Ice Fishing Rod on Top of Snow

The Top 7 Best Ice Fishing Reels in 2020 (Buyer’s Guide)

Ice fishing is the perfect way to get outdoors and escape some cabin fever during the cold times of winter.

Buying the best ice fishing reel for you can be a tricky task…

There’s quite a lot of choice out there these days and you’ll have to pick the right type of reel for your fishing needs.

Luckily, we have done some research and put together a review so you can find the right reel for ice fishing!

The Top Three

Best All-rounder

Goture GTS Spinning Fishing Reel

The reel is light but durable thanks to the graphite body and rotor. It features a machined aluminum spool that will stand up well in icy conditions and holds a lot of line.

Goture GTS Spinning Fishing Reel

With the all-rounder, we’re looking for a reel that does everything well and is good value.

The Goture Spinning Reel takes the cake on this one.

It can be used across multiple situations, does everything well, will last if you look after it, oh and the price is insane. 

Best on a Budget

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight Spinning Fishing Reel

This reel hasn’t been made for ice fishing, but nevertheless it still performs well in freezing conditions. This reel is super light for long fishing days and is designed for light line.

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight Spinning Fishing Reel

Here we want a reel that gets the job done and for the best price.

The Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight wins thanks to its simple effective design and its amazing price.

It’s not a big ice fish reel, but if you’re new to ice fishing or target panfish, this reel has you covered. 

Editor’s Choice

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This reel above all others in the review has been made specifically for cold conditions. Thanks to this design, it’ll last you more than a few winters.

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This is simply the reel I’d choose to buy based on my many years of experience.

My favorite is the Abu Garcia Ice Max.

Not only is it amazing value, but a lot of thought has gone into the design to ensure its reliability in freezing conditions.

This reel will last winter after winter and doesn’t tend to freeze up as much while you’re fishing. 

What to Look for

There are a few things to think about when buying an ice fishing reel.

Some factors will make or break how well your reel performs and here is what you need to consider. 

Inline vs Spinning Reels 

There isn’t an obvious winner between the two when it comes to ice fishing and you’ll want to think about your fishing style to make the right decision.

When it comes to spending time in the ice, an inline reel will give you smooth and continuous performance regardless of temperature.

TIP

The components in an inline reel are further apart and won’t freeze up if water gets in there. If your reel does freeze up, inlines will thaw faster than a spinning reel. 

Spinning reels are, however, easier to use and the better choice if you’re a beginner.

Spinning reels are also more versatile and you can use them in a lot of situations whereas inline reels are more niche. 

What are you fishing for?

There isn’t a huge amount of diversity when it comes to ice fishing but as a general rule, inline reels are better for small panfish and spinning reels are better for larger fish as they have a better drag.

RECOMMENDATION

If pike and big lake trout are your targets, stick with a spinning reel, especially if you plan on live-baiting.

Line Capacity

When ice fishing, you can’t follow the fish down the bank once you’re hooked up, you’ll have to fight it from your hole.

This is where line capacity matters.

Be sure your reel of choice will hold enough line to handle the fish you’re after.

The last thing you want is a giant lake trout running off with all your line and breaking you off. 

Using Braid

Braid is being used a lot these days and it’s great for ice fishing thanks to its low stretch.

Look for a reel that’s made for braid to ensure an even line lay when spooling your reel.

TIP

Most reels come with braid-ready spools, but just check that yours has it too.

How Heavy Is The Reel 

Typically, it’s better to choose a lighter reel.

This will give you more flexibility and movement while you’re fishing.

A heavy reel will also get a bit tiring to fish with all day – a lighter reel will make your time on the water more enjoyable.

Corrosion & Durability

Fishing in the ice tests a reel. It’ll be exposed to water, ice and freezing temperatures.

You’ll want a reel that can handle all of this.

A durable reel made from corrosion-resistant materials is a must.

A reel made using graphite, aluminum, stainless steel and/or brass is a good choice. 

Anti-freeze Feature

Your reel freezing is one of the biggest concerns when ice fishing.

Try and look for a reel that has an antifreeze coating on the spool and you’ll have far less freezing interruptions. 

Drag, Strong and Smooth 

You always want your drag to be strong enough and smooth.

It should be made of corrosion-resistant materials like carbon fiber and have enough power to stop the fish you want to catch.

Gear Ratio 

This is directly related to your retrieve rate.

The higher the gear ratio, the more turns per wind you’ll get out of your reel and the faster your line will come in.

If the ratio is 4.5:1, your spool will turn 4.5 times per wind.

TIP

When ice fishing, a good gear ratio is useful if you’re looking to pull up some big fish. 

Our top picks…

Piscifun ICX 5 Ice Fishing Reel

This reel covers what you need from an ice fishing reel and at a great price. The body and rotor are made from graphite keeping it strong and rigid.

Piscifun ICX 5 Ice Fishing Reel

This reel covers what you need from an ice fishing reel and at a great price.

The body and rotor are made from graphite keeping it strong and rigid.

The handle on the reel is one of the highlights as it folds neatly away for quick storage and easy transportation. 

Anti-Reverse

The reel comes with instant anti-reverse, five sealed ball bearings, and a zinc alloy drive gear.

This makes it smooth under pressure and it won’t fail you when battling a stubborn fish.

The spool is made from aluminum, is water-resistant and gives an even line lay.

The spool design also prevents water from getting into the rotor, which will help stop the reel from freezing up when ice fishing.

It’s also oversized to reduce coiling and twists. 

Weight

The reel is light for comfort and has an extended stem, which is ideal when winding with gloves on as you won’t catch on things as much.

The drag is made up of carbon fiber and stainless steel discs making it strong while being smooth.

The drag is adjusted from the front and is easy to access. 

NOTE

Unfortunately, the reel isn’t made for saltwater and the handle can break quite easily.

All in all a great reel for the price, but I’m not sure if it would stand the test of time. 

Specs

Pros

  • Smooth retrieve.
  • Very strong.
  • Quick folding handle.

Cons

  • The handle can break.
  • Not for use in saltwater.
  • May not be durable over time.

Pflueger MONICEB Monarch Ice Spinning Reel

The body on this reel is made from graphite making it light and comfortable to use on those long days.

Pflueger MONICEB Monarch Ice Spinning Reel

Durability

The body on this reel is made from graphite making it light and comfortable to use on those long days.

The graphite on this reel does seem a little fragile and makes me concerned about the long term durability.

Retrieve

The retrieve rate is good thanks to the gear ratio and the 5 ball bearings make it smooth even under a heavy load.

The ball bearings are made from stainless steel and won’t corrode easily.

The ball bearings are also sealed so the reel won’t freeze up no matter how cold it gets, making it quite reliable. 

Bail

The bail wire is made from aluminum and will stop the reel from bending in extreme temperatures by adding support to the more fragile graphite body. 

Drag

The drag, while being smooth, isn’t that powerful with a max of 6lbs.

Large fish may feel like a challenge, but that will make catching them fun too. 

NOTE

Overall it’s a well-designed reel, but it’s not that durable and doesn’t come with anti-reverse. 

Specs

Pros

  • Very light.
  • Handles cold conditions well.
  • Great bearing system.
  • Smooth drag and retrieve.

Cons

  • Not very durable.
  • No anti-reverse switch

Best on a Budget

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight Spinning Fishing Reel

This reel hasn’t been made for ice fishing, but nevertheless it still performs well in freezing conditions. This reel is super light for long fishing days and is designed for light line.

Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight Spinning Fishing Reel

super light for long fishing days and is designed for light line…

This reel hasn’t been made for ice fishing, but nevertheless it still performs well in freezing conditions.

This reel is super light for long fishing days and is designed for light line.

This is perfect for targeting small panfish as you’ll feel every bite and you’ll get a better fight.

TIP

If you’re looking to catch pike and lake trout however, this isn’t the reel for you. 

Retrieve

The retrieve rate is very high, but with only one ball bearing, it’s not so smooth under a load.

The drag on the other hand is very smooth, but the max is as low as it gets. It’s certainly for light line and small fish.

The frame on the reel is made from a graphite composite and is a little fragile.

The material does stop it from freezing up quickly in cold conditions though. 

Casting

The reel does cast nicely, especially for light line.

It doesn’t come with anti-reverse and the bail arm is quite stiff, which may stick in icy conditions. 

Specs

Pros

  • Very lightweight.
  • Smooth drag.
  • It doesn’t freeze up.
  • Casts well.

Cons

  • Not made for large fish.
  • Stiff bail arm.
  • No anti-reverse

13 FISHING Black Betty Freefall Ghost Inline Ice Fishing Reel

The frame on this reel is made from graphite and will stand up well to the cold conditions.

13 FISHING Black Betty Freefall Ghost Inline Ice Fishing Reel

Durability

The frame on this reel is made from graphite and will stand up well to the cold conditions.

The graphite is however not that durable and gives the reel a feel of low quality. 

One of the best features of this reel is the FreeFall feature that gives you complete control over your line at all times…

One of the best features of this reel is the FreeFall feature that gives you complete control over your line at all times.

The reel comes with a trigger that disengages and re-engages the spool when pulled or pressed…

This lets you drop your bait under zero tension or selected pressure and re-engaged the drag instantly. 

NOTE

The FreeFall Feature is particularly useful when jigging and if a fish eats on the drop. On the other hand, it can cause some backlash issues if you haven’t set it right or if the system slips when you hook a fish.

Ball Bearings

The reel features 4 stainless steel ball bearings that won’t freeze up in cold conditions.

This makes for a reliable and smooth retrieve.

It also comes with instant anti-reverse and an easily adjustable star drag.

Thanks to the inline system the reel gives zero line twist, but the eye where the line leaves the reel does have a tendency to freeze over. 

Specs

Pros

  • Freefall great for jigging.
  • Keeps you in contact.
  • No line twist.

Cons

  • Lots of backlash issues.
  • Eyes freeze up.
  • Not the best quality.

Eagle Claw In Line Ice Reel

The best feature about this reel is the Teflon drag system that is very smooth once engaged and will be a joy to fight a fish with.

Eagle Claw In Line Ice Reel

The best feature about this reel is the Teflon drag system that is very smooth once engaged…

The best feature about this reel is the Teflon drag system that is very smooth once engaged and will be a joy to fight a fish with.

It’s a little tricky to find the right setting on the star drag system, but once found, it stays. 

Body

The body is made from nylon which is a little worrying.

It’s not the most durable and doesn’t hold up that well in freezing temperatures.

The spool is made from aluminum and you can set the tension.

It also features a free spool release button, so you can come in and out of tension instantly. 

This will reduce backlashes when dropping a bait and allow you to change your drop speed – allowing you test different speeds to get a fish to bite on the drop.

It also features a free spool release button, so you can come in and out of tension instantly.

Retrieve

The retrieve is smooth thanks to the ball bearings and the aluminum handle.

The handle is oversized with grips for easy fishing with gloves and in slippery conditions.

The line comes in and out straight and you’ll have very little line twist issues with this reel. 

Specs

Pros

  • Smooth performance.
  • Low line twist.
  • Reliable adjustable drag.

Cons

  • Not made of quality material.
  • Hard to find the right drag setting.

Editor’s Choice

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This reel above all others in the review has been made specifically for cold conditions. Thanks to this design, it’ll last you more than a few winters.

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This reel above all others in the review has been made specifically for cold conditions.

Thanks to this design, it’ll last you more than a few winters.

It’s made with cold gear lube that is specifically made to stay fluid when temperatures drop considerably.

This means the reel won’t seize up where others might.

Body

The body and rotor are made from strong graphite, keeping the reel light and agile in cold conditions.

The spool is aluminum and comes with Abu’s Rocket Spool Lip design which controls how the line comes off the spool to reduce knots and twists.

The spool gives a very large line capacity and the retrieve, despite the low bearing count of 3+1, is surprisingly smooth.

The rate is high enough to pull in any fishing lurking under the ice. 

The drag is smooth, but the max of 6lbs is a little low, luckily the line capacity will back you up here.

The reel features an extended stem for easy winding with gloves and a one-touch collapsible handle. 

Specs

Pros

  • Resistant to cold.
  • Better control and precision
  • Handle switch for storage
  • Long stem for ice
  • Durable

Cons

  • Small maximum drag.
  • Low bearing count.

Best All-Rounder

Goture GTS Spinning Fishing Reel

The reel is light but durable thanks to the graphite body and rotor. It features a machined aluminum spool that will stand up well in icy conditions and holds a lot of line.

Goture GTS Spinning Fishing Reel

This reel looks great on paper and performs well, but unfortunately won’t last very long unless you give it constant care.

Considering the price, that’s not too much to complain about.

It features a machined aluminum spool that will stand up well in icy conditions and holds a lot of line…

The reel is light but durable thanks to the graphite body and rotor.

It features a machined aluminum spool that will stand up well in icy conditions and holds a lot of line.

This does add some weight to the reel and it may get heavy over a long day of fishing. 

Drag

The drag is smooth with a solid max of 10lbs and will stop a lake trout or pike in its tracks.

The drag is made of a multi-disc system, with oiled felt drag washers – excellent against corrosion.

The retrieve is smooth and fast thanks to the high gear ratio and the 5 ball bearings supporting the load. 

TIP

The reel isn’t sealed and will rust in saltwater.

You’ll need to give it a lot of love and care if you plan on doing some ocean fishing with it. 

Specs

Pros

  • High-quality materials.
  • Casts well
  • Smooth powerful drag

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Will rust in saltwater
  • Needs maintenance

All-Rounder

The Goture Spinning Reel takes the cake for being the all-rounder.

It’s a versatile reel that can be used in the ice as well as saltwater.

The line capacity, retrieve and drag suite multiple situations and will handle a variety of species. Overall it’s a great piece of kit with a better price tag. 

Best on a Budget

The Daiwa D-Spin Ultralight is the best reel on a budget.

It’s very simple, but it’s effective design and low price make it a winner.

If you’re a light line enthusiast, a beginner or target small fish, this reel does everything you’ll need it to while being excellent value. 

Editor’s Choice

The editor’s choice is the Abu Garcia Ice Max.

This is the only reel that has been thoroughly designed with ice fishing in mind.

Everything from the materials to the lubrication is made for cold conditions.

This reel will last a number of seasons and cause you the least number of issues along the way.

Those are the best ice fishing reels out there and as you can see, it’s not too expensive to escape the cabin and go fishing in winter.

I hope the review was useful and you find the right reel for you. Who knows, you might be cooking some fresh ice caught trout this winter. 

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