What's the deal with ice-fishing reels? Do you need a special reel for ice-fishing? Is your current fishing setup suitable?
For most people, a dedicated ice-fishing setup is the most appropriate option. Considering a lower entry cost than larger casting setups, most ice-fishing setups are simple, small, and easy on the wallet.
The reels used in ice-fishing are generally small and somewhat variable. Inline ice-fishing reels are favored by dedicated ice anglers. Inline reels are truly specialized reels for ice-fishing applications. Sleek, small, and simple is the name of the game for these reels.
Let’s delve a little deeper into the possibly mysterious realm of inline fishing reels. I assure you they are simple and easy to get a grasp of. Personally, I enjoy these reels tremendously for ice-fishing and vertical jigging applications.
Comparison Chart of the Best Inline Ice Fishing Reels
Do You Need A Special Reel For Ice Fishing?
Within the sport of fishing, there is a lot of gear that can be used across different practices of the sport.
Step into an ice shack full of anglers, and you may see a large variety of setups, from long poles, short poles, no poles and reels of all types.
While many different types of reels will certainly get the job done, there are select reels better suited to the application.
Inline ice-fishing reels have become increasingly popular with ice-fishing in recent years. There are certain advantages and benefits they bring over a more traditional and versatile spinning reel.
Inline reels are designed to reduce twisting in the fishing line and are meant for use with lighter-weight lines.
These are desired features in most vertical ice-fishing scenarios. Inline ice-fishing reels are a far more specialized tool and do not bring a large variety of use to the angler beyond ice-fishing.
Outside of ice-fishing, however, some people may use them for vertical jig fishing and pan fishing on open water.
Any sort of vertical fishing situation involving smaller fish lends itself well to these simple reels. These reels are fairly well-suited to these applications, though not much beyond in terms of casting or catching larger fish.
Inline vs. Spinning Reels
Now, let's jump in and take a look at what sets inline ice-fishing reels apart from spinning reels.
As you may know, spinning reels offer versatility and may be one of the most commonly used reels in fishing today.
While they are a good do-it-all reel, they may not be the most ideal reel for specialized applications.
An inline fishing reel is ideal for ice-fishing for a few different reasons.
Inline reels eliminate line twist. Like a fly reel, an inline reel rolls the line around the spool in a straight fashion. A spinning reel puts a twist into the line as it winds onto the spool. In ice-fishing applications, no twist in your line means better jig/lure presentation and more sensitivity with a tauter line. For ice-fishing, having a straight and twist-free line may be the difference between a fish or no fish.
Inline reels help retain line strength. When twists are put into fishing line, it begins to weaken it from its rated strength. While the loss in strength is likely negligible on heavier lines, the same may not be so for ultralight lines. For ice-fishing, where ultralight lines are often the norm, line strength retention should be closely considered.
Inline reels are better suited for smaller bodied fish. These reels, while being made larger, are designed for lighter lines and smaller fish. If you plan on catching larger fish, such as pike or lake trout, a conventional spinning reel may be a better bet. Inline reels truly shine with ultralight rigs and targeting walleye or smaller-sized fish, as is the case in most ice-fishing applications.
Reel vs. Rod/Reel Combos
With a wide breadth of equipment on the market, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the selection.
Should you just go and buy a rod and reel combo? Should you research heavily and buy the two components separately?
The decision shouldn’t be daunting, but there are a few things you ought to consider.
Most rod and reel combos are selected to be a good match. The reel and rod are both designed to work with a similar weight of lines and lures.
So long as you know what size you are looking for, you can’t really go wrong with a rod and reel combo.
On the flip side, purchasing your reel separately from your rod may give you more selection and performance.
If you are looking for a very specific type of ice-fishing setup, buying your components individually may be your best route.
However, with this selection, comes a greater responsibility in knowledge. Unlike buying a rod and reel combo that is tough to mess up, buying a mismatched reel and rod can make fishing much more difficult.
Review of the Best Inline Ice Fishing Reels
Now, let's go ahead and gain a better knowledge of some inline reels on the market and how they compare. This should give you the confidence and knowledge to purchase an inline ice-fishing setup of your own.
Coming in at the top of our list, this inline reel by Eagle Claw is a simple, yet ultra high-quality, ice-fishing reel on a budget.
This reel is designed with a tough and light nylon body. This allows for more custom graphics, which in the case of this reel is an attractive carbon fiber replicating pattern.
This reel, like many others, comes complete with free spool release button. This allows for quick drops to the appropriate depth.
Additionally, this reel features a spool tension adjustment feature. This allows the user to adjust the speed of descent for your lure or jig depending on lure weight or application.
The smooth Teflon drag, line slicker, and star drag all lend well to this reel’s functionality. With 4+1 ball bearings and a 2.6:1 gear ratio, this reel will perform smoothly and is well suited to most ice-fishing scenarios.
This reel by Eagle Claw has received a fair bit of attention lately. It is easy to see why as this reel with a budget price is simple, effective, and has nearly all of the features of higher end reels. This is a great reel to step into the inline fishing market or upgrade your current setup.
This reel by Fibilink is another simple option for the budget minded angler. Sacrificing no performance, this ultralight reel is designed with simplicity and function in mind.
With an easy free-spool release, getting your lure to depth is quick. Also featured is an accompanying spool-tension adjustment knob.
Additionally, the star drag adjuster on the handle makes quick drag system adjustments, even mid-battle.
With an attractive metallic black and orange design, this reel is just about guaranteed to give you a slick-looking setup out on the ice. The reel features a 4+1 bearing 2.6:1 gear ratio, lending well to smooth and efficient retrieves.
If you are looking for a simple budget-minded reel, you can’t really go wrong with this Fibilink reel. Although it lacks features and functions of higher end reels, it is well designed well for ice-fishing applications and does excellent at that job. The spool tension adjustment sets it a step above some of the even more well-known budget reels on the market.
The Berrypro is another all aluminum design, this time featuring a non-slip black rubber coating.
This coating gives the reel a nice sleek, tactical look. Users report the coating makes the reel softer to the touch with an overall nicer feel to it.
The reel also comes with a quick anti-reverse feature that some may require for their applications.
Although this reel only contains 4+1 ball bearings, users still report a smooth reel and drag function on this reel.
The reel has a slightly quicker spooling rate with 3.6:1 gear ratio, this may lend itself well to some deeper water applications.
For a solid, budget, inline ice-fishing reel, the Berrypro is a great no-frills option for your endeavors. Most users agree that the reel functions smoothly and is easy to use all-around.
An attractive design coupled with plenty of features make this a choice worth considering.
With its special coated all aluminum CNC design, it serves as a corrosion resistant layer and gives the reel a look that is easy on the eyes. The reel also contains a core of corrosion resistant stainless steel components, adding to the resilience and longevity.
With a bait clicker function, it gives this reel a feature that many others may not have. With ultra-smooth 8+1 ball bearings and a 2.6:1 gear ratio, it is nearly a luxurious piece of equipment. The aluminum body keeps this reel ultra-light and the polishing gives it a higher-end look.
At a mid-level price point, this reel is an excellent choice for those wanting the next step up and want it to look as such. With its coated aluminum body, stainless steel components, and bait clicker function, this is a reel that may turn heads out on the ice.
If the thought of transitioning into an unfamiliar inline fishing reel is a little much for you, consider this option by Ugly Stik.
This rod and reel combo is a ready to use setup that utilizes a conventional and versatile spinning reel. The ultralight spinning reel, coupled with a short and light rod, make it an excellent option for most general ice-fishing applications.
Ugly Stik is the name when it comes to durability. You can count on this setup to stand up to years of abuse in the backs of trucks, sleds, and life on the ice.
Remember that spinning reels incorporate more twist into the line. This may be detrimental to certain situations.
With a 4.4:1 gear ratio and spinning reel on this setup, it may be a better option for larger fish in deeper water.
If you are not looking to jump into an inline reel just and would prefer to stick with a spinning setup, this might be your ticket. For a rod and reel combo at this price from a reputable brand, it is hard to go wrong with this setup, particularly if you are looking to have the versatility of hooking some larger fish under the ice.
The Freefall reel by Black Betty stays true to its name in excelling in the freefall fishing department.
Many reels drop a lure at one speed, dependent on the weight. With drop speed control, the Black Betty reel allows you to fine-tune the speed at which your lure or jig descends.
This may dramatically increase your odds of getting a hookup before even reaching your fishing depth. What really sets off the adjustable drop speed is the instant hookup feature. Which stops free-spool once the reel detects a fish strike, dramatically increasing hookups.
The reel has a nice, modern, fully-enclosed design with black and white side plates. Instead of an aluminum frame design, this reel uses a strong composite graphite frame.
If you are really looking to step up your ice-fishing game and open options for fishing style, this might be the reel for you.
With a 2.5:1 gear ratio, it makes a good all-around or shallow water (<50’) reel.
What makes this reel shine is truly the adjustable drop speed control. Couple this with the instant hookup feature and you can substantially increase your odds of catching fish.
However, with this feature comes the additional cost. If you are more interested in just fishing fixed depths, you may not need to pay for this feature.
Using an Inline Ice Fishing Reel - What You Need to Know
If you are already an angler, setting up and using an inline reel should not be difficult. Like spinning reels, they mount on the underside of the rod. The line enters the reel from the pole on the bottom side of the reel, like a fly fishing reel.
An inline reel generally will have a quick, free-spool feature. This allows the line to feed out and the weight of the lure or jig to carry itself down to your specified depth.
In the case of some reels, they offer spool-tension adjustment. This allows you to control or slow your lure descent depending on the weight of the lure.
This may also allow you to be fishing on the way down to your desired depth. A spool-tension adjustment would personally be a feature I would look for, just to increase the reel’s versatility.
Some reels come with a line clicker or bait clicker function. This simply gives an audible clicking noise when reeling in and retrieving line. This is an appreciated feature by many, but may not necessarily be a make it or break it feature for most.
Any inline reel should come with a quick and easy adjustable drag. In the case of many, this is a star drag on the handle, similar to many baitcasting reels. This allows for quick thumb adjustment, even mid-battle.
Other than that, the functionality of these reels is pretty straightforward. Drop your lure to a specified depth, control descent, retrieve line, and adjust your drag. That is all you should need in an ice-fishing reel. To even a beginner angler, a simple inline reel is fairly straightforward in its operation.
Whether you knew what an inline ice-fishing reel was going into this article or not, hopefully now you have a solid understanding of what they are and when to use them.
If anything, just know that they are a smaller-sized reel designed for vertical fishing situations. These are generally found in most ice-fishing and some open water pan-fishing scenarios.
With minimal features overall, these reels are easy to use and don’t break the bank. Couple them with a nice short ice-fishing rod of appropriate weight and action and you will be ready to hit the ice.