Shopping for a spinning reel for ice fishing shouldn’t be guess work. And you definitely don’t want to trust just any Amazon recommended list to pick your reels. You need reels you can reliably trust on the ice.
At the same time, we get that outfitting a bunch of ice fishing rods with premium quality reels is not a budget friendly approach. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 6 affordable spinning reels that dedicated ice anglers actually use and love. And just to make sure you have confidence in our recommendations, we tested every one of them out on the ice.
Now, let’s get started and see which of the 6 best spinning reels for ice fishing comes out on top.
* FishingDuo is not sponsored by any of the following reel manufacturers. All opinions and ranking are based on our own testing and as unbiased as possible.
How we picked the reels
Each reel we tested is a reel we own, use regularly on the ice and catch plenty of fish with. This spinning reel lineup spans the spectrum from budget reels to mid-level quality. Prices range from $30 on up to $75, which means just about anyone can buy a reel from this list.
We didn’t pick these reels just to do a gear review though. We picked these reels because we believe spending hundreds on high-end reels isn’t a requirement. Very few ice fishing situations call for the most elite gear and for every angler that lands a 38 inch laker with a $200 Shimano Stradic, there are many more anglers landing trophy fish on $50 spinning reels.
But most importantly, we picked these reels because they represent the best value for your money. They are also from a wide array of quality brands. Some are from well established companies and others are new to the ice fishing game. All of the reels on our ice fishing rods have quality drag, smooth operation and solid construction that will last many years.
How are the reels tested and ranked
Obviously, not all spinning reels are created equal and not all are well suited for ice fishing. Yet, deciding which reels handle harsh conditions on the ice isn’t something you can do while standing in a sporting goods store. It takes actual on-the-ice testing which is precisely what we did.
Every reel was put through real world conditions. They were subjected to extreme cold, had the drag tested to the limits and every component scrutinized to ensure that they met our expectations. These 6 spinning reels might not be considered high-end but that doesn’t mean we don’t expect quality performance.
The next step is ranking the reels among themselves and it isn’t all about the price tag. Your reel does more than just retrieve line. Without smooth operation or a rock solid drag, you will loose the battle with the fish of a lifetime. For that reason, we rated each reel based on 6 critical categories of operation and value. They are as follows:
- Drag performance
- Cold tolerance
- Build quality
- Overall value
To compare each reel against the other, we assigned a score from 1 to 5 in each category; 5 being the best and 1 being the worst. At the end, we added up the overall score to give each reel its relative rank. To see how we decided which reel takes home 1st place, let’s look at each performance category to see what we are looking for.
A buttery smooth reel is truly delightful to use. Especially, if you have ever used a super cheap plastic reel. Bearing count is often used by reel manufacturers to express smoothness. However, for us, smoothness is a hands-on comparison.
A smooth spinning reel should have a fluid crank rotation, a graceful bail flip mechanism and freely rotating handle grip. Plus, a smooth reel should feel well balanced when cranked fast. Feeling a harsh hiccup when reeling in fish is something we don’t like.
We demand rock solid drag performance from every reel we own. Mainly because it makes the difference between catching a trophy fish or having to tell a story of the one that got away. A good drag system has fine adjustment intervals, never seizes and has durable parts that won’t fail. You should never feel variations in drag resistance as the spool rotates.
Ergonomics refers to how the reel feels in your hands as well as the balance and weight when coupled with a standard ice rod. While spinning reels are all similar in design, there are slight variations that actually have a major influence on comfort and usability.
Things like handle size, weight, crank length, retrieval rate, bail loop design and even the stem length contributes to its overall ice fishing performance. A reel with top notch ergonomics is easy to use with gloves on or with cold hands. Ergonomics is even more important when using smaller 500 or 1000 sized spinning reels.
It’s pretty tough to go ice fishing without being out in frigid temperatures. In some regions, sub-zero temperatures are the average winter time highs so spinning reels that function smoothly in the cold is a must. Most of our cold tolerance testing occurred out ice fishing in the 15-20°F range. However, to replicate more extreme temperatures, we also left the reels in a 0°F freezer for several hours.
The best reels suffered no noticeable reduction in smoothness. Keep in mind, we are not talking about freeze up, which is a wet reel locking up due to ice build up. That is a problem even the most expensive spinning reels suffer from.
How a reel is put together and finished tells you a lot about how it will function. Build quality is critical because that is what will allow a reel to last many years without any components failing on you. We assessed the type of materials used to make each reel and the feel of it in our hands.
Last, but certainly not least, we gave a score based on overall value. At the end of the day, the best reel we use is the one that balances performance with price. A top value reel is one that you can confidently put on every rod and know it will live up to your standards. Therefore, the top score is not simply given to the cheapest reel. It’s given to the reel that ranks highly in all other categories while also being easy on the wallet.
6 best ice fishing spinning reels tested and ranked
After all 6 spinning reels were extensively tested on the ice, we gave a score in each performance category. We compiled all the data in the chart below and arrived at an overall score for each. Take a look!
Ice Fishing Spinning Reel Score and Rank
Notice that two reels tied for the 3rd place spot based on score alone. Deciding between them is a matter of figuring out what each reel excels at and matching it to your needs. For us, versatility was the tie breaker.
Now that you know where each reel stands in the ranking, it’s time to look at each reel in detail to see where they shined the brightest. We’ll start with the lowest scoring reel.
#6: Shimano Sienna
Shimano has long been known for their fishing reels so it was only natural that we tested out the affordable Shimano Sienna. It proved plenty functional on the ice and most casual anglers will like it. Yet, in side by side testing, the Sienna couldn’t quite muster up the needed performance to rank higher than 6th overall. It’s just an average spinning reel but it is readily available both online and at big box stores like Walmart. If it is your only option, it certainly isn’t the worst there is.
Here is how the Shimano Sienna performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: Among the least smooth retrieval (size 1000 tested) but the smoothest bail flip system out of all the reels. Score – 3
- Drag performance: Low quality construction with plastic drag wheel. Drag adjustment control is not great. No noticeable skips or stickiness. Score – 2.5
- Ergonomics: Fair design with the least bail hoop clearance of all reels. Moderate weight with little fatigue likely. Score – 3
- Cold tolerance: Large reduction in reel function down to 0°F. Score – 3
- Build quality: Fair build quality but the finish is lower quality. Reel is not well balanced and vibrates with fast retrieve. Score – 3
- Value: At about $35, the Shimano Sienna (1000 size) reel is average in value due to lower performance. Score – 2.5
Overall Score: 17
Who should get a Shimano Sienna
The Shimano Sienna is a perfectly functional reel that is readily available and will please the casual ice angler. It can handle all but the biggest fish but there are better reels on the list for just a few bucks more.
Who shouldn’t get a Shimano Sienna
If you need smooth operation, good drag performance and want a reel that lasts many years, then pass on the Shimano Sienna. Smaller sizes would perform fine for panfish though.
#5: Pflueger Trion
Pflueger makes excellent reels and it seemed only fair to compare their more affordable Trion to the rest of this list. The Trion has been our reel of choice for years and they provide admirable performance on the ice without fail. It only places 5th on the list as a result of stiff competition from our other tested reels. The Trion’s biggest suffering was cold tolerance and an overall lower value when compared to performance.
Here is how the Pflueger Trion performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: Overall operation is among the least smooth (size 20 tested) but very nice feel to the bail system. Smoothness does improve with larger sizes. Score – 3
- Drag performance: Great construction with all metal parts. Has good drag adjustment control. No noticeable skips or stickiness. Score – 4
- Ergonomics: Fair design with adequate bail hoop clearance. Reasonably light so jigging fatigue is lessened. Score – 3.5
- Cold tolerance: Extreme reduction in reel function down to 0°F. Score – 2
- Build quality: Good build quality and a quality finish. Well balanced and a pleasure to use. Score – 3.5
- Value: At about $40, the Pflueger Trion (20 size) reel is average in value. Value improves if you step up to size 25 and above. Score – 3
Overall Score: 19
Who should get a Pflueger Trion
The Trion is a great reel but it is best suited for anglers needing a size 25 or larger reel to target walleye or other moderately sized fish. It is perfectly suited for your backup or deadstick rods as opposed to your primary jigging rod.
Who shouldn’t get a Pflueger Trion
The size 20 reel for panfish is not quite worth the money since the Okuma Ceymar or Piscifun ICX5 are a much better value. And if you need a cold weather performer, this is not the reel.
#4: Piscifun ICX5
The Piscifun brand might be unfamiliar to some but it is starting to get some well deserved attention on the ice. The Piscifun ICX5 reel is a budget friendly reel with fantastic quality and performance for the price point. Having used this reel at our favorite perch lake, it quickly became our preferred panfish reel. While it is made with some plastic components, Piscifun poured quality into the parts that matter. As a result, you get unbeatable value.
Here is how the Piscifun ICX5 performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: Decently smooth retrieval but a slightly clunky feel to the bail system. Score – 3.5
- Drag performance: Acceptable construction with all metal parts. Has reasonably fine drag adjustment control. No noticeable skips or stickiness with panfish but larger fish could max it out. Score – 3.5
- Ergonomics: Fantastic design for ice anglers. Extended stem provides easy operation with gloves. Super lightweight so jigging fatigue is eliminated. Score – 4.5
- Cold tolerance: Top performing reel in this category. Virtually no change in reel function down to 0°F. Score – 4.5
- Build quality: Average build quality with main body made out of durable plastic. Aluminum spool and metal drag components are great. Good quality finish. Handle has push button collapse, which may pose a durability concern after several seasons. Score – 3
- Value: At about $25, the Piscifun ICX5 reel is a truly remarkable value. Score – 4.5
Overall Score: 23.5
Who should get a Piscifun ICX5
Every ice angler targeting panfish should have a Piscifun ICX5 on at least one rod. You won’t be disappointed. It does everything a panfish angler needs and is still inexpensive enough to outfit several ice rods guilt free. And this reel is not limited to panfish either. It handled 18 inch rainbows without difficulty too. Also, you can keep your gloves on while using this reel.
Who shouldn’t get a Piscifun ICX5
Big fish are probably off limits for the ICX5. We have limited faith that the drag system is robust enough or smooth enough to handle a powerful laker or the walleye of a lifetime. It may get the job done but it’s a risk.
#3: Frostbite Diesel 1000
If you have read our review of Frostbite rods, then you know we think highly of their gear. So, it was only natural to test out their new Diesel 1000 reel. We weren’t disappointed either. The reel is impressively smooth and has a finely tuned drag system. Although, it missed out on a few points due to its cold tolerance and its generally average build quality. However, the Diesel is still an incredible value that any ice angler can appreciate.
Here is how the Frostbite Diesel 1000 performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: Impressively smooth retrieval but a half point knocked off on the slightly clunky bail flip system. Score – 4.5
- Drag performance: Acceptable construction with all metal parts. Loud and tinny sounding drag but has very fine adjustment control. No skips or stickiness during battle with larger fish. Score – 4
- Ergonomics: Decent design for ice anglers. Bail hoop has good clearance for gloved hand operation. Reel handle seems undersized. Average weight so jigging fatigue is possible. Score – 4
- Cold tolerance: Very little change in reel function down to 15°F. However, marked decline in smooth function at 0°F. Score – 3.5
- Build quality: Average build quality with better materials than some other reels. Good quality finish. Score – 3.5
- Value: At about $40, the Frostbite Diesel 1000 is a great value for a top performing reel. Score – 4
Overall Score: 23.5
Who should get a Frostbite Diesel 1000
Ice anglers targeting larger fish will find this reel more than capable. Its refined drag system will handle big fish. Its price tag is also conducive to outfitting several rods without breaking the bank. Best suited for lake trout, pike, walleye and stocked trout.
Who shouldn’t get a Frostbite Diesel 1000
If you fish in extreme cold, the Diesel suffers the same issues as the Pflueger President. It developed a gummy-feeling operation in single digit temperatures. Not a deal breaker but worth noting. Also, the drag wheel is designed like a bottle cap so it produces a loud, tinny bell sound that may put off some anglers. Panfish anglers might find the Diesel 1000 to be slightly heavy.
#2: Okuma Ceymar
Okuma makes great quality fishing gear so testing out the Okuma Ceymar was a no brainer. It was a solid performer in all of the test categories. And the budget friendly price belies the stellar quality that goes into the Ceymar. You’ll notice its smooth operation and rock solid drag every time you go out on the ice. On top of that, it handles with ease the harsh environment that hard-water anglers endure. If you could only choose one, this is a reel worth having.
Here is how the Okuma Ceymar performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: Decently smooth retrieval but a slightly clunky feel to the bail system. Score – 4
- Drag performance: Great construction with all metal parts. Has very fine drag adjustment control. No noticeable skips or stickiness. Score – 4
- Ergonomics: Good design with adequate bail hoop clearance. Average weight so jigging fatigue is moderate. Score – 4
- Cold tolerance: A top performing reel in this category. Minimal change in reel function down to 0°F. Score – 4
- Build quality: Great build quality and a quality finish. EVA foam handle grip is a nice touch. Handle has a balanced feel that we enjoy using. Score – 4
- Value: At about $40, the Okuma Ceymar (C-10 size) reel is a great value for what you get. Score – 4
Overall Score: 24
Who should get an Okuma Ceymar
This is one of the most versatile spinning reels in our line-up. Depending on the size you purchase, this reel is capable of handling almost every fish and every brutal condition you throw its way. While the Pflueger President ranks higher, the Okuma has a more appealing price to performance ratio.
Who shouldn’t get a Okuma Ceymar
If you have money to burn, you can get the best on this list and go for the Pflueger President up next. Other than that, the only reason to avoid this Okuma reel is a dislike of the design. The smaller C-10 size does feel chunky in the hand with a bit of weight to go with it. There is also less room for gloved operation.
#1: Pflueger President
The Pflueger President didn’t snag our number one spot as the best ice fishing spinning reel just because it is the most expensive. It rightfully earned its top spot. Out of all 6 reels, the President has the smoothest operation, the cleanest feeling drag and the best build quality. The only mark against it was its lackluster cold weather operation. There is a marked decline in smoothness once temperatures drop near zero. However, this is a reel you can count on in most ice fishing situations.
Here is how the Pflueger President performed in each test category.
- Smoothness: 9:1 bearing system is flawless with no hiccups during retrieve. The super smooth crank and bail flip system is top notch. Score – 5
- Drag performance: Well constructed with all metal parts. Satisfying sound and superbly fine adjustment control. No skips or stickiness during battle with larger fish. Score – 5
- Ergonomics: Decent design for ice anglers. Bail hoop has good clearance for gloved hand operation. Heavier than most, so jigging fatigue is possible. Score – 4
- Cold tolerance: Very little change in reel function down to 15°F. However, significant decline in smooth function at 0°F. Score – 3
- Build quality: Excellent build quality with better materials than the other reels. Highly durable finish keeps this reel looking good too. Score – 4.5
- Value: At about $70, the Pflueger President (25 size) is a great value for a top performing reel. Score – 4
Overall Score: 25.5
Who should get a Pflueger President
This is a phenomenal reel for targeting trophy class fish. Species such as lake trout, pike, muskie, walleye and stocked trout are all easily tamed by this reel. If you need a rock solid drag system and demand a long performance life from your reels, this is the one. Just size it right for your application. We tested a 25 size reel.
Who shouldn’t get a Pflueger President
If you have many rods to outfit with reels then this is an expensive option for budget conscious anglers. It is also overkill for most panfish applications. Anglers using this reel on a JawJacker or with an iFish Pro tip-up exposed to single digit temperatures may find the poor cold tolerance annoying. The reel still functions but cranking the handle feels unnaturally sticky.
There are many more reels out there than what we could possibly test but hopefully this review gets you one step closer to finding an affordable ice fishing reel to suit your needs.
Once you decide which one is right for you, it’s time to match it up with the right rod. Head on over to our review of the 9 best ice fishing rods actually worth buying. Save time researching so you can get to fishing!