Inline vs Spinning Reel Ice Fishing: Which One to Choose?

Thomas Krik

Written by

Thomas Krik

Marc Lowe


Marc Lowe

inline vs spinning reel ice fishing

One of the critical decisions ice anglers face is selecting between inline vs spinning reel ice fishing gear. Both options serve the purpose of landing fish through the ice, yet each brings its own distinct advantages and considerations.

This article will discuss the characteristics, benefits, and limitations of both reel types. It will also help ice anglers make a well-informed decision and maximize their ice fishing experience.

Take a look at the table below, which offers an overview comparing these two reel types. It’s a handy reference that will give you a clear picture of their distinct features and differences.

Aspect Inline Reel Spinning Reel
Line Twist Minimizes line twist Can cause line twist
Drag System Smoother drag system Stronger drag system
Line Retrieval Slower Faster
Cold Weather Handling Designed for cold weather conditions May require additional maintenance in freezing temperatures
Price Generally more expensive Typically more affordable

Overview of Inline Vs. Spinning Reel Ice Fishing Gears


Ice fishing inline reels have a compact and lightweight build, making them convenient to use on frozen lakes and rivers. They have a straight-line feeding system, which allows the line to exit directly from the front of the reel.

This unique design reduces line twists and grants anglers exceptional control over line release and retrieval. Consequently, inline reels are particularly favored when targeting elusive fish species due to their precise line management and heightened sensitivity.

Meanwhile, spinning reels are more versatile. These reels possess a stationary spool, allowing the line to unwind freely during casting and enabling greater casting distances. They are also known for their user-friendly nature.

Similarities of Inline Vs. Spinning Reel Ice Fishing Gears


1. Ice Fishing Technique

Inline and spinning reels are both compatible with the techniques commonly used in ice fishing. Anglers can employ similar approaches with either type of reel to entice fish and make successful catches.

2. Rods and Rod Length

Inline and spinning reels can be used with ice fishing rods of varying lengths. Anglers typically choose a rod length based on their fishing style, target species, and personal preference.

3. Portability

Inline and spinning reels are generally lightweight and compact, making them convenient for ice fishing, where anglers often need to carry their gear to various fishing spots.

Difference Between Inline Vs. Spinning Reel Ice Fishing Gears

1. Sensitivity


In terms of sensitivity, inline reels have a distinct advantage over spinning reels. The direct connection between the rod and the line in inline reels allows for immediate transmission of vibrations and bites, resulting in heightened sensitivity for anglers.

While spinning reels have made significant advancements in sensitivity, their indirect line path, involving bail and line guides, still puts them slightly behind inline reels in terms of sensitivity.

2. Versatility


Inline reels are well-suited for cold-weather fishing. Moreover, the absence of line twists facilitates smooth line management, minimizing tangles and enabling anglers to manipulate lures with utmost precision.

On the other hand, spinning reels can accommodate various fishing techniques and line types. Their user-friendly nature allows for easy casting, making room for a wider range of lure weights and line diameters.

3. Cost

The elevated cost of inline reels can be attributed to their specialized nature. These reels are specifically designed for ice fishing in shallow water, catering to the needs of anglers targeting small and medium panfish.

On the other hand, spinning reels are the most commonly utilized reel type for various fishing styles, including ice fishing. Their widespread popularity, particularly among beginners, makes them a more affordable option.

4. Pros and Cons

1. Inline Reels


  • Reduced line memory – Line twist is much more manageable on inline reels than on spinning reels because excessive jig spin is reduced.
  • Lure drop – The free spool system of inline reels gives a nice steady drop all the way down without slack.
  • Freezing up – Inline reels are preferred for cold-weather fishing. Although there may be instances where line icing causes sticking while attempting to drop baits with an inline reel, a quick remedy would be putting it next to a heater or a couple of warm breaths.


  • Not suitable for larger fish – Inline reels are primarily limited to the realm of panfish in ice fishing. While recent models have made improvements in this area, they still pale in comparison to the superior drag systems found in spinning reels.
  • Not user-friendly – It requires some time and effort to become proficient in using an inline reel on the ice. The adjustments can be delicate and challenging to manage on the go, particularly for inexperienced ice anglers.
  • Slow retrieval – By design, inline reels feature significantly lower retrieve ratios, sometimes even as low as 1:1. This means that the spool rotates only once for each full turn of the reel handle.

While certain inline manufacturers now offer ratios of 2:1 or 3:1, they still fall short of the average spinning reel with ratios of 5, 6, or 7:1.

2. Spinning Reels


  • Better Versatility – Spinning reels are capable of diverse fishing techniques and are compatible with various line types and weights.
  • Ease of use – Spinning reels are renowned for their straightforward design, making them an ideal choice for novice anglers. Casting and retrieval are uncomplicated processes that demand minimal skill and experience.
  • Line management – The presence of a spool in spinning reels facilitates efficient line management. Their bail system prevents line twists and tangles, enabling anglers to handle the line with ease, even in frigid conditions.


  • Potential line twist – Spinning reels are not immune to twisting, particularly when using lighter lures or contending with windy conditions.
  • Susceptibility to freezing – Given the exposure to freezing temperatures during ice fishing, spinning reels are susceptible to freezing due to their design.
  • Limited control over lure drop – Spinning reels offer less precision in managing the speed and placement of the lure during the drop.

Which is Better? Inline or Spinning Reels?


When it comes to ice fishing, determining the superior choice between an inline reel and a spinning reel is largely subjective and dependent on an angler’s personal preferences and fishing style.

Inline reels have experienced a surge in popularity due to their efficiency and sensitivity. The Clam Gravity inline reel, for instance, has a smooth drag system, allowing anglers to fish efficiently.

Meanwhile, spinning reels offer versatility and user-friendliness. They are familiar to most anglers and can be utilized across various fishing techniques, not just ice fishing.


Inline vs spinning reel ice fishing, which one to choose?

Through the comparison, we know that inline reels offer sensitivity and control, ideal for targeting delicately biting fish species. Their straightforward design and hassle-free operation have gained them immense popularity among ice anglers.

On the other hand, spinning reels provide versatility and ease of use, allowing anglers to effortlessly switch between various fishing techniques and handle larger fish species.

Regardless of whether you prefer the precision of an inline reel or the flexibility of a spinning reel, understanding both types will undoubtedly elevate your ice fishing experience.

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