Ice Fishing Rod on Top of Snow

The Top 7 Best Ice Fishing Reels in 2021 (Buyer’s Guide)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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

After considering all the options our top picks were…

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. The best setup will have to tick a lot of boxes and finding out which boxes will be relevant for you is a tricky task to undertake.

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 features a light and durable body and rotor thanks to the graphite construction. It features an aluminum spool that will stand up well in icy conditions and holds a lot of line.

Goture GTS Spinning Fishing Reel

For the best ice fishing reel all-around, 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 could be the best ice fishing reel for you. 

Editor’s Choice

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

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

Our top picks…

Here are all the best ice fishing reels we reviewed…

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 ice fishing 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.

You can make drag adjustments from the front and it 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

  • Mono capacity LB/YD: 4/140
  • Braid capacity LB/YD: 4/160
  • Max Drag: 12lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
  • Ball bearings: 6
  • Weight: 6.35oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: N/A
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full 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 ice fishing 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 these are well-designed ice fishing reels, but they’re not that durable and don’t come with anti-reverse. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 180/2 110/6 95/8
  • Braid capacity YD/LB: 150/6
  • Max Drag: 6lb
  • Gear Ratio: 4.2:1
  • Ball bearings: 5
  • Weight: N/A
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 19.7”
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full 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 spinning 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

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

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

This ice 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 trout on the lake 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.

On the other hand it has a smooth drag system, but the drag capacity is as low as it gets. It’s certainly for light line and small fish.

The frame on the spinning 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 lightweight reel does cast nicely, especially for light line.

It doesn’t come with anti-reverse, like other fishing reels on this review, and the bail arm is quite stiff, which may stick in icy conditions. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity LB/YD: 2/240, 4/120, 6/80
  • Braid capacity LB/YD: 6/250, 8/120
  • Max Drag: 4.4lb
  • Gear Ratio: 4.9:1
  • Ball bearings: 1
  • Weight: 6oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 21.4 inch
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full 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 ice reel is made from graphite with an aluminum handle 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 load 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 system.

Thanks to the inline system the reel does not twist the line, but the eye where the line leaves the reel does have a tendency to freeze over. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 100/4
  • Braid capacity YD/LB: N/A
  • Max Drag: N/A
  • Gear Ratio: 2.5:1
  • Ball bearings: 4
  • Weight: N/A
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: N/A
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full 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 the Eagle Claw Inline Ice fishing reels is the smooth 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 Eagle Claw In Line reel is the Teflon drag system that is very smooth once engaged and will be a joy to fight a fish with.

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

It’s a little tricky to find the right setting on the star drag, but once you work out this superior drag system, it stays. 

Body

The nylon body on this Eagle Claw is a little worrying.

A nylon body is 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.

This Eagle Claw reel 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 stainless steel ball bearings and the aluminum handle.

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

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

Specs

  • Mono capacity YD/LB: 2/270, 4/190, 6/120
  • Braid capacity YD/LB: NA
  • Max Drag: N/A
  • Gear Ratio: 2.6:1
  • Ball bearings: 5
  • Weight: N/A
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 16.5
  • Retrieve Side: Left/Right
  • Full Specs

Pros

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

Cons

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

Editor’s Choice

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This is the best ice fishing reel above all other reels in the review and has been made specifically for cold conditions. Thanks to this design and the cold gear lube, it’ll last an ice fisherman more than a few winters.

Abu Garcia ICEMAX 4842-1331

This ice reel above all other reels in the review, has been made specifically for cold temperatures.

Thanks to this design, it’ll last ice anglers 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 spinning 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 ice spinning reel features an extended stem for easy winding even with thick gloves and a one-touch collapsible handle. 

Specs

  • Mono capacity: YD/LB 190/2,100/4, 80/6
  • Braid capacity: YD/LB 160/4
  • Max Drag: 6.6lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.2:1
  • Ball bearings: 4
  • Weight: N/A
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: 22.5 inch
  • Retrieve Side: Right/Left
  • Full 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 an aluminum spool that will stand up well on an ice fishing experience 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 and the hardened metal main shaft..

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 big 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 stainless steel 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

  • Mono capacity: LB/YD 200/4, 6/160, 8/100
  • Braid capacity LB/YD: N/A
  • Max Drag: 10lb
  • Gear Ratio: 5.1:1
  • Ball bearings: 6
  • Weight: 7.28oz
  • Retrieve rate, per crank: N/A
  • Retrieve Side: Right/left
  • Full Specs

Pros

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

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Will rust in saltwater
  • Needs maintenance

What to Look for in an Ice Fishing Reel…

There are a few things to think about when buying an ice fishing reel, especially compared to standard fishing reels.

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

Inline Reels 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 smaller fish and spinning reels are better for larger fish as they have a better drag.

RECOMMENDATION

If pike and big lake trout are your targets, avoid an inline reel and stick with a spinning reel, especially if you plan on using live bait.

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. You can learn some of the best braided fishing knots in a pinch too.

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

TIP

Most of the best ice fishing 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 ice fishing reel.

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

Most reels, at least heavier ones, 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.

Not to worry though, as the best ice fishing reel will handle all 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 anti-ice system or 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 and catch fish.

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. 

Conclusion

Here’s a quick recap of our top ice fishing reels…

All-Rounder

The Goture Spinning Reel takes the cake for being the best ice fishing reel all-around.

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

The reel features a line max capacity, retrieve and drag suited for multiple situations and will handle a variety of species. Overall it’s a high quality spinning reel with a better price tag. 

Best on a Budget

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

It’s one of the lightest ice fishing reels and 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 smaller fish, this ice fishing 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 on an ice fishing trip in the winter. If you can fit it into your budget, there are also some good ice flasher units that can help make the switch to ice fishing much easier.

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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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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