There is a large debate about whether to use an inline reel or a spinning reel for ice fishing. While both reels have advantages and disadvantages, there are several key factors to consider when selecting your next ice fishing reel.
Jigging vs. Deadstick: This is the biggest factor when it comes to choosing between an inline reel or spinning reel. Typically, inline reels shine brightest when jigged. These reels allow the line to lay on the spool without twisting, which, in turn, allows the bait to be jigged without spinning over and over again. Spinning reels, with their easy drag adjustments and thousands of model options, are the best choice for using live bait.
Size of Fish: Inline reels keep getting better and better. However, they do not work as well for large fish and the drag adjustments on a spinning reel are much better than on an inline reel. Inline reels are at their best when fishing shallow water for smaller fish, like panfish and small walleye. Most inline reels can be used with small jigs and present baits perfectly every time.
Price: While inline reels will do everything most panfish anglers want, they can be quite costly. The best advice for this is to invest in one or two inline reels that are high quality that will act as your main setup. Spinning reels can be found at cheaper price-points to have a backup.
Skill Level: If you are just getting started, a spinning reel will do everything you want and need. Inline reels can become frustrating, trying to get the adjustments just right. Learn to ice fish with a spinning reel and gradually move into using an inline reel once you are well acquainted.
Versatility: If you are looking for a reel that can be used in most situations, then spinning reels are for you. They can be used in just about any situation while ice fishing. While the inline reel does present baits better, the spinning reel will work for any ice fishing techniques.
Endurance: This is not determining which combo will last longer as far as years, but which one will last longer on each trip. From experience, inline reels do not lock up as easily from water getting in them as the gearing is not as close together. They are also much easier to thaw compared to a spinning reel. Holding an inline reel a few feet from a heater or breathing on the gears can get it back to fish-ability in seconds, while a spinning reel will, more than likely, take a few minutes.