Think about which piece of tackle is in constant use and motion. If you said ‘the reel’ you would be exactly right.
I’m going to show you what you need to look for in order to ensure this.
In this article we will review some of the best ice fishing reels of 2021, I’ll also explain a few differences so you can be confident in choosing a good ice fishing reel.
Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.
If you’ve done even a little ice fishing, you’ll know that the rod isn’t going to be huge. So, it figures that the reel doesn’t need to be huge either. It certainly doesn’t need to be heavy. You’re going to need something compact and lightweight.
This reel is the answer.
The frame is constructed from strong and very lightweight graphite and the spool uses aluminum. Aside from reducing weight you also eliminate something else, that is the enemy of all fishing equipment.
The only thing limiting the size of your catch will be the size of your ice hole as this reel has over 17.5lbs of stopping power. And a front mounted drag allows you to get a great balance. It may even allow you to use a slightly lighter line.
Tangles are also a thing of the past. The reel features an infinite anti-reverse gear mechanism which will prevent you from winding the wrong way and twisting your line.
A small reel with pulling power far in excess of its size.
It looks really eye-catching.
All metal construction ensures durability.
The rotating arm of this reel may become frozen or blocked in heavy arctic conditions.
Provided you are fishing in fair to moderate weather, this reel would be perfect for bigger fish such as Walleye.
For the money, this reel will perform admirably and is super compact. The handle folds, if you are traveling light or space is at a premium, you’ll be able to fit a little more into your tackle bag.
Don’t worry about it being small…
You’ll fit an unbelievable amount of line onto the spool. If you choose mono at a reasonable breaking strain you should comfortably manage around 150 yards, that’s more than enough for any scenario.
When you hook into a fish you want it up and out of your ice hole as soon as you can. For its size, this reel has a fearsome rate of retrieval. And with a 12lb front mounted drag system, you should have the muscle you need to fight bigger fish.
Is corrosion still on your mind? Think again…
The sealed bearing system prevents water from getting where it shouldn’t, this, twinned with a zinc alloy drive gear means that the reel will stay rust-free and in good working order.
Exactly what you want when you are out on the ice!
The folding handle is a really clever feature that does make storage so much easier.
Different color options are available, so you can match your rod and reel.
The extended stem of the reel makes it easy to handle if wearing thick gloves.
There isn’t too much to dislike. Fixed spool reels can twist the line when jigging, so if you like to fish this way, consider an inline reel.
From panfish to monsters and anything in between. This high-quality ice fishing reel will perform in most situations. I absolutely love it.
It’s a little pocket rocket. This reel is small and gives a decent performance. It looks amazing, the zinc alloy body and wooden handle give it a classic look and feel. The reel is just a fraction over 3 inches long, perfect for lighter rods.
Will it fit on my rod?
Yes, it will, although the reel body is compact, the reel foot that attaches to your handle is a good size. No need to invest in an enlarging cap!
Smaller means less line though right?
A little, you’ll get around 100ft if you use 3lb line, that’s not bad, but we wouldn’t recommend it for heavy work.
The reel is small and compact.
You can use this reel left or right handed.
You can fit a decent amount of line on the spool.
It isn’t as substantial as out other fixed spool reels.
For a beginner or for a backup reel, this ice fishing reel would be pretty good. We wouldn’t like to battle something big with it, for panfish and occasional use it should work well.
Ever heard the term ‘slow and steady wins the race’? Whilst this reel isn’t jam-packed with features it has enough to be worthy of my list. It should work well.
Want to know why? Keep reading…
Sometimes the more complex a system, the more difficult it is to operate. Not so with the little beauty. Inline reels are super easy to use. And this one is as simple as it gets. Press a button to allow the reel to ‘free spool’ your bait to the desired depth. Turn the handle. Job done.
What if I turn it the wrong way?
You, can’t. The reel features an instant anti-reverse, so you won’t need to worry about overruns or tangles.
The retrieve ratio is slightly slower than some of our other reels, but that isn’t always a bad thing, you’ll know exactly how much line you have left and be in solid contact with the fish.
A simple and highly affordable reel, ideal for entry level anglers.
Solid construction without too much technology.
It might be too basic for some.
Cork handles don’t tend to last a long time in freezing conditions.
If you are on a budget, but want to try an inline reel then this would make a good choice. We suspect you would probably outgrow it with some experience. If that happens, this would be great to keep as a backup.
A graphite body doesn’t come cheap, but then neither does performance. With this reel you will get both. This reel is featherlight and adaptable to most fishing situations. A large trigger allows you to drop the line at the flick of a finger, one handed.
And that’s not all…
Sometimes you will want to fish big jigs, sometimes small. This reel will allow you to do both. Just tweak the drag to a sensible setting and let gravity do its work. A decent retrieve speed completes the package.
The reel feels solid and comfortable in the hand, without being cumbersome, you should be able to fit plenty of line onto the spool too. It’s pretty good looking as well, if you’ve got exactly a minute spare, you can see it’s beauty up close and personal in this video.
One of the lightest in inline reels we have seen, it weighs next to nothing.
Most functions of the reel can be performed one handed.
The levers may be difficult to operate with thick gloves and may get in the way of your hands.
If you carry a lot of gear and find every pound matters then this will lighten your load. It is really comfortable to hold for long periods. The levers could be a help or a hindrance depending on your style of fishing.
Whilst we are talking about comfort let’s make another suggestion.
What if you could find a reel that actually felt soft and was custom shaped to fit into your hand? Well look no further as you have found it. This is another inline reel that will allow you to fish with a variety of styles and jigs, as long as you don’t go too light.
Both line payout and the retrieve are silky smooth, ensured by five stainless steel ball bearings. Without getting too technical what this means is that the reel is a joy to use.
And the features?
Bite detection with this reel is amazing. The soft touch graphite body allows you to keep your hand touching the reel, which will aid in feel. If you prefer to put your rod down, then at the flick of a switch, the clicking bite alarm will let you know when you have a take.
As a final bit of ‘polish’ the reel features a front facing fender, stopping snow and ice from accumulating in vital areas.
The chunky and soft grip feels great in the hand.
I really like the added fender, it’s a solution that you don’t often see.
Whilst the fender worked for me, it might stop you accessing a tangle if it happens in the wrong place.
Overall, this is a really solid offering. Its relatively light and comfortable to use. I liked all of the features. The jury is out on the fender.
If you want tried and tested, then you have come to the right place. I’ll say it slowly…
This. Reel. Is. Perfect.
This isn’t a budget reel, but for the money, it’s all you will ever need. Provided that you care for it, the lightweight and hard-wearing aluminum body will last you a lifetime. I really like the extra long pencil style reel seat, allowing you to hold it in several ways whilst keeping the moving spool away from your hand.
The reel has practically every single feature mentioned in our other reels, with instant anti reverse, a velvety smooth action, and a clicking bite alarm. The retrieve rate is amongst the highest of our inline reels too!
And there’s more…
The chunky dual reel handle is easy to wind even if you are wearing gloves. If you want to see one in action, handling some really impressive walleye, check this out!
A tried and tested solution with every feature you could need.
It is solid, great quality and will last a lifetime.
You’ll have to keep your eye on it, the open face is nice, but leaves the reel subject to ice buildup in windy conditions.
This is, by far, the best ice fishing inline reel on my list. You’ll pay a premium, but you’ll also get premium quality.
I struggled to find anything bad to say about it. If you have the budget and you want something that is guaranteed to work, then this will be a good choice.
How to Choose the Right Ice Fishing Reel?
You want to make sure you choose the right reel. We are going to talk about some features that you will need to consider, before you make your choice.
Our guide below should help you.
Choosing the right ice fishing reel will generally be dictated by two things. The first is what you want to catch and the second is how you intend to catch it.
Let me explain…
You’ll need something with sufficient drag to play the fish, without breaking the line. The best drag system will let line out just before the critical point. If you are only going to be fishing for small fish this isn’t as crucial. If you are deliberately targeting bigger species then you will want a reel with enough drag and size to handle it. The best ice fishing reels for panfish are small. The best ice fishing reels for walleye, or other big species will need to be bigger or at least more substantial.
This next part is important…
How you intend to fish should be a real deciding factor. If you are jigging the line is fluttering and moving constantly. With a fixed spool this can cause twisting followed by tangles. An inherent feature of inline reels is that they don’t twist the line. Simply put, if you intend to jig, go for an inline ice fishing reel.
If you are spinning, you’ll want a faster retrieval rate. Constantly winding on an inline reel can get tiring. It is fair to say that the best ice fishing spinning reels will tend to be fixed spool.
Consider Rod Size
An imbalanced rod and reel is not fun to use. It makes line handling difficult.
Perhaps more importantly, an imbalanced setup reduces bite detection. As a general rule, the longer or heavier your rod, the heavier duty and larger (within reason) your reel needs to be.
Consider Where You’ll Fish
If you are fishing in deep water you will want a bigger spool or greater line capacity.
A fixed spool reel generally holds more line and ensures more even line lay when reeling in, optimizing the space you have available.
Should I Choose a Left or Right-Handed Ice Fishing Reel?
This can get confusing so let me tell you a bit about convention.
And you don’t want to miss this…
When a manufacturer says ‘left’ handed. Traditionally they are referring to the hand that you will turn the handle with. I’m not going to confuse the issue further giving any more examples. The hand orientation you need will be the same hand that you’ll use to turn the handle.
Got it? Great!
What Makes a Good Ice Fishing Reel?
I’m going to keep it simple. There are two things that you need.
The first is reliability. Consider anything that will stop your reel from working, and consider how likely that it will be to happen. Once you know those things you will be able to make a good choice.
The second is ease of use. Features are great, but if they get in the way, or are too difficult for your experience then you won’t get the benefit. Pick a reel that is easy to use. Things I look for are a decent retrieve rate, a chunky and easy to grip winding handle, and a quick retrieve rate.
If you have seen my essential ice fishing gear list, you’ll know how important I consider a reel to be. If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out. But don’t worry, you can check it out here! It is full of guidance on rods, reels and things that are just as essential when ice fishing, such as ice fishing boots and the best ice fishing augers.
What is a Retrieve Rate on a Reel?
Again, lets keep it simple.
When you check reel specifications, you’ll see a number…
It’ll look like this.
“5.1:1” or 2.7:1” what this is telling you is how many times the spool will rotate for each single revolution of the handle. A really easy way to summarize it is as follows. The greater the numbers at the start, the quicker your ice fishing reel brings line in. It’s that simple.
Are ice fishing reels different?
Yes they are, ice fishing reels are generally smaller and lighter than ‘regular reels’. They don’t need to hold as much line as it is unlikely you will be casting.
With a smaller spool comes a smaller reel.
Can you use a baitcasting reel for ice fishing?
You could at a push. But it would be hard work. The rod would be horrendously imbalanced and you would probably get a tired arm.
Bite detection would be non-existent. I haven’t tried it, nor would I want to.
What is the best ice fishing reel?
Simply put there is no one reel which is perfect. If you’ve seen my review above, even the Black Betty Inline Reel (which I love) has got it’s weaknesses. It depends on how your reel performs on an average day. If you catch the species you want, in most conditions, without too much difficulty then you have achieved your goal.
If I had to pick a fixed spool, the Piscifun ICX 5 wins hands down. For an inline reel? I love the Black Betty.
How do you spool an inline reel?
I could write pages about how to do this, or I could just show you.
Why not take a look at this video on how to spool an inline reel, it will save you time!
How much line should I put on my ice reel?
You really don’t need to overdo it. Remember, you aren’t going to cast. A great general rule is to spool enough line to cover 3-4 times the depth of your usual spot.
So, if its 10 feet deep, put on 30-40 feet of line. If its 40 feet deep, go for around 120 feet.
This also covers you for bigger fish taking line. As an aside don’t go too low. Remember you lose about 2ft of line on every trip by snipping off lures, rigs and tying knots.
Not sure of the depth? Well a decent ice fishing fish finder or ice flasher will tell you in an instant. Why not check both out, they are more affordable than you might think!
I’ve really enjoyed going through some of the best ice fishing reels in 2021 with you. Remember, what you want above all else is a reel that will work all of the time. By fulfilling this one criterion you put yourself in the best position to catch a fish!
Have you used any of the reels I suggested? Or have you got any not to be missed tips on using an inline reel?
Leave a comment below, I love hearing from you guys and girls!