Your fishing season need not come to a close when the cold weather sets in. When the ponds and lakes ice over it doesn’t mean that you have to put up the rods and reels. In fact, there is tackle specifically designed for cold-weather ice fishing. Reach for one of the best ice fishing reels and get to it!
Some of the best-eating fish all over the world can be had in cold water that is covered in ice. I am talking about pike, walleye, and lake trout. These are incredibly tasty fish, and you can have them if you have the right ice-fishing tackle.
We are seeking out the best ice fishing reels on the market today. It is important that we have a high-quality reel to pull our icy line up through that small hole and not lose the fish in the process.
Our Top Picks
Abu Garcia Ice Max Spinning Reel
13 Fishing Black Betty Freefall Ghost Ice Reel
Daiwa Crossfire CF500-3Bi
1. Abu Garcia Ice Max Spinning Reel
Abu Garcia is such a powerhouse when it comes to producing high-quality fishing reels. It was no surprise to me that the Ice Max Reel was designed for high performance, for line management, and was lightweight to boot.
The spool is machined aluminum which makes it incredibly lightweight. Smooth operation in even icy conditions comes from the cold weather lubricant and four total bearings in the reel.
The real is built for slow oscillation to help with even line lay when reeling in your icy line. This is important because the icy lines can tangle, too!
Weighing at just over 6oz, this reel collapses with the press of a button and becomes next to nothing to carry. It is a right-handed open-faced spinning reel that is just perfect for ice fishing. It is also an incredible value.
- Durable Material
- High-Level Performance
- Easily Collapsible
- Great Value
- No Anti Reverse Switch
2. 13 Fishing Black Betty Freefall Ghost Ice Reel
This is our first inline ice fishing reel on the list. This is a premium ice fishing reel that comes at a high price. This reel can be purchased as a left-hand or right-hand reel.
Constructed from CNC 6061 Aluminum, it has both durability and a lightweight design. When you are subjecting a fishing reel to temperatures near or below zero, then durability becomes a very important part of any ice fishing adventure.
It is a quality that is essential in all of the best ice fishing reels.
A unique feature of the ice fishing experience is the pencil or pistol grip that this reel offers. It gives you the ability to jig for fish vertically. Now, this technique is used for fishing crappy in cool water, and some ocean fishermen use it, too. However, this grip technique can be incredibly effective when fishing that small hole up close.
The 13 Fishing Black Betty retrieves 19″ of line with each revolution, and it also has a great gear system for smoothing running spool release even with light baits. However, the spool release does have some malfunction issues.
Finally, we are dealing with a reel that is filled with premium parts like an instant anti-reverse, internal gear cover, and smooth carbon drag.
- CNC 6061 Aluminum Construction
- Pistol Grip
- 19″ Line Retrieval Per Revolution
- Limited Tension Adjustment
- Spool Release Malfunctions
3. Pflueger Monarch Ice Reel
Pflueger has been creating top-quality fishing tackle for a very long time. It should come as no surprise that this reel is next on our list of best ice fishing reels. In fact, it is an incredibly close 2nd. The Plueger Moarch Ice Reel and the Garcia are priced exactly the same!
In some areas, we see the Pflueger outperforming the Garcia. It features a 5-bearing system rather than the 4. It is made of the same lightweight aluminum but does not maintain that nice lightweight feel of the Garcia.
This reel is incredibly smooth, and it handles the icy line really well. There is not a lot of play in this reel, and for the price, that is hard to match. The Monarch Ice Reel is built on a graphite body and rotor. This does help with the weight of an otherwise larger reel.
Rather than unscrewing the nut to break the handle of the reel down, I would have preferred a button to press like the Garcia. That makes for quicker and easier storage.
- Great Value
- Smooth 5 Bearing System
- No Backreel
- Unscrew for Takedown
- Larger and Heavier Than Expected
4. Daiwa Crossfire CF500-3Bi
All ice-fishing adventures are not created equal. Hauling in pike and lake trout requires different tackle than perch and crappie. The rigs for fishing these smaller species is, well, smaller.
The Crossfire is one of the best ice fishing reels for smaller quarries. Outside of its size, Daiwa has a pretty simple but effective reel in the Crossfire. Its one-touch folding handle makes it easy to pack away, and the four-bearing system keeps the retrieve smooth.
This reel is made predominately of aluminum to keep it nice and lightweight. The small spool still holds plenty of line for the deepest lakes.
All in all, you are dealing with a simple but high-performing ice fishing reel that would be perfect for hauling in smaller species.
- Compact, Easy to Carry
- Priced Like a Larger Reel
5. Piscifun ICX Carbon Ice Fishing Reel
This is the first of many inline reels on our list. These types of fishing reels are incredibly effective as the spool sits IN LINE with the guides, and this makes for a very smooth reel. The reel lines up and looks a bit like a fly fishing reel.
Inline reels are always going to be on the list of best ice fishing reels.
The ICX Carbon Ice is a carbon fiber framed reel to keep it lightweight. This also adds a layer of durability to the reel, and when you are out in -8 degree temperatures that can make all the difference in performance.
This reel features a very interesting in-line trigger mode. You can choose from two different types of adjustments. Pull the trigger on this reel for an on-demand free spool option. Then release the trigger to stop the line. You can even unlock a free spool mode by pushing the trigger forward rather than pulling it.
This reel also features an 8+1 bearing system which really equates to quality and smooth operation. With an 11lb drag, you can get everything you need and that makes this one of the best ice fishing reels on the market.
- Inline Reel
- Carbon Fiber Frame
- Trigger Mode
- Troublesome Trigger Position
6. Clam Gravity Elite Inline Hybrid
This inline is one of the best ice fishing reels available. It comes with all the bells and whistles but focuses on the things that the ice fisherman needs. Right out of the box, it has that electric blue drag control and spool. Against the black frame of the reel, it all looks great!
The best feature of the Clam Gravity Elite is the anti-drag trigger. It’s very sensitive and allows the user to adjust drag and drop with serious precision. The smooth and precise drop means that you can put any bait right where you want it and even give something like a minnow the freedom it needs to swim naturally and be most enticing to the fish.
Made from CNC aluminum, this reel is built for ice fishing, both from the elements and the stress of catching lots of fish. The 3+1 bearing system gives the reel a smooth retrieve, but the focus is on the smooth drag system.
The large spool has tremendous line capacity for your ice fishing needs. If loaded properly, you will be able to fish a long time on one spool of quality monofilament.
- Best Drag System for Ice Fishing
- Durable Aluminum
- Large Spool
7. Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder Spinning
A Baitfeeder spinning reel is one of the very best ice fishing reels. The main feature of this kind of reel is that it allows you to disengage your spool so that the bait can run free and give that natural presentation. The Okuma Baitfeeder deserves your attention.
The multi-disced oiled felt drag system that creates a smooth drag even in extremely cold conditions. This can be a very important feature when you are trying to reel in larger fish.
The bearing system is low on this reel with just a 2+1 bearing system, but the reel is smooth with very little play. I do not like the 2 bearing reel for extremely cold temperatures.
One of the features that really make this one of the best ice fishing reels is called the cyclonic flow rotor. The feature allows airflow to feed deep into the reel’s rotor to help dry it off and limit things like corrosion or ice build-up in ice fishing conditions.
Each reel comes with a backup spool so you can keep more than one type of line on hand.
- Baitfeeder System
- Oil-Felt Drag System
- Cyclonic Flow Rotor Drying System
- Low Bearing System
8. KastKing Centron 500
KastKing puts out some incredible fishing tackle that anyone can afford. I spent a lot of time using the KastKing Centron 500. It comes as no surprise that this reel would find its way onto our list of best ice fishing reels.
What you will notice right off the bat is just how smooth this reel is. That has a lot to do with the fact that it is a 9+1 ball-bearing design. Whether working a bait back to the shore or reeling in a powerful fish, this reel was buttery smooth.
The KastKing also has a tremendous 17.5 stopping power that is reinforced by a hardened metal main shaft precision machined pinion gear to give this reel big fish battling power. Though not ice fishing, I have caught many 4-6lb bass on the Centron. It is designed to go to war.
The reason I stopped using my Centron had nothing to do with the performance of the reel. It had everything to do with durability. A small piece of plastic broke off the reel handle where it was designed to fold down. This made the reel basically impossible to use.
That ended about a year of use, and I enjoyed the KastKing Centron 500. I could easily see how it would be one of the best ice-fishing reels.
- Well Built
- Highly Affordable
- Great Power
- Plastic Breaks Overtime
What to Look For in the Best Ice Fishing Reels
When seeking out the best ice fishing reels, you need to understand what you are facing. Ice fishing is cold. Your equipment could be facing below-freezing temperatures.
Durable materials and a quality bearing system all amount to making one of the best ice fishing reels. Your reel is going to take a beating out there in the cold. If you are successful, then you are going to be hauling lots of fish up. There is a reason we fishermen use the phrase ‘burn up the bearings’ when we catch a lot of fish.
Drag systems and sensitivity are another huge part of ice fishing. You are dropping bait into a hole that you have cut out of the ice. You do not have the option to cast the bait where you want it to go. So, your precision drop and the drag system allow you to both put the bait exactly where you want it and allow it to give the most action.
At the end of the day, you are still fishing, so you need a reel that won’t have you spending all your time either putting on a new line or untangling bird’s nests. A smooth reel that is well-governed by a quality spool is what you are after, too!
Considerations Before Choosing the Best Ice Fishing Reel for You
We just hit you with the very best ice fishing reels on the market. You have seen some quality open-faced spin casting reels, a great micro reel in the Daiwa Crossfire, and you might have even been first introduced to the inline spinning reel.
That Clam Gravity Elite is easily the best inline spinner on the list. If you are looking to make the jump from regular spinner to inline, that is the reel to do it with.
Now there are some high-level considerations to make before committing to one of the best ice fishing reels.
A quality gear system is always going to make a quality reel. Well, when you are dealing with the best ice fishing reels, you have to have an effective gear system. The joy of using a good reel in warm weather depends a lot on gears but even more when you are using it in the bitter cold.
Play in the Reel
A smooth reel is one thing, but you have to test the play in the reel, too. If you are always getting tangles then you won’t appreciate that smooth reel anyway.
Without the anti-reverse on, turn the reel in reverse. A reel with a lot of play will allow you to reel in reverse a lot before stopping. A reel with little play will not allow you to reel in reverse much at all unless the anti-reverse is on.
The least amount of play, the better!
Ice Build Up
You need a reel that can handle the harsh temperatures and conditions of ice fishing. The best ice fishing reels are going to handle things like ice build-up by being made of the proper kinds of material.
Durability and Materials
As I learned when using the KastKing, even a reel that works well and is built of strong internals, can be destroyed with heavy use. So, when you decide on one of the best ice fishing reel, you should look for one that is durable both inside and out.
Remember, cold weather, water, and freezing can all have a profound effect on weak materials.
Wrapping up the Best Ice Fishing Reels for 2023
Look, the best ice fishing reels are all going to perform at the highest level for you. However, you have to think about the details. Reeling a large pike in on the Daiwa Crossfire could pose some problems. Then again, it might be just the kind of challenge you are after.
If you are a verticle jigger then you will do better to invest in something like the Black Betty or one of the other inline reels. These reels are just better designed for that kind of technique.
Ice fishing is a unique experience and if you have the opportunity in your area, you should definitely consider it. Fishing is a great survival skill. There is something special about conquering the cold and coming away victorious with a day’s catch despite the ice and cold temperatures.
Want to learn more about fishing, discover more fishing spots, and or read up on the best fishing gear? Then continue your fishing adventure with our comprehensive guides, info posts, and more!
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- About the Author
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.