Best Ice Fishing Reels: Complete Review of In Lines, Spinning Reels, and More

Last Updated on April 29, 2021 by Coty Perry

Best Overall

Eagle Claw In Line Ice Reel

4.4/5

Best In Line Ice Fishing Reel

Black Betty Hardwater In Line

4.6/5

Best Spinning Reel

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight

4.3/5

To find the best ice fishing reels, we must first understand what that means exactly. There’s a lot of misconception about “what an ice fishing reel is.” The goal of this article is to put my decades of ice fishing experience out on the line. The best ice fishing reel is an in-line reel, hands down. 

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a spinning reel as well. 

I’ve used about 15 different ice fishing reels over the years, many of which are included in this review below. By the end, you’ll feel confident enough to choose one for yourself.

The 6 Best Ice Fishing Reels Review

Eagle Claw In Line Ice Reel

BEST OVERALL

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

Black Betty Hardwater In Line

Best In Line Ice Fishing Reel

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight

Best Spinning Reel

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

Black Betty Freefall Ghost In Line

Runner-Up In Line Reel

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

Abu Garcia ICEMAX

Runner-Up Spinning Reel

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

Pflueger President

Smoothest Reel

SPECIFICATIONS
BENEFITS
DRAWBACKS

How to Choose the Best Ice Fishing Reel – Complete Buying Guide

ice fishing from a small piece of ice

In this ice fishing reels review, we’ve looked at the best ice fishing reel choices and by this point, you should have a solid understanding of what these reels are and why someone would want to buy one of them. If you’re on the fence about which one is the right choice for you, this section will help break down some of the decisions I use when deciding on the right reel for me. 

Body and Materials 

One of the first things you’ll want to look at is the body of the reel and the materials that go into it. The same thought process should be applied like when we’re deciding on a saltwater reel. We need to factor in additional elements because the water and environment can be hazardous to the life of the reel. You can’t use any old reel for saltwater fishing and the same rule applies to ice fishing. 

This is where in-line reels come in. These have a unique design that reduces the need for the reel to flex or bend and the line falls straight off the spool. While this design is actually simpler than most reels, it makes the most sense for ice fishing. 

You also want to pay attention to the materials used on the reel. If the reel is made with a lot of plastic, you’ll want to consider whether or not it is durable enough to stand the test of time. Aluminum and graphite are better options. 

Spool Design 

Keep in mind that ice fishing doesn’t put as much stress on the spool. This is because you’re not casting and you’re spending a lot more time without a whole lot of movement on your line so there is less twisting and bending. The point is, you don’t need anything overly fancy so this is where in-line reels are the desired design as well. 

In-line reels prevent twisting because the line falls directly off the spool and is retrieved back onto the spool without any twist. These reels can generally hold more line as well because they have a smaller arbor. If you’re serious about ice fishing and you’re sure that you want to get into it, getting an in-line reel is the way to go. 

Bearings

best ice fishing reels rigged up

Whenever you purchase a fishing reel of any kind, you want to pay attention to the number of bearings it has. Most people assume that more bearings equals a smoother reel, but that’s not always the case. What’s most important is that the reel manufacturer uses high-quality roller bearings or stainless steel ball bearings. 

If you shop the best brand names like Daiwa, Pflueger, Shimano, KastKing, and Abu Garcia, you won’t have to worry about that. They all have their own proprietary brands that they use so you can be sure that you’re getting the best materials. 

These factors are especially true when talking about ice fishing reels. Less bearings is fine because you’re not casting and retrieving across long distances. The quality of the bearings will ensure that they don’t lock up or start to burn. This will cause your line to feel the pressure resulting in the line snapping. 

Gear Ratio 

The gear ratio refers to the number of revolutions the spool makes for each crank you take on the handle. The lowest the gear ratio, the more times you’ll need to turn the handle to get the fish out of the water. 

If you know anything about fishing at all, the first thing you might pick up on is that ice fishing reels have a much lower gear ratio that most other reels. 6:1 is a pretty common gear ratio but we’re finding ice fishing reels with 2.5:1 gear ratios, why is that? 

They’re built to handle larger fish traveling shorter distances. When you have a low gear ratio, the reel is dedicated to pulling in big fish patiently. When you use an ultralight reel for example, those have a high gear ratio because you may have a long distance to bring back a small bass but it doesn’t put up as much of a fight so you can quickly reel it in. 

If you have a big muskie or walleye at the end of the line, a high gear ratio reel could snap your line if you don’t have your drag set properly. You’ll go to start retrieving it and the line will snap almost instantly because of the reverse tension the fish is creating. 

Lower gear ratios give the fish the patience they need to tire out so you can bring them in without putting too much pressure on your internals or your line. 

Handle 

Non-slip materials will be important on your ice fishing reel because you might be wearing bulky gloves. You’ll also want an aluminum handle that is as large as possible so you can really crank down on a larger fish. These handles usually have a wider diameter which gives you more space to operate without having to worry about hitting your knuckles off the spool. 

This is one of those things that you can’t find in standard spinning reels. They won’t possess these features so that’s one of the reasons why I recommend going with an ice fishing reel. You’ll get all the features you need and even if you have to sacrifice somewhere along the road, you will still have the right reel for the job. 

Anti-Ice Features 

Continuing down the ice fishing road, let’s talk about ice fishing reel features. Some of these can include, antifreeze lubrication, large handles, anti-corrosive materials, and an automatic line release. 

I also look for a reel that is durable enough to handle the most extreme temperatures. If you have a flimsy reel with a fragile bail, that will be the first thing to go. You should also keep your eyelets in mind on the ice fishing rod as well. While this doesn’t apply to the reel, it’s important to mention that ice will build up in these areas and can cause the rod and reel to become brittle. 

Weight 

Last but not least, the weight of your reel is an important factor as well. If the reel is too heavy, it will become a problem after a day of fishing. You’ll feel fatigued and could potentially miss out on the fish of a lifetime if you’re too tired or impatient to handle it. 

On the flip side, you also don’t want something that is super lightweight and cheap. I’ve found over the years that going with a lightweight reel is generally the best way to go though because manufacturers are finding ways to shave ounces off their overall weight by using different materials without sacrificing durability or performance.

FAQs

In reality, you can use whatever reel you want (sorta) for ice fishing. The best choice is to use an in-line fishing reel because they’re made specifically for this style of fishing. They’re designed to drop the lure vertically down into the water for vertical jigging which is what most of us do when we ice fish.

Yes, you can use a spinning reel for ice fishing but you’ll want to keep a number of factors in mind. If the reel isn’t durable, it will become brittle from extreme cold and ice. You’ll also want to factor in the drag settings on the reel because you’ll have to adjust them due to the tension differences that large cold water fish bring.

I wouldn’t. The only type of reel I wouldn’t recommend using for ice fishing is a baitcaster. That said, if you’re looking to purchase a baitcaster for warm weather fishing; we have a great review of the best baitcasting reels right here.

Final Thoughts

The best ice fishing reels are in-line reels, no doubt about that. But, I think we’ve all learned a little something from this review. Spinning reels will work for ice fishing but you’ll want to be picky about bringing any old spinner to the ice. 

I hope you found value in this review and feel comfortable enough to take a jump on one of the ice fishing reels above. If you do, be sure to leave us a comment and let us know which one you bought and how you like it! Nothing left to do but load up your fishing gear and hit the ice!

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