Ok, so in volume 1 of this 3 part blog we tackle rod selection, but obviously if you plan on doing some fishing with that rod you will need two more important items.. a reel and a quality ice line.
Let s start off with the reel. There are three types of reel available that work well when chasing gills on the ice. I only use two of them.. 1000 or 500 Series Spinning reels and Straight-line reels (better know as Fly reels). (The Schooley style reel is also popular, but not really my thing)
When it comes to Spinning reels there are 100's available to choose from and they can range in price from $9 and up to $600. But you dont need to spend $600 or even $100 on a panfish reel, personally i believe you can find a high quality reel starting as low as $30 and going as high as about $60 depending on your budget. The two reels Im going to focus on today both fall within that price range, one is at the entry price point of $29.99 and the second is at the top of this scale averaging about $50.. both reels are quality, durable reels that stand up to the brutal conditions you experience while on the ice and can help you tame the toughest of gills.
Shimano Sienna - $29.99
If there is one thing that shimano does real well, its making fishing reels, and even more so, it is making fishing reels for every budget. A friend of mine stumbled across the Shimano Sienna a couple seasons back and could not stop raving about it's on ice capability. I was a little skeptical but was willing to give it a shot... and Im glad i did
the Sienna comes in 2 ice fishing friendly sizes.. the 1000 and the 500, but for my money the 500 is the reel you want when on the ice for gills. It has less weight then the 1000 series but still maintains the quality drag that makes this reel a steal at $29.99
A 4 ball bearing reel, the Sienna is very smooth and holds up pretty well in cold conditions. The 500 size is not available at all retailers, and can be hard to find unless you have a good local shop that fully supports ice fishing. I will also warn you that it comes in two versions a front drag (FD) and Rear drag (RD). The Front drag version is the superior reel
Tica Cetus SB500 - $49.99
The Tica Cetus series of reels are the epitome of quality, and have to be the best all around ice fishing reel on the market today. The SB and SS series are the forerunners of the Tica brand and are worth the extra money when searching for the perfect gill reel. Super smooth and strong, Tica Cetus reels have 7 ball bearing and weight in at just over 6oz. They have a very high performing drag system that holds up extremely well in cold temps and in snow and ice.
Tica reels are coveted by those who use them, and shrugged off by those who dont. If you can get your hands on one, I know you will quickly see and feel the difference.
Not readily available in most areas, you can find many dealers on-line. I purchase from Red Rock store as they have fair prices and ship quick and cheap into Canada.
Tip: Avoid rod and reel combos, in order to sell them at a cheap price point many companies offer inferior reels paired with their rods. Save yourself the $20-$30 buy the rod without the reel and purchase a quality reel with the money you saved.. you can thank me later.
You have seen this term pop-up on a few of my blogs this season, and it is a technique that Im still learning, but I feel it definitely has a place on the ice, and even more so when cashing gills.
Straight-lining really just consists of finding and utilizing small fly reels on the ice. My reel of preference is an Okuma Sierra 4/5 weight reel. It fits perfectly into the palm of my hand and although it has a aluminum frame it does not easily ice up while in the elements. The Sierra weighs just over 5.oz but like all fly reels it has a large line capacity that will need to be filled with some sort of backing prior to adding your line.
Straight-lining reels allow you to use your hand to apply the amount of drag required by species is is above and beyond a standard drag built into the reel, they also prevent line twist better then spinning reels. There is nothing worse then chasing gills with micro jigs that are spinning like a top due to line twist
The down side to straight-line reels is obviously the drop rate. When you are on a hot panfish bite the key is to get your line back done into the strike zone as fast as possible, with fly reels, you cant simply open the bail and let it fall, you have to strip line out by hand. This does not bother me for the most part, but I do prefer to fish straight line reels in shallower water (under 20ft) for that reason.
Okuma Sierra - $40 (approx)
Now for a higher end Stright-line reel, the Okuma SLV series is also a very popular reel for the ice. The SLV is slightly more expensive then the Sierra model, but it is available is a smaller size. The SLV 2/3 reel is smaller and lighter then the Sierra model wich allows for better balance on shorter ice fishing rods. The SLV also has an improved drag system and a more comfortable grip (rubber instead of wood).
Okuma SLV - $60 (approx)
Whether you choose a spinning reel or a straight-line reel, both are only as good as your line choice and with hundreds of options available on the market today choosing a line for chasing gills can be a daunting task. Im a product testing junky and have spent more money then i care to admit trying out new lines. Each season I give the newest, latest and greatest a test run, only to be reminded that the stuff I have been using for the past 6 years is still the best there is.. here are a few line choices when chasing gills
ASSO Ice Line:
hands down the best small diameter ice line I have ever used, it is a staple in my arsenal. The 2lb test line holds tight knots, and is much stronger then the 2.4lb breaking point would suggest. The relatively high vis blue is easy to see on the water but is not annoyingly high vis like the trilene ice blue.
I have battled monster gills, crappie and perch with Asso line and Im always impressed by its strenght. Again this line is hard to find, as it is an import (Italy).. here is where i buy mine.. shhhhh!
One tip... I use this line primarily as a leader, as it is so thin that it can be messy on a full spool. Give it a try and see what you like best.
Gamma ESP Ice:
Gama copolymer line is another harder to find line in my area that is well worth the search. Like Asso it comes in very small diameters and can be purchased in 1 thru to 10lb test. I like the 1.5lb and 2lb lines for gill fishing. For those of you not happy with high vis lines, gamma is a nice clear line with little to no memory.
Gamma Ice Line
For bigger game species this line is my go to. Stated as a copolymer with a fluorocarbon coating p-line floroice is a tuff, durable product that holds up well on the ice, and has little to no memory. Available in 2lb and up, I perfer to use the 4lb version of this line for crappies, perch and walleye but will occasionally use it on my gill rod (2lb or 4lb no higher!)
The last two that I will talk about are lines that are newer on the marker, Northland Bionic Ice Line and Trilene fluorocarbon ice . Both have tested really well in early season use so far. The Norhtland I again only use as a leader, but so far I really like the Trilene Fluoro on the spool. (way better then the mono ice line that have had on the market for years)