The 8 Best Ice Fishing Reels

We review the top spinning, inline, and wall mount ice reels as well as tip ups and palm rods
The author tested the best panfish reels for two decades

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More

Frosty hands, frozen water, and the inevitable sharp edges they create have always necessitated simple, streamlined, yet steadfast ice fishing reels. For over 20 years, I’ve trusted a quiver of rod-reel combos consisting of classic Daiwa Black Golds and Shimano Stradics—two of the smoothest, most bulletproof reels of all time. Daiwa recently replaced its original, legendary BG series with updated models. But the point stands: In terms of gadgetry and cosmetic gizmos, less is more where hardwater angling is concerned.

Some of the reels I’ve chosen were tested for multiple seasons to several decades of heavy hardwater use. We’re talking 4- to 5-month-long ice seasons in northern Minnesota, the Dakotas, Ontario and Saskatchewan—and more days below zero than I care to remember. Others, such as the newer inline reels, have been chosen based on as few as a single season of use, but are backed by years of experience with similar products from the same manufacturer. I also received input from guide friends who fish almost every day. Regardless of how you approach the sport, I believe your ice fishing adventures will benefit greatly from any of my best ice fishing reel picks. 

How to Choose the Best Ice Fishing Reel

As you’ve undoubtedly deduced, ice fishing is a beautifully diverse pursuit—simple or as intricate as you prefer. Choosing the best ice fishing reel is all about the way you fish. For modest crappie, bluegill or perch fishing, start with a 500-size spinning reel and a fine graphite rod. From there, certainly learn about inline reels and their advantages. From a broader perspective, always pick an ice reel adorned with minimal sharp edges and exterior accouterments—less places for water to freeze and line to stick. Simple, smooth operation is often best, regardless of price tag. 

Foremost, you want gears and a drag that won’t seize up when they get a little frozen water in the works. Periodically, while fishing on ice, it’s always a good practice to occasionally peel a little drag to keep things greased and moving. You also want a reel whose spool is relatively wide, with a shallow arbor. Wider spools allow line to spill off in nice coil free ribbons, while reducing the dreaded twist (line twist makes lures spin unnaturally, underwater.) Shallow arbors require less line, and since you’re not casting, there’s no need to waste the entire filler spool when most of that line will never see the light of day. Start by winding on a nice base of backing (can be any sort of slightly heavier mono), followed by a hundred feet or so of your chosen line. Because winter is brutal on fishing line, remember to respool prior to each season.

Best Ice Fishing Reels: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Shimano Stradic FL (1000 size)

See It

Key Features

  • 6+1 bearing system
  • Shielded bearings S A-RB prevent failure from ice/sand/debris from entering
  • Super Stopper Anti Reverse roller bearing
  • Cross Carbon Drag provides a wider range of drag settings and liquid smooth operation in cold conditions

Pros

  • No noise or vibration during use
  • Resists freezing up
  • Resists line memory
  • The shallower spool requires less line to fill (excess line not necessary for ice fishing)
  • Power Roller II reduces line twist

Cons

  • Metal reel body gets cold, possibly causing chilly hands
  • Expensive for a reel used just a few months per year

I’ve used several variations of Shimano‘s legendary Stradic through 30 plus years of ice fishing. Among my panfish, pike, lake trout, and walleye ice combos, the six Stradics in my arsenal continue performing flawlessly in crazy winter conditions, including -20 degree days, windblown sleet, and snow. My decade-old reels have outworked all others and are still humming along. That track record makes the Stradic FL an easy choice for an all-timer.

Shimano’s newest Stradic FL remains a ridiculously smooth, dependable operator. The reel is built solid as a rock and lacks sharp edges and extraneous levers, switches, and other unnecessary line-grabbing accouterments—essential for trouble-free on-ice operation. Also key is the Stradic’s extended power handle, which allows for easy operation even while wearing gloves. To save on line usage and to prevent line twist, the reel’s spool is relatively shallow (requiring less spooled line) and wide to allow line to fall off the spool, clean, and arrow straight. 

Read Next: Best Ice Fishing Rods

Best Inline for Panfish: 13 Fishing Freefall Carbon Trick Shop Edition

See It

Key Features

  • FreeFall Trigger controls rate of rotation
  • Four stainless steel ball bearings
  • Carbon drag system
  • 2.5:1 gear ratio
  • Trick Shop spool, handle, and star drag

Pros

  • Adjustable magnetic drop speed adjustment for controlling lure rate of fall
  • Instant stop anti-reverse

Cons

  • Available in limited quantities

Since releasing their first inline reels many winters back, 13Fishing has become the category leader. They offer a broad range of high-grade spooler-style models inspired by single-action fly fishing reels. Early adopters of these types of reels realized the main advantage resided in the all-too-common issue of line twist. When line flows from the spool of traditional spinning reels, it does so at an angle to the lure, thereby forcing the line to pivot and spin before returning to its naturally aligned position. Excessively twisted line transfers its energy to the lure, making it spin unnaturally while at rest. Fish of all species and panfish such as bluegills and crappies, specifically, often respond by rejecting the rotating lure altogether. 

Inline reels on the other hand position the spool so the line flows naturally without memorizing spool shape or excessive circular twist. The result is a more lifelike, convincing lure presentation. 

Stand out features of the 13 Fishing FreeFall Carbon include a 2.5:1 gear ratio, picking up more line per handle revolution than other similar reels, and its FreeFall trigger. While disengaging most inline reels simply frees line to fall from the spool unchecked, often causing line tangle problems, the FreeFall Trigger with magnetic drop speed adjustment give the angler total control over drop-speed. Release the trigger and the reel re-engages, similar to a baitcast reel’s “flipping switch.” 

One note about this special reel edition: It often sells out by January, so get yours fast. Or, look to other excellent 13 Fishing inline reels, such as the Black Betty FreeFall Carbon.

Best Panfish Spinning Reel: Shimano Sedona FI (500 size)

See It

Key Features

  • Smooth, trouble-free 3+1 ball bearing system
  • Lighter weight G-Free body construction
  • 500 size weighs a feathery 6-ounces
  • Mag drag 7 pounds
  • Line capacity 100 yards of 4-pound test

Pros

  • G-Free body shifts reel’s center of gravity forward for comfort without fatigue
  • Hagane Gear yields incredibly smooth operation
  • Wide spool with special ring shape promotes easy line removal while minimizing excessive line memory (coils)
  • Affordable at $60

Cons

  • Like most spinning reels, you’ll want to “start” the drag periodically by peeling a small length of line off spool
  • Short reel stem not ideal for use with thick gloves/mittens

A look into my panfish reel bag reveals at least 10 light line panfish rods clutching Shimano Sedona 500s. Some of these reels have seen close to a decade of hardcore hardwater abuse. Simply put, Sedonas are priced well below the value they offer, providing years of smooth, seamless operation.

Beyond all the fancy Shimano technology packed into this ice fishing reel—smooth, durable Hagane gears, G-Free body construction, Cross Carbon Drag, etc.—the Sedona FI lets you forget about the reel altogether while fishing, because it never fails to perform. Another standout feature worth noting: the Sedona features a relatively shallow yet wide spool. A shallower spool requires less line, saving money and facilitating quick, easy line changes. The wide spool allows line to flow cleanly and generally without excessive coiling or memory.

Best for Big Fish: Daiwa BG 1500

See It

Key Features

  • Waterproof Drag System
  • Air Rotor increases smoothness and sensitivity
  • Durable aluminum body 

Pros

  • Impressively smooth rotation and drag
  • Minimal exterior switches (other than anti-reverse switch) and sharp edges to avoid line freeze/breakage issues
  • Larger gears for handling the excessive torque of predatory fish—big pike, walleye, lake trout, etc.

Cons

  • Built for saltwater making it slightly heavier than similar 1500-size reels at 8.5 ounces
  • Anti-reverse switch is tough to access with gloves (when backreeling bigger fish becomes necessary)

Having relied upon Daiwa’s classic Black Gold (BG) series reels for several decades, I was initially hesitant to try the company’s redesigned BG reels. (In fairness, they were probably due for an upgrade.) Experiences with two new BGs—a 1500 and a 2000—impressed me right out of the gate, seamlessly yielding drag during pike and lake trout power runs. 

I’ve always appreciated Daiwa’s BG series smooth operation. I also like oversized paddle handle, which makes cranking and controlling lures and fish a joy. The ATD Drag uses an enhanced, low-viscosity drag grease that stays malleable and appropriately tacky immediately after the drag “starts up.” 

Yes, these reels’ aluminum bodies make them about an ounce heavier than similar-sized reels, but they’re tough as nails. They’re also as reliable, smooth, and long-lasting as anything you’ll attach to a predator-class spinning rod. To build what’s simply the finest big lake trout, walleye, or pike ice combo, couple a Daiwa BG 1500 with a 42-, 45-, or 48-inch Thorne Bros Custom Professional Graphite rod

Best for Deadsticking: Okuma Avenger ABF Spinning Reel

See It

Key Features

  • On/Off auto trip bait feeding system
  • Stainless steel 6 ball bearings + 1 roller bearing
  • Multi-disc, Japanese oiled felt drag system

Pros

  • Smooth bait feeder system matches livebait deadstick presentations
  • Affordable at $60

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than traditional freshwater spinning reels (roughly 1 ounce heavier per size model), but shouldn’t be an issue, as reel is nearly always in a rod holder while deployed
  • Aluminum construction more susceptible to freeze up

“Deadstick” fishing remains one of the most effective ways to target less aggressive fish beneath the ice. Often employed while actively fishing in a separate hole with a jigging rod, the deadstick method involves rigging a livebait, dropping it to the appropriate depth and then setting the rod and ice fishing reel in a rod holder. Best to choose a soft-tipped rod and bait-feeder style to let fish run freely and without resistance.  

The Okuma Avenger features an easy-to-deploy on/off switch on the back of the reel, allowing for instant release of the spool. Meanwhile, the spool remains closed, slight tension eliminating line tangling issues. When a large livebait or striking fish pulls on the line, the bait feeder feature allows the fish to run without detecting resistance, while an audible clicking sound alerts the angler. To disengage the bait feeder, simply pick up the rod and begin reeling. While many bait feeder reels run well into the $150 to $200 range, Okuma’s Avenger offers reliable performance at an economical price.

Best Ice Shelter (Wall Mounted) Reel: Catch Cover Multi-Flex Rattlesnake Reel

See It

Key Features

  • For use in larger wheeled ice fishing shelters with stationary “deadstick” presentations with live minnows or other bait
  • Direct-drive adjustable spool tension for light or heavy lures and fish species
  • One turn of reel equals one foot of line retrieval
  • Audible rattle signals strikes

Pros

  • Adjustable multi-flex arm for positioning directly over ice hole
  • Quick-disc wall mount for instantly removing and placing in another mount
  • Highly sensitive to even lighter biting panfish (with spool tension adjustment)

Cons

  • Must fight fish hand-over-hand with line rather than a fishing rod
  • For use in hard-sided ice shelters only

The popularity of mini-camper style ice fishing shelters is at an all-time high, offering easy pull-behind-vehicle transport and all the luxuries and warmth of home. Most larger ice shelters come prefabricated with four to eight or more ice holes, so even while anglers may actively jig with a rod and reel in one hole, they may also utilize a second or third hole to passively present livebait on a so-called “rattle-reel.” Also, for overnight trips, the Rattlesnake’s audible, clicking bite alarm signals strikes during those active low-light hours when anglers may be catching a little shuteye.

While rattle-reels have been available for decades, Catch Cover’s Rattlesnake Rattle reel and mount offers a convenient, reliable, and adaptable solution. Mount extra disc bases all around your icehouse, allowing for instant removal and repositioning of the spool unit. 

Read Next: Best Ice Fishing Shelters

Best Tip-Up: Beaver Dam Round Insulated Tip-Up

See It

Key Features

  • 10-inch, circular base covers most ice fishing holes
  • Insulated underside
  • Two-sided tension trigger knob for heavier/lighter baits and bites
  • Spring-loaded indicator flag with high-vis orange flag

Pros

  • Round, insulated design covers ice hole to prevent freeze-up
  • Extended length indicator flag provides greater visibility from greater distances

Cons

  • Plastic base construction 

Another traditional ice fishing method, tip-up fishing allows the angler to deploy a live minnow at any depth, particularly effective for less aggressive walleye or for locating and catching roaming pike or other species, along the edge of a weedline or other structure. When fish bite, the spool and trigger rotate, releasing the indicator flag and signaling a bite. Fish can run on a free line, without resistance, until the angler arrives and sets the hook. (Please use circle hooks when possible, to avoid deeply hooked fish.)

Among dozens of traditional wooden tip-up designs, newer round “hole cover” style models like the Beaver Dam 10-inch Round Insulated Tip-Up—as well as others by HT Enterprises and Frabill—are increasingly popular because they prevent hole and subsequent line freeze up. 

I’ve used almost every model available today, and admittedly, the aforementioned companies all offer serviceable designs, including several wooden versions that have lasted for decades. Today, most of my friends and I opt for insulated models because they stack perfectly inside a 5-gallon bucket (the ice angler’s tackle box) and resist tangling. The Beaver Dam ice fishing reels offer simple, reliable operation and insulate the hole to prevent line from freezing in, which can lead to lost fish.

Best Microbait Palm Rod: Akara Universal Palm Rod Kit

See It

Key Features

  • Single action reel 
  • Reel integrated with (9.5 inch) rod 
  • Reel comes pre-spooled with 30 meters of 4-pound test monofilament.
  • Rod includes retractable / adjustable strike indicator

Pros

  • Exceptional bite detection with tiny panfish lures in shallow water (to approx. 15 feet deep)
  • Comes complete with reel, rod, line

Cons

  • For shallow water and smaller panfish species
  • Anglers typically use the rod and reel for presenting lures only—not for reeling in larger fish

While palm rod fishing isn’t for everyone, these micro-light reel-rod combos provide exceptional precision, control, and bite detection with tiny ice jigs—particularly in shallow water. Likely developed in Russia and Eastern Europe, palm rod fishing employs a single-action reel that is typically used merely to house line, and not to play fish. Lack of metal gears or a drag prompt most anglers to set the hook with the rod and then manually battle the fish, line in hand. While this perhaps sounds preposterous to many ice anglers, the palm rod method is still used by some of the top hardwater panfish anglers in the world, including competitors in American and international ice contests. 

Akara Fishing offers perhaps the finest line of palm rods and micro tungsten ice jigs, as well as soft plastics and other remarkable lures from the Eastern European ice scene—where the world’s best micro-ice anglers reside and ply their craft. If you’re curious about expanding your ice fishing horizons, I recommend strolling their intriguing website. You’ll find a dozen different palm rod combos from which to choose. Certainly, also check out their curious but effective “through-head” tungsten jigs, known as “mormishkas,” as well as spring bobber strike indicators, swimming ice lures, and other cool stuff you’ve likely never seen before. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Ice Fishing Reels

The best ice fishing reels need to stand up to tough conditions while fighting fish, presenting your offering, and keeping your line twist free. All of my top picks will do that, it’s up to you to choose the one that best fits your needs and fishing style.

Share

WHY YOU CAN TRUST OUTDOOR LIFE