What is the Best Size Reel For Ice Fishing? [2022’s In-Depth Article]

Ice fisherman using a spinning reel.

When it comes to ice fishing, the size of your reel matters.

The correct ice fishing reel size depends on the fish you are going after. When fishing smaller fish, such as panfish, a 500-1000 size reel is perfect. The larger fish, like walleye and pike, require a larger reel size of 2500.

There are advantages to each size of reel:

  • Larger sizes can handle larger fish but have issues with the line holding memory, which affects the action of your lure underwater.
  • Smaller reels have more sensitivity but hold less line.
Ice fishing ultralight reel and rod.
Using a 500-size reel and ultralight rod while fishing for panfish

How Do I Choose a Ice Fishing Reel?

What is a good size for reel fishing? Ice fishing reels have size ratings between 500-2500 (the higher, the bigger the reel). Use this easy-to-follow guide to figure out what size ice fishing reel is best for you.

Match Your Reel to the Fish

The best way to figure out what size reel to use when ice fishing is to match your reel size to whatever species you are after.

SpeciesPanfish (Crappie, Bluegill, Perch)Larger Fish (Walleye, White Fish, Pike)
Size Reel500-1000 size reel2500 size reel
Pound Test2-6 pound test6-10 pound test
LuresTurnback shads, small spoons, grubsLarge turnback shads, jigging wraps, 3-5″ spoons

Advantages of Smaller Reels (500-1000)

Smaller reels can be installed onto smaller rods which lend to the ability to feel sensitive bites. This is particularly important when fishing for panfish. Anglers often like using their ultralight reels for ice fishing. Our article, Can You Use an Ice Fishing Rod for Regular Fishing? goes into the pros and cons of using ice fishing rods and reels off-season.

Disadvantages of Smaller Reels (500-1000)

The primary issue with smaller reels is the limiting factor of what type of fish you can go after when ice fishing. Another concern is the amount of fishing line you can spool. Sometimes fish can take your line for a swim when taking your bait. If you run out of line on your spool, it will most likely break off your rod, and subsequently, you’ll lose the fish.

The Best Smaller Ice Fishing Reel (500-1000)

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Advantages of Larger Reels (2500)

Handling larger fish is an advantage of 2500-sized ice fishing reels. Also, they can hold more fishing line, regardless of mono, fluoro, or braid, which helps when fishing at depths greater than 30′ (where a lot of the larger game fish live in the winter).

Disadvantages of Larger Reels (2500)

A larger fishing line is used with larger reels (6-10 pounds), which tend to freeze and hold memory during ice fishing. When this happens, the lure you are fishing with may spin underwater or have unnatural movement because the line tries to revert to its memory while spun on the reel.

The Best Larger Ice Fishing Reel (2500)

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Spinning Reels vs. Inline Reels

Both types of reels work for ice fishing. The more affordable and more often used type of ice fishing reel is spinning reels. They have been around longer and perform just fine under most conditions.

Inline reels are newer, having been introduced to the ice fishing sport within the last few decades, and have a few specific use cases that you should consider. If the fish are very finicky, then consider using an inline reel. It provides more sensitivity which comes in handy when fishing panfish with lighter weight line.

Spinning ReelsInline Reels
-More Affordable
-Less Sensitive
-Ice Build-Up (Freezing)
-User Friendly
-Better Lure Drop
-More Sensitivity
-Used for Smaller Fish

Ice fisherman using a spinning reel.

Other Considerations

Ultimately, deciding what size reel for ice fishing depends on personal preference and the specific conditions you’ll face. There are ice fishing anglers who prefer larger reels because their hands are larger. They even fish for panfish with larger reel sizes. It’s not ideal, but it works for them. The point is that all of this ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Is Ice Fishing Fun? Ice fishing is a great winter activity that the whole family can enjoy. But before you head out on the ice, you must ensure you have the right equipment. A reel is one of the most important pieces of gear for ice fishing. But with all the different sizes and styles of reels available, it can be tough to know what’s right for you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a reel for ice fishing:

  • The type of fish you’re targeting. A smaller reel will do just fine if you’re after smaller fish like panfish. But if you’re going after larger fish like pike or walleye, you’ll need a bigger reel that can better handle the weight and fight.
  • What Is The Best Bait For Ice Fishing? Different species require different baits and reel setups. Study the species you are after to decide what’s best for you.
  • The conditions of fishing you’ll be doing. If you’re planning on fishing in deep water, you’ll need a sturdier reel that can handle the abuse and can spool the amount of line required.
  • Your personal preferences. In the end, choosing a reel that feels comfortable for you to use is important. After all, you’ll be spending hours holding it in your hand! So try out a few different models before making your final decision.