?

Thanks for the question Chad - I've been using the Sufix Invisiline Fluorocarbon for a few years now, and like what it has to offer.  Previously I was using the Ice Magic, and liked it too, but found the Invisiline had such similar properties while also having more transparency being a Fluorocarbon line.  

Unlike many Fluoro's I've tried, this stuff isn't brittle, and doesn't fray/split like some others I've tried over the years.  The best part too is that it remains manageable and relatively memory-free for much longer than traditional fluorocarbons.

As for braid, it's tough to use except in a permanent house, but there's a few situations when fishing deep when it's key.  I fished with JJ Malvitz and Tony Roach a few winters ago for whitefish in Green Bay where the 832 Ice Braid was the cornerstone of the whole program.


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