Fishing in winter is for the most ardent anglers. The cold, wet conditions tend to turn the scales against you. However, you cannot beat the reward of catching a big perch or bass surrounded by white. When going ice fishing, you’re going to need a sturdy baitcasting reel that can handle the big fish, has big enough handles to use with gloves, and casts well enough to use light lures.
Best Ice Fishing Baitcaster
Tom and I (David) love ice fishing. Mike, not so much, but he comes along anyway when we’re going.
In the many winters we have spent freezing our hands for the sake of fishing, we have to respect the following two baitcasting reels as the best for ice fishing.
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Round Reel
The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S round reel is one of the classics. Your grandfather probably fished with a predecessor of this model, and so can you. Its appeal for ice fishing can be found in its ruggedness and simple construction, and you won’t have to spend more than necessary on it.
The baitcaster features a zinc frame, just like the older models, which contributes to the lower pricing. Zinc is 30 times more corrosion resistant than steel, though perhaps not as strong. Aluminum side plates help to add further corrosion protection while leaving the reel light and durable.
To complement the design, it also comes with a compact bent handle with a star drag adjustment system. The large flat EVA-covered handles increase the comfort of using it, especially while wearing large bulky winter gloves.
Another feature it borrows from its predecessors is the two stainless steel ball bearings. They are extra hardened to be corrosion resistant and provide a smooth experience.
The drag system consists of multiple discs against the main gear. It delivers a maximum 12.5 pounds of pressure to help you fight your fish successfully. Adjustment is easy and convenient thanks to the star system, and we find it to be very smooth even when fighting large fish.
A 4-pin centrifugal system provides the braking necessary to keep your casts long and accurate. This system is referred to by some as ‘set and forget’ because once you have found that sweet spot for your bait type, you don’t have to fiddle with it again. Again, perfect for ice fishing.
Mike loves the round reel system, especially being a long-time Abu fan. I think it is bulky and unsightly, but you can never argue with the fact that it allows for a huge line capacity. The reel can accommodate up to 255 yards of 17-pound mono line.
It also comes with a synchronized level wind system to help put the line on uniformly. This helps keep things neat and reduces the possibility of a bird’s nest.
And just like a traditional model, the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S comes with a 5.1:1 gear ratio. It allows up to 25”/64cm of line retrieve for every turn of the crank. While it is slower than modern versions, it makes the reel that much more powerful.
Best Price & Deals?
There are four models of the Ambassadeur ‘S’ that you can choose from depending on preference.
- S-5500 – Right retrieve, line cap 230yd/14lb mono or 265yd/30lb braid.
- S-5501- Left retrieve, line cap 230yd/14lb mono, 265yd/30lb braid.
- S-6500 – Right retrieve, line cap 255yd/17lb mono, 350yd/30lb braid.
- S-6501 – Left retrieve, line cap 255yd/17lb mono, 350yd/30lb braid.
Features and Specifications
- Two stainless steel ball bearings.
- Zinc body with aluminum side plates.
- 4-pin centrifugal brake.
- Compact handle.
- Multi-disk drag system with star adjustment.
- Synchronized level wind system.
- Smooth casting.
- Durable and reliable even in icy conditions.
- Excellent line capacity.
- Corrosion resistant.
- Affordable pricing.
- Heavy and unwieldy for those who are not used to round reels.
The Abu Garcia Ambassadeur ‘S’ round baitcast reel is a trip down memory lane, back when reels were simple and reliable. That is also what makes it such a great option for ice fishing, in addition to the great pricing. Buy yours here in preparation for your next ice fishing expedition.
Abu Garcia Silver Max Low Profile Reel
For under $50, you can get an excellent baitcasting reel that can handle tough winter conditions while remaining efficient and reliable. That is the Abu Garcia Silver Max.
I have used the Silver Max in the past, and so has Mike and Tom. It is especially useful because of a no-frills approach to usability. It has only what is important, which helps to keep the price low.
To start with, it features a high-end one-piece graphite frame. Graphite is more resistant to corrosion but is not as strong as aluminum. The side plates are also made of graphite to maintain strength and improve its aesthetics.
Inside, you will find a machined aluminum spool to give the strength necessary to handle intense pressure from the line.
One thing I’m glad for in this reel is that despite the relatively budget pricing, Abu didn’t compromise on castability. It still has five stainless steel ball bearings and one roller bearing, which together make it very smooth and easy to cast.
For braking, it features the entry-level MagTrax braking system. It is magnetic and allows you to do precise adjustments of the spool speed to maximize on control. You will also be glad to notice that it has been improved compared to previous models.
It also comes with Abu Garcia’s Duragear brass gearing system. Brass gears are stronger and more durable given the right maintenance and are also featured in some premium offerings from the company.
When fighting those big fish, you can rely on the Power Disk drag system to help you land it. It consists of different disks of various materials and provides up to 18 pounds of drag pressure.
The Abu Garcia Silver Max features a 6.4:1 gear ratio, which allows you to retrieve 26”/66 cm of line with every turn of the crank. For such a product, the product is just right with a good balance of power and speed.
It is also pleasing aesthetically, thanks to its super-low profile. That may not matter a lot while on the ice, but it helps a lot with ergonomics. Also, the star drag adjustment system is found just behind the handles for easy adjustment.
Best Price & Deals?
Features and Specifications
- One-piece graphite frame.
- Power Disk drag with a maximum 18 pounds of pressure.
- MagTrax magnetic braking system.
- Machined aluminum spool.
- Duragear brass gearing.
- High-density EVA handles.
- Rocket clutch mechanism allows one-handed spool engagement.
- 5+1 stainless steel bearings.
- Line capacity: 145/12 mono or 140/30 braid.
- Instant anti-reverse.
- Gear ratio with 6.4:1 retrieve rate.
- Low profile for added comfort.
- The graphite frame is highly durable.
- Excellent castability.
- Sensitive MagTrax braking system.
- Power Clutch allows instant one-handed spool engagement.
- It’s short 83mm handle will tire you out when fishing for deep divers.
Abu Garcia Max reels are designed for maximum performance at minimum prices. It lacks the smoothness and luxury found in premium models, but it casts well and will help you catch even big ice fish effortlessly.
You don’t have to spend tonnes of money on a good fishing reel. Just get this Abu Garcia Silver Max here.
Can You Use a Baitcasting Reel for Ice Fishing?
You will have noticed that our recommendations for ice fishing aren’t ‘specialist’ reels. It is true that you can buy special rods and matching reels for ice fishing, but it is rare to find such a pair. Even when you do, it is not often worth the price.
So, what do we do? Many people use spinning rods and reels for ice fishing because they’re easier to cast and easier to adapt to ice fishing. Baitcasters can be hard to even get started.
We go for baitcasters that have simple, smooth mechanisms for the reason that it helps sink the lures in the denser cold winter water.
Abi Garcia reels are generally known for their excellent castability, but these two have another appeal. They are cheap and can hold up well to fighting big fish. You don’t want to take chances when out on the ice.
These two options will ensure that you stay free of bird’s nest nightmares. Thanks to precise cast control braking systems and level winding, you have more control over your line.
You could theoretically take out your spinning reel for ice fishing, and many folks do. The problem with them, however, is the bail that you have to manually engage and disengage every time. Eventually, you’re going to cause some damage.
Baitcasting reels are the most convenient companions for ice fishing.
Ice fishing is fun for those who are willing to endure the harsh conditions. The rewards are usually pretty promising. However, you need to carry along a baitcasting reel that is as strong as you.
In our ice fishing experience, we have found these two to be the best. If you’re planning to get out next winter, stock up on a good reel and you will never regret it.
Niels Thomas is a wildlife expert and fishing fanatic that works with major fishing brands like Deeper Sonar, Abu Garcia, Berkley, PENN, BassPro and Pure Fishing. Through sharing the best fishing tips, tricks, gear reviews, locations and much more he hopes to inspire fishing fanatics to start their own journey towards becoming the King of the Catch!