Hi there! If you’re looking for the best ice fishing reels, we’ve got you covered.
The harsh and cold climate of ice fishing means you can’t just use any reel. Your reel has to perform at its best even in freezing temperatures. It’ll also need to thaw out quicker than regular reels. Based on these, we gathered 9 of the best spinning and inline reels to get the job done.
In particular, the Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder Spinning Reel is a rare find that can take on the role of both inline and spinning fishing reels. This heavy-duty reel is the best of both worlds, containing all the benefits of spinning and inline reels in a single reel.
It is a bit pricey though, which is why there are 8 other more affordable reels for you to choose from.
Our Top 9 Picks
- Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder Spinning (Best Splurge)
- KastKing Royale Legend II Spinning (Best Lightness)
- KastKing Centron Spinning (Best Smoothness)
- Piscifun ICX II Spinning (Best Budget)
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Combo (Best Rod and Reel Combo)
- Pflueger Monarch Ice Spinning (Best Overall)
- 13 Fishing FreeFall Ghost Inline (Best Overall)
- Piscifun ICX Frost Inline (Best Smoothness) (Best Power)
- Pflueger Trion Inline (Best Durability)
The 9 Best Ice Fishing Reels
In case it wasn’t clear from the summary of our top 9 picks, the first 6 picks are spinning reels and the bottom 3 are inline ice fishing reels. This is why you’ll see repeated picks like “Best Overall” and “Best Smoothness” with each being for spinning and inline reels respectively.
- Ball Bearings: 7+1
- Gear Ratio: 5.0:1
- Max Drag Weight: 6.6-17.6 pounds
Starting off with the Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder Spinning Reel, this amazing reel can function both as a spinning ice fishing reel and an inline reel. Not only that, it’s got great durability and smoothness too.
Equipped with a baitfeeding system, this reel is able to disengage the spinning reel spool, allowing the bait to swim as it pleases. This enables it to double down as an inline reel too since it functions just like a free spool.
And it doesn’t just function like an inline reel, it also comes with inline reels’ greatest benefit – reduced line twists. The Even Flow Roller (EFR) System lowers the chances of line twist by freely rolling over the line roller without friction.
Aside from these, it’s also got 7+1 stainless steel ball bearings and a corrosion-resistant graphite body and rotor. With so many ball bearings, you can expect excellent smoothness from this reel. And the durable stainless steel ball bearings and corrosion-resistant parts help this reel to withstand cold temperatures.
All in all, this is the most versatile reel, able to perform the duties of both inline and spinning reels. It may be a touch more expensive, but it’s worth every cent.
- Ball Bearings: 5+1
- Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
- Max Drag Weight: 11 pounds
Designed for ice fishing, every component of the KastKing Royale Legend II Spinning Reel makes your ice fishing trip better. This is also the lightest ice fishing reel on the market.
First off, the high gloss finish dries water and lessens the amount of ice that gets on the inside of the reel.
Next, the huge handle and extra long reel foot stem are optimized for handling with heavy ice fishing gloves. The huge handle is easier to grip with thick gloves and the extra long reel foot stem ensures you won’t hit the rotor when reeling in fishes with your thick ice gloves.
Finally, the stainless steel ball bearings are shielded to keep water and ice away so the ball bearings won’t rust.
To top it all off, at a mere 5.8 ounces, this unbelievably light reel is unmatched in lightness.
At less than 30 bucks, the KastKing Royale Legend II is a steal. If you want an exceptionally lightweight reel that’s perfect for cold elements, look no further.
- Ball Bearings: 9+1
- Gear Ratio: 4.5-5.2:1
- Max Drag Weight: 17.5 pounds
Another hardy ice fishing reel, the KastKing Centron Spinning Reel has incredible smoothness and power.
Armed with 9+1 ball bearings, few reels can match this level of smoothness.
Furthermore, the 17.5 pounds of drag guarantees that even the biggest monsters under the ice can’t faze you.
I also like that you can switch the handle to suit both left-handers and right-handers.
If you’re looking for an incredibly smooth and sturdy reel to handle any fish in ice fishing, this is it.
- Ball Bearings: 5+1
- Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
- Max Drag Weight: 12 pounds
Cheap but tough, the Piscifun ICX II Spinning Reel is the best option for those on a budget.
Right off the bat, I was impressed by how this reel is outfitted with a folding handle for convenient storage.
But more importantly, like the KastKing Royale Legend II, this reel offers an extended stem for ease of use with thick ice gloves. The spool is also water-resistant and aluminum for maximum durability.
Despite its dirt cheap price, this reel can survive harsh winter conditions, making it the best spinning reel you can get for ice fishing if you’re on a budget.
P.S. If you use my code SENSEI15 on Piscifun, you’ll get 15% off your first order!
Best Rod and Reel Combo
- Ball Bearings: 1+1
- Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
- Max Drag Weight: 15 pounds
Next on the list, the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Combo is an awesome rod and reel combo to ice fish.
If you’re new to the fishing scene, you might not know this, but Ugly Stik’s rods are known for being indestructible. This is thanks to their unique Ugly Tech Construction which is also present in this rod. The rod also delivers superior sensitivity with Ugly Stik’s Clear Tip Design.
The reel doesn’t disappoint either, as it’s able to generate a whopping 15 pounds of drag.
When ice fishing, you need robust gear, just like the Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Combo.
- Ball Bearings: 4+1
- Gear Ratio: 4.2:1
- Max Drag Weight: 6 pounds
Last on the list for spinning reels, the Pflueger Monarch Ice Spinning Reel is an all-rounder that fares well in all areas.
Durability-wise, its ball bearings are not only stainless steel, but corrosion-resistant for a longer lifespan.
Weight-wise, the reel body and rotor are both made of graphite, the lightest material for reels.
As for smoothness, the 4+1 ball bearings may pale in comparison to the KastKing Centron, but they’re of higher quality. This makes the reel still above average in smoothness.
This reel isn’t the smoothest or the lightest or the sturdiest, but it does pretty well in all aspects. For those who want a well-rounded reel for ice fishing, this is the reel for you.
- Ball Bearings: 3+1
- Gear Ratio: 2.5:1
- Max Drag Weight: 6.6 pounds
Moving on to inline reels, let’s start the ball rolling with the 13 Fishing FreeFall Ghost. This reel is everything you could ask for in an inline ice fishing reel – usable with one hand, light, and with drop speed and depth control.
Not only is it engineered to be used with one hand, but this reel allows you to control the speed that your lure descends at as well as what depth it descends to with pinpoint accuracy.
As for weight, it’s light as a feather at just 6.6 ounces. This is made possible by the lightweight graphite construction.
And as if all these weren’t enough, this reel’s gear ratio of 2.5:1 is ideal for ice fishing from 5-50 ft.
As inline reels go, you won’t find a better one for ice fishing.
- Ball Bearings: 7+1
- Gear Ratio: 2.7:1
- Max Drag Weight: 12 pounds
This next reel is all about smoothness. But that’s not the only reason to buy it. The Piscifun ICX Frost Inline Reel is also durable and remarkably strong.
Boasting 7+1 ball bearings, the sheer number should give you an idea of how silky smooth this ice reel is.
Moreover, the ball bearings are passed through a metal oxidation process to help resist rust and ice. This makes them very long-lasting.
To seal the deal, this is also the most powerful inline reel, with a max drag of 12 pounds.
If you’re looking for the inline reel with the best ease of use, you’ll want to get the FreeFall Ghost. If you’re looking for the smoothest and strongest inline reel, you’ll want to get this reel instead.
P.S. Remember, you can use my code SENSEI15 to get 15% off on everything for your first order from Piscifun!
- Ball Bearings: 6+1
- Gear Ratio: 5.3:1
- Max Drag Weight: 3.5 pounds
Durable is this reel’s middle name. The Pflueger Trion Inline Reel is the most durable inline ice fishing reel on the market.
This reel features a cold gear lube that helps shed ice and water in record time. This ensures your ice reel is never at risk of freezing up.
This single feature is enough to distinguish this reel’s toughness from the rest.
How to pick the right ice fishing reel
When it comes to ice fishing reels, there are a few extra considerations as compared to normal reels. Here are the factors you need to consider when picking your ice fishing reel.
As with any reel, the number of ball bearings will determine how smoothly your reel runs.
The more ball bearings you have, the smoother your reel will be.
That said, a good number is 5+1 ball bearings. This number is usually enough for quite a smooth reel. After 5+1 ball bearings, each extra ball bearings only brings a little more smoothness to the table. This is why 5+1 is the sweet spot for ball bearings.
Of course, more is always better. Just note that a few high-quality ball bearings will outperform many low-quality ones.
When you’re setting your drag, the general rule of thumb is 1/3 or 1/4 of your line’s pound test. So if you’re using a 12-pound fishing line, your drag should be set at 3 or 4 pounds.
For ice fishing, you won’t need as much drag as with other forms of fishing.
From my personal experience, you won’t need more than 15 pounds of drag. And even then, you’ll only ever need that much drag if you’re fishing for a prize fish.
A disclaimer though, I actually tried to research this, but I was unable to find any data online, so this is entirely based on my 20 years of fishing experience.
Most of the time, you won’t encounter fishes that will call for anything more than 8 pounds of drag.
Gear ratio is a measure of how many times your spool rotates for each turn of the handle. For example, a gear ratio of 5.2:1 means your spool spins 5.2 rounds for each turn of the handle.
The higher your gear ratio, the less turns you need to reel in the same amount of line, i.e. the faster your retrieve will be.
4:1 is considered a slow gear ratio while 6:1 is considered fast. Slower gear ratios tend to work better on smaller fish, and faster gear ratios better on larger fish.
You’ll also need to take into account the lures you’ll be using when deciding on your ideal ratio. Lures that require faster retrieves will call for higher gear ratios and vice versa for slower lures.
I recommend getting a 5:1 gear ratio for an all-around good ice fishing reel that can fish both fast and slow lures.
Unlike other forms of fishing, the reel handle’s thickness matters quite a bit in ice fishing.
Unless you want your fingers freezing up, you’ll be wearing gloves when you’re ice fishing. This will make it harder to grip your reel handle.
Ideally, your reel handle should be thicker and bigger so you won’t have trouble keeping your grip.
Since you’ll be fishing in extremely cold conditions, it’s more than likely that your ice reel will freeze up and get ice on or inside it.
As such, it’ll be good to have some way to reduce the amount of ice. A great example is the Pflueger Trion’s cold gear lubricant.
Spinning VS Inline Fishing Reels
Some anglers who regularly go ice fishing swear by inline reels. But that doesn’t mean you should.
Here’s when to use spinning and inline fishing reels.
Reasons to use spinning reels:
- Better for live bait
- Stronger drag system
- Tends to be less costly
- Easier to use
- More versatile and able to accommodate more fishing style
Reasons to use inline reels:
- Hugely reduces line twists
- Able to drop lures vertically straight down
- Better in shallow waters
- Thaws faster in cold environments
Essentially, these are for those who want a dedicated reel for ice fishing in shallow waters.
If that sounds like you, go ahead. Otherwise, if you’re like the majority of anglers who prefer a much more versatile reel, your best bet is a spinning reel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether it’s new or even intermediate anglers, it’s not uncommon for ice fishing to be a completely new venture. Here are some common questions about ice fishing.
What makes ice fishing reels different?
An ice fishing reel will be designed to withstand cold temperatures. This means the components won’t freeze that easily.
Ice fishing reels also tend to have a weaker drag system because the fishes you’ll be targeting will be smaller.
How do you rig an ice fishing reel?
You should already know how to spool a spinning reel, so I’ll be focusing on inline reels instead.
It’s a lot easier to see it in action so here’s a video that teaches it pretty well:
Can you use baitcasting reels for ice fishing?
Of course you can. The real question is whether it’ll give you the results that you want.
Baitcasting reels are not only harder to use, but also not very compatible with light line and lures.
Since you’ll be using lighter lures and line for ice fishing, a baitcasting reel will only give you subpar results, not to mention it’ll be harder to use.
Which is the best ice fishing reel?
I wish there was a single ice fishing reel that could satisfy everybody, but there isn’t. Every angler has his or her own preferences.
For example, if you’re all about durability, the Pflueger Trion would be the best reel for you. If however you valued smoothness more, the Piscifun ICX Frost would be better suited for you.
There’s no doubt that ice fishing can be really exciting. But if your gear isn’t up to the task, soon enough, your reel will turn into a piece of ice.
Rest assured though, every ice reel on this list can hold its own in frigid temperatures.
Among them, the Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder Spinning Reel stands out as the only one that can function both as a spinning and an inline reel.
If that didn’t appeal to you, I’m sure one of the other 8 top ice fishing reels will.
All the best on the ice!