Ice fishing is a great outdoor activity, not least because it means you can enjoy a good fishing trip any time of the year. But fishing in extreme temperatures can come with its own difficulties.
Keen ice fishers will know it’s always a good idea to head out fully prepared when it comes to ice fishing. The right fishing gear for the job can make or break a successful catch as lower temperatures can mean reduced fish activity.
To help navigate these polar environments you need an ultra-sensitive and lightweight setup to detect less-aggressive nibbles at the bait. Ice fishing reels are engineered to withstand icy conditions, and many have clever features you’ll need out on the ice.
Whether you’re a diehard spinning reel fan or pioneering the use of inline reels, if you’re heading out on the ice this season, don’t go anywhere until you’ve read our list of the best ice fishing reels available on the market right now.
Best ice fishing reels: Top Picks
The Daiwa Saltist MQ impressed at the 2021 ICAST awards where it won Best in Group in the saltwater fishing reels category. Packed with pro features, the Saltist MQ is a spinning reel you’ll want to splash out on.
Ice fishing presented a challenge and Piscifun’s ICX 5 answered the call. A high-quality ice fishing reel at a low-price point, nifty features like the folding handle and a super smooth retrieve make the ICX 5 a must-have for ice fishing on a budget.
The FreeFall XL is a powerhouse in your hands, thanks to a maximum of 9.9lbs of drag and a resilient graphite frame. It’s at the higher end of the spectrum in terms of price but comes stuffed with a whole host of features that make it worth spending the extra cash.
Best Ice Fishing Reel: Full Reviews
A supersized reel packing all the power and performance you’d expect from a 13 Fishing product. The XL Features the innovative FreeFall trigger system from the original model allowing anglers to hit exact depths in shallow or mid-depth waters, plus a unique performance window to keep the line in check. The Core Balanced Magnetic Breaking system and faster drop rate offer unparalleled performance with multiple lure weights. An efficient design and comfortable grip palm pad on the handle ensure maximum comfort on the ice.
- FreeFall trigger system and performance window
- Drop Speed Control
- Graphite frame construction
One of Piscifun’s first ice fishing reels, the ICX 5 was designed for anglers who wanted an easy-to-use and portable reel to use in all weather. A premium folding handle made from tough metal ensures lasting wear and means the reel will fit in most slim profile cases, ideal for frigid temperatures when you want to pack away your gear quickly.
- Water-resistant aluminum spool
- A larger cavity between the spool and the handle for gloved hands
- A durable graphite body and rotor able to withstand the iciest conditions
One of the most popular ice fishing reels in the Piscifun range, the Carbon X Spinning Reel is feather-light coming in at a comfortable 5.7oz. Its ultra-light carbon fiber frame, rotor, and side plates not only feel easier to hold for long periods of time but allow for extra sensitivity so you can feel even the smallest hits on the bait. Packed with features normally found on pro reels like a reinforced stainless-steel shaft, zinc alloy drive gear, and a tough aluminum handle with a high-density EVA knob, the Carbon X is a great mid-range ice fishing reel.
- Super-fast and smooth retrieve with 10+1 shielded stainless steel ball bearings
- 3 premium oversized carbon washers for ultimate drag power
- Carbon fiber frame, rotor, and side plates for exceptional resilience on the ice
An ice fisher’s secret weapon when going up against some of the biggest fish in icy waters, the Piscifun ICX Precision Inline Reel prevents jig spin and keeps your line straight, perfect for when you have reduced movement on the ice. A 2:6:1 gear ratio allows for fishing in deeper waters.
- Free spooling quick-release trigger to drop down into deeper waters
- Super durable aluminum frame and CNC water-resistant aluminum spool
- 7+1 stainless steel bearings with antifreeze to ensure a smooth catch
Abu Garcia has been crafting fishing reels since 1955 and its founder was known for his light precision engineering skills which you can see have carried through in the Max Ice reel. An inexpensive reel featuring an Everlast™ bail system for superior durability and an aluminum folding handle for easy transportation to and from the ice
- 3 stainless steel ball bearings and 1 roll bearing for smooth casting and retrieving
- Lightweight graphite frame and rotor for extra sensitivity to fish biting
- Slow oscillation ensures an even line lay with multiple types of line
With rave customer reviews online, 13 Fishing’s FreeFall Ghost Reel is a favorite of ice fishers everywhere thanks to its freefall trigger that allows anglers to hit deeper depths. The inline design and easy one-handed operation means you won’t suffer from dreaded jig spin and can fish even in the coldest temperatures.
- A tough graphite frame ensures this reel will keep on going
- Instant stop anti-reverse and 3+1 stainless steel ball bearings
- Freefall trigger to ensure you hit the correct depth with minimum fuss
The sleek all-black graphite and fiberglass design makes 13 Fishing’s Descent Inline Reel a stylish and low-cost option to any angler who wants to try out an inline style without breaking the bank. Although less expensive than other ice fishing reels out there, the Descent still packs a list of features including a dead stick bait alarm that sounds off when a fish takes a bite.
- Drop speed control for deeper waters
- Durable but lightweight reel with a graphite and fiberglass frame
- CNC machined aluminum handle and star drag
Packed with cutting-edge features, the Daiwa Saltist MQ Spinning Reel won in the best Saltwater Reel category at the 2021 ICAST awards. Engineered for ice fishing perfection, the Saltist MQ features a one-piece anodized aluminum Monocoque structure and a MagSealed shaft for ultimate saltwater resistance.
- An anodized aluminum one-piece monocoque (MQ) body
- Waterproof Automatic Tournament Drag system (ATD)
- Unique Zaion Air Rotor and Air Bail for easy-to-handle line control
Specially engineered for ice fishing, the Royale Legend II features an extended stem for better clearance when wearing thick gloves and is angled upwards to better match the short distance between the reel and first guide on ice fishing rods. Designed with a 5+1 stainless steel ball bearings, the graphite fiberglass body and anodized aluminum spool on the KastKing offers smooth cranking and make it light enough for even the kids to use.
- Water-resistant high gloss finish in 3 bold colors
- Lightweight graphite fiberglass reinforced body
- Precision-cut zinc alloy main gears and manganese brass pinion gears
Pocket-sized and perfect for ice fishing, the Goture Mini Pocket Metal Spinning Reel features a tough aluminum spool with a zinc alloy body and rotor and a reinforced steel shaft. For added portability and ease of use, the Mini has a collapsible zinc handle with a tough comfort grip knob.
- Customizable reel foot to fit securely on rods of all sizes, including mini pen rods
- Suitable for a wide range of fishing applications including on the ice, rivers, and lakes
- A pocket-sized portable reel that makes a great gift for beginner anglers and kids interested in fishing
How to Pick the Best Ice Fishing Reel for Your Needs
The first thing you need to be aware of when choosing an ice fishing reel is that you will need something that’s going to stand up to extremely cold temperatures and a lot of wear and tear.
Professionals and experts will usually suggest ice fishing reels that are made from stainless steel, aluminum, brass, or graphite as these are all resilient to colder temperatures and are generally strong, durable materials.
A lot of what anglers look for in a perfect reel is one that works well with their rod, is comfortable enough for long periods of ice fishing, and isn’t too difficult to use. And ice fishing reels are no different!
Getting ready for a big ice fishing trip this season? Still not sure whether you’ll need an inline reel or a spinning reel to land those monster ice water catches? Then continue reading – we’ve broken down everything you need to know about choosing the best ice fishing reels in our handy buyer’s guide:
Inline reels vs spinning reels
The old debate of inline vs spinning reels is really down to personal preference, where you’re fishing, and what you’re hoping to catch.
If you’re humming and ahhing over whether to purchase an inline or spinning reel, a good rule of thumb is that your ice reel provides versatility, comfortability, and durability. Then you can get down to the specifics:
- Generally speaking, inline reels don’t work as well as spinning reels for larger fish because spinning reels tend to have better drag systems that allow for better drag adjustments. Inline reels do however work beautifully when jigged because their design means the line doesn’t get twisted up on the spool.
- As the new type of reel about town, some of the top-level inline reels can hit the high price point as they often promise high-quality features and improved performance.
- There is arguably more variety in the traditional spinning reels category as they have been a tried and tested reel design for decades and with more
- Unlike inline reels, spinning reels are more suited to live bait as this reduces the need for jigging and the possibility of a twisted line. They can also handle larger fish thanks to varied ranges in drag capacity.
- There is also a greater variety of spinning reels available in different weights, colors, and sizes, most likely because they remain a popular type of reel for lots of different fishing applications.
Ice fishing reels look a little chunkier than other reels because they have to be strong enough to withstand ice-cold conditions. The handle will often be thicker and further away from the reel body, and the reel body will also be thicker to prevent the line from freezing.
Many ice anglers prefer an inline reel because the spool lays flat and the line doesn’t slide around as much. This is perfect for hole in the ice fishing when you have limited movement and just need to cast straight down. Inline reels usually hold more line than spinning reels because anglers need to fish at deeper levels, and this can be dropped or reeled back in using a bail arm.
Ordinary spinning reels may not be up to the task of ice fishing trips because they have more moving parts that can be exposed to low temperatures and freeze. However, a high quality spinning reel designed specifically for ice fishing will fare much better, and are tough enough to land larger fish.
The handle on a high-quality ice fishing reel should be sturdy and easy to use even whilst wearing thick gloves. Lots of ice reel manufacturers incorporate this into their designs, creating bigger spaces between the handle and body for the user’s gloved hand.
Top tip – Look for ice reel handles with large knobs as this will help you to maintain your grip.
Many anglers find that the lightest ice fishing reels work best because they are more aware of even the smallest nibbles at the bait, and the reels are easily transportable. A lightweight reel design also helps reduce fatigue, another important factor to consider when ice fishing in extreme temperatures.
Corrosion & Durability
Even the best ice fishing reels will succumb to sub-zero temperatures if not properly maintained, which is why they are often made from strong yet light metals like aluminum and stainless steel. Other reels at the higher end of the market can be made from graphite or even brass, which offer similar protections.
The top ice fishing reels will have a robust drag system that allows you to adjust how much force is placed on the line; when a fish bites, a smooth drag will help you moderate pressure and allow the fish to pull the line off the spool if it swims away.
The last thing you need during an ice fishing trip is a frozen reel, so when you’re shopping around for the best ice reel make sure it comes with some level of frost protection. A specialist ice reel will usually be coated with some type of anti-freeze for added layers of protection. Remember to clean and oil your reel regularly as this will keep it in tip top condition.
The gear ratio is used to describe how many rotations it takes to move the spool. A gear ratio of 1:1 for example means that one full turn of the handle spins the spool once. A 5:1 ratio means one turn of the handle will turn the spool five times.
Different fishing techniques require different gear ratios. If you’re thinking about becoming the next big competitive ice angler, you may prefer a minimum gear ratio of 7:1 as this will give you a faster retrieve.
But even non-pro ice anglers should consider gear ratio when deep water fishing. Hooking a fish at 20 to 30 feet or more feet with a gear ratio of 1:1 will take forever to bring to the surface, and you may end up losing the fish. While you don’t need the superfast gear ratios employed by the pros, it’s worth considering how the gear ratio of your ice reel will affect your retrieval.
Our final thoughts on the best ice fishing reel
Whether you’re new to ice fishing or an old pro getting ready for the new season, having the right ice fishing reel can make all the difference. Often smaller than their non-ice ready counterparts but twice as tough, the best ice fishing reels offer premium features and powerful performance in a lightweight, easy to use design. Happy ice fishing!