Many trout fishermen head indoors over winter and tie flies or make plans for opening day. Some lucky anglers, have flowing water year round. But there is a hardy few who live far enough north, that their ponds, and sometimes even rivers freeze thick enough to allow them to go ice fishing.
Growing up in a temperate climate, ice fishing was always a mystery to me. It was not until I moved countries, and considerably further north that the reality of frozen rivers set in. Not going fishing was simply not an option, I had to teach myself the ins and outs of ice fishing.
The first point I want to make, is that you do not need to buy a dedicated ice fishing reel. In fact, most ice fishing reels are plastically and rather junky.
Can I use my normal ultralight reel ice fishing?
The short answer is yes. There is nothing fundamentally different between an ultralight reel use for summer fishing and a reel sold for fishing the ice. If you already own a trout reel, chances are it will also be suitable for ice fishing. So no need to spend money on dedicated ice fishing gear.
Although, if you plan on doing a lot of ice fishing. It is certainly easier and much more convenient to buy a dedicated reel, because they are setup slightly differently.
The biggest challenge reels face when ice fishing is freezing. If there is any moisture inside the reels gearing it starts to freeze and might even seize. The oil which lubricates the reel also starts to thicken. Reels simply feel less smooth when used in freezing conditions.
Many experience ice fishermen, will replace the great and oil in their reel at the start of each season. There are many good lubricants on the market, and everyone seems to have their favourite. Some ice fishermen even swear with bicycle or even diesel engine grease.
One of the more popular lubricants to use is Quantum Hot Sauce. It it a very runny oil, so it flows everywhere and gets into and lubricates the tight spaces. Unfortunately, that property also means it has to reapplied more often than a thick grease.
Graphite vs Aluminium, which is best for ice fishing?
I could go into a long list of pros and cons. But I am going to go straight to the most relevant point when ice fishing. Graphite feels a lot warmer to touch. Aluminium, is a metal so it feels very cold. Like grabbing an ice cube.
Graphite frame reels are also lighter, which means they balance better with the short rods typically used while ice fishing.
Finally, Carbon is mostly just fancy graphite, which is mostly just fancy plastic.
Why are ice fishing reels so tiny?
Ice fishing reels are tiny, because the rods they are used with are also short.
Ice fishing rods are short, because they are used very close to the small holes. Short rods, are also more powerful, which is useful for fighting fish in a confined space. There is also no need to cast while ice fishing, so a long rod will actually be a hindrance.
I also have read many claims that short rods are more sensitive. That I do not believe, in my experience longer rods are more responsive. I know I can feel ever movement when using my 9ft fly rods.
Much of the time ice angling is also done inside a fishing shack, their is simply not enough room to use a traditional size rod.
Spinning Reel vs Inline Reel?
Ice fishermen typically use one of two types of reels. These are spinning reels and inline reels. Spinning reels need no introduction, but inline reels somewhat resemble a fly reel with a much larger handle.
Inline reels are designed to simply drop a lure or bait directly down. The large abor, typically results in less line twist compared with spinning reels, and proponents feel they are best used in shallow water (less than 10ft) while using ultralight lures and line.
Proponents of spinning tackle prefer them due to increase versatility. They can be used year round. The drag also trend to be better quality, some inline reels have very poor drags.
Some fishermen love inline reels, others can not stand them. It largely comes down to personal preference. I am more firmly in the spinning reel camp, so that is what I recommend. I have nothing against inline reels, I simply do not know them well enough to make any recommendations.
Can I use a fly reel when ice fishing?
Yes, I have not done so myself. But some fishermen do use fly reels while ice fishing. The biggest advantage is the elimination of line twist, some fishermen also claim that the fight is much better.
Due to the low gear ratio, typically 1:1, retrieving line on a fly reel is very slow. This makes them better suited when fishing shallow water. For fishing deeper than 20ft, most fishermen will prefer to use spinning gear.
Dedicated Ice fishing reels
Most dedicated ice fishing spinning reels are pretty low end, and they do not bring much value to the table when compared against normal ultralight spinning reels. One I will reccomend as a dedicated ice fishing reel is the Abu Garcia Ice Max.
Abu Garcia Ice Max
The Abu Garcia Ice Max is a spinning reel that was purposely designed for ice fishing, and costing around $30 it is quite affordable.
The Ice Max was built to withstand the rough treatment of ice fishing. The frame is constructed from lightweight graphite, which feels much warmer than aluminium. Internally, the gears are coated with a cold-resistant lubricant. Allowing the reel to remain smooth even in frigid temperatures. There is no need to open the reel when new to apply a different oil.
It also comes with several features to minimize line twists. The first is the oversize spool. The larger spool means fewer rotations, which means fewer twists turn. It also features a slow oscillation line lay which more evenly wraps the line across the spool. These two line management technologies make the Ice Max nicer to use on the ice.
The frame stern is extra long, making it easier to hold while wearing gloves.
The Ice Max has 6.6 lbs of drag, 3+1 ball bearings and a 5.2:1 ratio.
Spinning reels I recommend for ice fishing
I will now briefly recommend several spinning reels which I find work well for ice fishing. They are also great reels for general trout fishing. I have reviewed these reels in much more detail in my spinning reel buyers guide.
1) Daiwa Regal LT 1000D or 2000D
The Daiwa Regal is an excellent ultralight reel and can usually be found for around $60. To put things simply. It is a tiny reel (6.7oz) with a massive spool. I do not know of a better ultralight reel for under $100.
A large spool is good when ice fishing because it helps, minimizes line twists.
Both the 1000D and 2000D weigh 6.7oz. The only difference is the deeper spool on the 2000D.
The 1000D holds 250yards of 4lb monofilament
The 2000D holds 340yards of 4lb monofilament
The Regal LT also features Daiwa’s industry leading line-lay which further assist in keeping line twists to a minimum.
The Regal LT has 11lb of drag, 9+1 ball bearings and a 5.2:1 gear ratio.
2) Pflueger President 20x
The Pfluger President is not only a popular trout reel, but also a very popular ice fishing reel, the most popular size is the 20x. One of the reasons why the Preisdent is such a popular ice reel is its reletaive slow retrieve rate which makes slow finnese presentations easier.
The 20X size weighs in at a minuscule 6.2oz, and offers 100yds of 4lb monofilament.
It is lighter than the Daiwa Regal and can usually be found slightly cheaper. It does come with a much smaller spool. More care must be taken to keep the line twist under control.
The President has 6lb of drag, 7 Ball bearings and a 5.2:1 gear ratio.
The Ceymar is a well built, affordable and full featured ultralight reel. If you can not afford a President or Regal, consider the Ceymar c-10.
The C-10 weighs only 6oz and offers 110yds of 4lb monofilament. Although, it might be worth jumping up in size to the c-20 which weighs in at 6.8oz but has a comparatively larger spool which holds 140yds of 4lb.
The Ceymar has 6lb of drag, 7 ball bearings and a 5.0:1 gear ratio