Best Ice Fishing Reel – Tackle Guide
Ice fishing is growing in popularity in North America, which is surprising with all the ice melt from global warming. Kidding! Ice fishing is a great pastime for those who can find the hard water throughout the colder months. Especially for the shore anglers without a boat who now have access to the entire body of water! Regardless, ice fishing is a great way to spend a day with family or friends, especially when you’re staying safe and smart on the ice.
During the colder months when the water temperatures are dropping the fish activity drops as well. As a result you’ll typically need an ultra-sensitive and light setup to detect these less aggressive bites. Of course when fishing deeper or for larger fish the lighter (smaller) setup won’t be ideal, but for the most part it’s the typical approach.
To make the most of your next ice fishing trip, it’s important to have a quality reel in order to have confidence and be more productive. When looking for the best ice fishing reel we recommend one that will provide the best ice fishing experience. Here are a few tips on what to look for in the best ice fishing reel and a few reviews to help you start your search.
What type of reel should I use for Ice Fishing?
The most popular ice fishing reels are spinning, inline and baitcasters. Baitcasters are the least common and usually only used for deep water or very large fish (e.g. Lake Trout). In this guide we are focusing on the two most popular in the spinning and inline reels.
The spinning reel is the most common reel that anglers use when ice fishing. A typical ice fishing spinning reel will be an ultralight size with a model smaller than or equal to 2500 (25). These smaller sizes are necessary to properly balance with the smaller ice fishing rods which are between 16 – 24 inches long.
Inline reels are like the younger brother to the fly reel in look and general functionality. The round reel hangs below in line with the rod. This position of the reel enables the line to run off/on in a straight line with the reel and without any line twists. Even though spinning reels may the most common reel, that doesn’t mean they’re the best. As these reels technology and model availability continue to grow, we could see them being the go to reel for ice fishing.
Ice Fishing – Spinning Reels vs. Inline Reels
Spinning Reel PROS:
- Best option for using live bait
- Better drag adjustments
- Better price point
- Less skill required to use
- More versatility in different fishing applications
Inline Reel PROS:
- Lack of line twists is the main advantage
- Best option for jigging baits (perfect presentations without line twists)
- Great line speed control on the lure/bait drop
- Free spool system (allows the spool to spin freely)
- Good for shallower fishing applications or smaller fish
- Better performance in colder temperatures (quicker to thaw and avoiding reel from locking up)
Spinning Reel CONS:
- Cause line twists when dropping and reeling up bait (causes the jig/lure to spin)
- Poorer control of the lure/bait drop speed
- Colder temperatures has a lower performance (if reel freezes up, it’s a longer time to thaw to stop locking up)
Inline Reel CONS:
- Higher price point
- Higher learning curve for newer anglers to use
- Fewer model choices available
- Less drag performance
Ice Fishing Reel Features
Weight is a crucial factor of an ice fishing reel. The lighter the better: easier to carry and store and less fatigue when holding for hours and waiting for the bite to go off.
By reducing the friction that is created in a fishing reel, ball bearings help to ensure the reel is operating smoothly and freely in spite of the drag load. More bearings are ideal for better performance and spin speed of the reel.
Graphite is a great choice when looking at reel components, as it has both highly rated strength and light weight specs for the harsh winter temperatures.
There are some interesting new materials being used in reels to decrease the lock up when components freeze. The Inline reels are demonstrating a better recovery time in this area. Worst case scenario, you should always have some sort of Antifreeze Paste on hand to reduce freezing on your line and rod guides.
The Black Betty features an anti-reverse, a smooth carbon drag system, and a bait alarm. With an aluminum handle and AVA knobs, the new frame design lets you use either a pencil or pistol grip without touching the rim of the spool. Plus, it has a super free-spool that drops even the most lightweight baits deep and the 2.7:1 Gear ratio allows you to retrieve at a 19” per crank rate.
- Has a perfect lure free fall while keeping the line straight (excellent jigging reel)
- Smooth drag that is easy to adjust when you are playing a fish
- Line retrieval speed is very good in keeping up with those running fish
- Hard to keep a pencil grip without your hand making contact with the spool
- Easy to overrun the line if you aren’t careful
For a high-quality spinning reel, the KastKing Spinning Reel is full of great features that will improve your fishing experience and make a great addition to your reel collection. It has a very lightweight spool that is made with strong CNC machined aluminum. It also has internal grooves for better lube retention, even line lay, and a larger fishing line capacity.
This is also a great reel to help you stick with you when you are wrestling with a fish. With high-quality inner parts, the KastKing Reels are what you need for hard-use ice fishing. With a hardened metal main shaft, you get increased fish-fighting power, plus you get a pinion gear that is precision machines and an excellent mesh drive giving you a higher rate of success when ice fishing.
- Solid and lightweight reel
- Very smooth feel
- Good value for the price
- The bale hangs up periodically
- Larger than some anglers may expect
With a drag system that features smooth Teflon and star drag and line clicker, the Eagle Claw Ice Fishing Reel is incredibly smooth and easy to control. It also features four ball bearings and is great for when you are trying to catch larger fish.
- Really smooth and easy to control
- Fantastic line control that is consistent no matter what the weather
- Great for big fish
- Line tends to slip causing a tangle
With five stainless steel ball bearings that are corrosion-resistant, the Pflueger Monarch has a drive system that gives you reliable and solid retrieves. Plus, the rubber knob provides extra grip on cold days and the longer stem gives you a comfortable hold even if you are wearing gloves.
- Great price point
- Quality long lasting reel that can handle cold temperatures and abuse
- Great for small to large fish (Smelts to Pike)
The Penn Pursuit also features an oiled drag to keep the drag lubricated. Dry drags have performance issues that can cause a snapped line or that will stick on its first engagement. With an oil felt drag, you won’t have any issues like that.
Instant anti-reverse performs two very important functions for your reel. They stop back play which lets you hold on strong once the drag is engaged. It also features four shielded stainless steel ball bearings that cover the balls with thin metal plating and traps them inside the bearing. This is important to lessen wear and stop harmful gritty particles from entering it.
- Great price for the value you get
- Durable reel that will lasts many years
- Good design that works well under pressure and cold temperatures
- A smaller sized reel would be a great addition
- Oil that lubricates the drag tends to run dry
Best Fishing Reels Conclusion
The clear winner for the best ice fishing reel is the 13 Fishing Black Betty Fishing Reel. You can tell just from the reviews how much this reel is loved, and it has one of the best reputations on the internet. Featuring aluminum construction, this is a durable reel that can take whatever a tough environment like ice fishing can throw at it. The Black Betty has tons of features including a bait alarm, anti-reverse, and a smooth carbon drag system. Plus it has an aluminum handle that include AVA knobs and a new frame design so you can use either a pencil or pistol grip without touching the spool’s rim.
Lastly, I’m continually testing and researching new reels to keep this guide up to date. If you have any of these reels or have tried other ice fishing tackle that you’d recommend I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment and let me know! Tight Lines! Jesse