Inline vs Spinning Reels: Pick The Best For Ice Fishing

Ice fishing, a popular winter pastime in colder regions, requires specific gear to handle the challenging conditions. Central to an angler’s kit are reels, with the inline and spinning types being the most commonly used. This article provides a comprehensive comparison of these two reel types, their benefits and drawbacks, and suggests the more suitable option for ice fishing.

Inline Reels Vs Spinning Reels: A Comparative Table

The following table presents a comparative analysis of inline reels and spinning reels based on several key factors:

Aspect Inline Reel Spinning Reel
Line Twist Excellent – Designed to minimize line twist Good – May cause line twist with lighter jigs
Sensitivity Excellent – More sensitivity due to the line’s direct path Good – Sensitivity may be less than inline reels due to line coiling
Versatility Fair – Specifically designed for ice fishing Excellent – Can be used in various fishing situations
Ease of Use Good – May require some practice for beginners Excellent – Generally easier for beginners
Price Fair – Generally more expensive than spinning reels Good – Generally less expensive than inline reels
Drag System Good – Typically provide a smooth drag Excellent – Often provide a more advanced drag system

What is an Inline Fishing Reel?

An inline fishing reel, also known as a straight-line reel or inline ice fishing reel, is a specialized type of fishing reel designed primarily for ice fishing. The term “inline” comes from the way the fishing line is dispensed, which is in a straight line off the reel that aligns with the rod.


The unique design of inline reels reduces the line twist that’s common with other types of reels. This reel works by letting the line come off the reel directly in a straight line, which prevents coiling or twisting and allows the lure to behave more naturally in the water. They are often used with lighter lures and baits due to the sensitivity they offer.

Pros of Inline Fishing Reels

  • Reduced Line Twist: One of the biggest advantages of inline reels is the significant reduction in line twists. This is particularly beneficial when using light jigs or baits.
  • Increased Sensitivity: Inline reels offer superior sensitivity to bites, which can make all the difference, especially in ice fishing where fish bites can be hard to detect.
  • Efficient Line Management: They are designed to minimize line freeze and manage the fishing line effectively during the reel in process.
  • Precision Depth Setting: Most inline reels come with a built-in depth marker system, allowing anglers to return to the same depth after each catch, making them highly efficient.

Cons of Inline Fishing Reels

  • Limited Versatility: Inline reels are specifically designed for ice fishing. While they can be used for open water fishing, they are less versatile compared to spinning or baitcasting reels.
  • Learning Curve: There can be a bit of a learning curve to using inline reels, especially for those who are accustomed to spinning or baitcasting reels.
  • Price: Inline reels tend to be more expensive than basic spinning reels. However, the cost is usually justified by their improved performance in ice fishing scenarios.
  • Drag System: While many quality inline reels feature a good drag system, it is generally considered less advanced than that found in other types of reels like spinning or baitcasting reels.

When is a Spinning Reel Better for Ice Fishing

Spinning Reel

A spinning reel can be better for ice fishing in several scenarios:

  • Versatility: Spinning reels are more versatile than inline reels, meaning they can be used in a wider variety of fishing situations. If you’re an angler who enjoys ice fishing but also likes to fish in warmer seasons, a spinning reel would be a better choice as it can be used year-round.
  • Ease of Use: Spinning reels are generally considered to be easier to use, especially for beginners. If you’re new to ice fishing, you might find a spinning reel to be more straightforward.
  • Line Capacity: Spinning reels typically have a larger line capacity compared to inline reels. If you’re targeting larger fish that might make long runs, or if you’re fishing in extremely deep water, a spinning reel would be a better choice.
  • Budget: Spinning reels are typically less expensive than inline reels. If you’re on a budget, or if you’re new to ice fishing and don’t want to invest in specialized gear just yet, a spinning reel is an excellent choice.
  • Advanced Drag System: Spinning reels often have more advanced drag systems than inline reels. This feature allows for smoother, more controlled line release when a fish is on, which can be crucial when battling larger, more powerful fish.

Best inline ice fishing reels

  • 13 Fishing Black Betty FreeFall Ghost Inline Ice Reel: Known for its FreeFall trigger system that provides instant hookups, this reel also comes with an integrated fender design and graphite frame construction that makes it both robust and lightweight.
  • Eagle Claw Inline Ice Reel: This reel offers a smooth Teflon drag system and free spool release button, and it’s built with a nylon body and spool to keep it lightweight and durable.
  • Clam Corporation’s Dave Genz Ice Spooler Elite Reel: This reel offers a longer reel stem for comfortable use with gloves, an adjustable drag, and a large arbor spool design that reduces line twists and increases line retrieval rate.
  • Frabill 371 Straight Line Bro Series Quick Tip Ice Fishing Reel: Known for its rapid retrieval rate and 5+1 ball bearing system, this reel offers a smooth experience and durability.
  • Schooley’s Deluxe Spring Bobber Pole, Reel and Accessories: Ideal for beginners, this simple and affordable reel is perfect for lighter applications and offers good sensitivity.

Best spinning reels for ice fishing

  • Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel: This reel is known for its durability, smooth drag system, and excellent line management. It’s designed with cold-resistant material, making it ideal for ice fishing.
  • Abu Garcia IceMax Spinning Reel: Specifically designed for ice fishing, this reel features a compact and lightweight design, a smooth drag system, and extended reel stem for comfortable use with gloves.
  • Pflueger President Spinning Reel: This is a popular choice for its durability, smooth operation, and excellent price-to-quality ratio. The President reel features a 10-bearing system that provides very smooth retrieves.
  • Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel: The Okuma Ceymar has a solid construction, a multi-disc drag system, and a quick anti-reverse feature. It offers a great balance between quality and affordability.
  • Daiwa BG Spinning Reel: This reel is known for its robust design, smooth operation, and excellent drag system. Although it’s not specifically designed for ice fishing, its performance and durability make it a great choice for ice anglers.
  • 13 Fishing Black Betty FreeFall Ghost Radioactive Pickle Inline Ice Combo: While technically an inline reel, it’s worth mentioning this reel for its superior sensitivity and unique free-fall trigger system that allows for instant hook sets.

The Verdict: Who Wins?

Determining the “winner” between inline and spinning reels depends largely on your specific needs and preferences as an angler. If you exclusively or primarily ice fish, an inline reel is an excellent investment. It’s designed to handle the challenges of ice fishing, providing minimal line twists and superior sensitivity, making detecting subtle bites in frigid waters easier.

However, if you are a beginner or if ice fishing is just one of the many types of fishing you enjoy, a spinning reel may be a better option. They are typically easier to use, more affordable, and versatile enough to be used in various fishing situations, not just ice fishing. Their advanced drag system is another significant advantage, especially when dealing with larger fish.

In conclusion, both inline and spinning reels have their place in the world of ice fishing. Your decision should be based on your specific fishing style, budget, and personal preference. With the right reel matched to your needs, you can enjoy a fantastic ice fishing experience.

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