Straight-line reels have been around as long as the wheel in terms of ice fishing history. It’s only recently that the concept that makes straight–line reels so effective has been taken to new levels. There are numerous companies that are now making their own versions of the reels and it’s turned the ice fishing industry on its ear.

Back in the day, Schooley ice rods and reels, and their unique spring bobber, were really popular. They were made in my home state of Michigan and it was common to see ice anglers using the outfits. Originally, it was out of necessity because there weren’t too many alternatives on the market. Once micro-spinning outfits became readily available it seemed interest in the archaic tackle would die out, but there was a method to the madness.

“We first learned why the Schooley reels worked so well when we were sight fishing,” claimed ice fishing pro Myron Gilbert. “We learned from watching fish approach our jigs that a madly spinning lure usually turned them off, but not always. More importantly, when the lure wasn’t spinning our hook-up percentage went way up. The hook was always in position to hook the fish right in the roof of the mouth when we were using a horizontal jig and the Schooley reels. There was a spring on the spool to adjust the drag tension. Although simple, you could land some pretty big fish using that little reel.”


Gilbert and his partners have used the Schooley reels to win two NAIFC championships. “We still use them,” claimed Gilbert. “I’d say probably half the guys on the circuit are using the newer designs, but they’re heavier, cold and can ice up if you get them wet. The Schooley reels are totally adequate when we’re fishing 20 feet of water or less.” Unbeknownst to most at the time, the Schooley reels were really the first mass-produced straight-line reels.

Ice-fishing guru Brian Brosdahl remembers ice anglers using primitive straight line-reels from the time he began ice fishing. “I remember when I was probably about 12 years old guys using fly reels on Mille Lacs,” he said. “The Schooley reels were always popular because they were light and eliminated the spin that many discovered was counterproductive.”

“Now that the mainstream is getting up to speed the interest in straight-line reels has skyrocketed,” explained Brosdahl. “You know, there’s still a place for spinning reels. They’re still a good choice when you’re fishing live bait, braid or targeting predators in deep water, but I now find myself using straight-line reels about 90% of the time.” Brosdahl pointed out that without the line twist that is common with spinning reels your line lasts forever. You might be able to go a whole season without changing your line.


Another trend in straight-line reels has been increased gear ratios. While the original straight-line reels were featured basic 1:1 gear ratios, newer versions sport high-speed retrieve ratios that make picking up line and battling hard-fishing fish doable. With increased drag ratios have come increased concerns about weight. “The newer reels are heavier because of bearings and components, but a lot of that relates to durability, too,“ Brosdahl said.

Brosdahl has been on the cutting edge of developing Frabill’s expansive line of straight-line reels. Frabill’s Black Ops outfits are a modern day version of the original Schooley combos. Combining titanium components with a superlight rod blank and a high-performance one-piece reel, the Black Ops combos provide the most sensitive bite detection available. No need for spring bobbers here. The Black Ops outfits come in 18- and 22-inch lengths and a quick-tip 26-inch version.

The Bro Series Straight Line 371 reel is Frabill’s flagship offering in the company’s extensive line of straight-line reels. The Straight Line 371 has a guarded spool to facilitate palm gripping and has a lightweight composite construction for strength and durability and won’t feel cold in frigid temperatures. Its 3.7:1 reel ratio with super smooth drag and instant anti-reverse allow you to catch up to those sprinters and is the fastest gear ratio in the market. The 371 picks up an incredible 22 inches of line retrieval per revolution and line feeds straight off spool, eliminating line coiling and lure spinning. The 5 plus 1 ball bearing reel offers ultra-fine free spooling to easily drop the smallest jigs. Long and short reel stems are included to accommodate heavy gloves or palming the reel and an ambidextrous over-sized reel handle offers the ultimate in control. The 371 reels are also available in a number of selected, specie-specific combos.


Other straight–line reels in the Frabill line include the Straight-Line Clamshell Ice Reel that offers lightweight composite construction, a 1:1 gear ratio and classic, no- frills dependability. The Straight Line 101XLA reel has a large, balanced spool to maximize retrieval rate, 1:1 gear ratio, short and long reel stems and comfortable composite construction. The Straight Line 261 reel features a fast 2.6:1 gear ratio, composite frame, shot and long reel stems, 4 plus 1 ball bearings with ultra-fine free spooling and an audible/silent alarm switch.

For more information on Frabill’s straight-line reel offering go to

Ice-fishing legend Dave Genz remembers using small aluminum disc straight-line reels as early as the 1960’s. “They had nut for a drag adjustment, but once the Schooley reels came out they were a big improvement,” offered Genz. Genz said one advantage of the Schooley reels is that you could measure by “three arms lengths and a foot” to keep track of depths. “Of course, that changed if you were a tall guy,” joked Genz.

Genz said the major advantages of today’s straight-line reels are that tiny lures don’t spin when lowered into the water and you can measure with pulls off the reel. Most have free spool features, better drags and you can actually reel in the fish using the higher gear ratio found on the newer reels and actually fight the fish with the rod and reel. Genz said these days straight-line reels are made from plastic, carbon fiber or aluminum, which makes them lighter, warmer and most feature gear ratios or 2 or 3:1. They cost less than comparable fly reels, too.

Genz has had a major hand in developing the majority of Clam Outdoors ( outstanding line of ice fishing products. The Ice Spooler 200 is the centerpiece of Clam’s straight-line reels and is Genz’s brainchild. At the forefront of ice reel design, the Ice Spooler 200 reel has a wide arbor that reduces line coiling and twisting. “I’m not a big fan of fluorocarbon line for ice fishing,” advised Genz. “It’s stiff and kinks more. If I’m putting in a few hard days of fishing and using fluorocarbon I’m going to have to re-spool after every day. I prefer a low-stretch monofilament for ice fishing. If I have to use fluorocarbon I’ll add a mono leader of Berkley Micro-Ice line.” The Ice Spooler 200 handles either one well.


Tournament fishing, or just putting in along, hard day on the ice, can result in fatigue. The Ice Spooler 200 fits nicely in your hand with its longer reel foot to make it practical and comfortable to use with gloves and detect bites. The line guide insures line comes straight off the spool. Its matte black graphite composition makes it lighter, better balanced and warmer than other reels. And the Ice Spooler 200 comes at a very nice price.

Clam upped the retrieve ratio on the Spooler Elite to a quick 2.3:1 to keep up with bulldogging panfish. The Spooler Elite is made from the same light, composite material with an extended reel seat, converts to right or left hand retrieve, and has 2 +1 ball bearings. The dial drag tightens incrementally to protect thin, fail ice lines and it has an EVA reel handle knob for added comfort and grip. The large arbor is perfect for savvy anglers who swear by tight-lining winter panfish.

Both the Ice Spooler 200 and Spooler Elite come in combos with matching rods designed by Genz to maximize performance. The Dave Genz Ice Spooler Combos are paired with sensitive 20-, 23-, and 26-inch composite rods that have a fast-action tip, black aluminum oxide guides, and a graphite composite reel seat.

The Dave Genz Spooler Elite Combos feature rods with sensitive, solid graphite blanks with woven graphite butt sections and overlay with up-locking reel seats. They feature a comfy cork composition rear handle and fore grip and lightweight guides and hook keeper. The Elite Combos come in a 22-inch ultra-light action, a 25-inch light action and a 28-inch medium-light action combo.

Tom Gruenwald and HT Enterprises ( are always on the cutting edge of ice fishing technology and evolution. “I think straight-line reels go back to the 1970’s and the original Schooley ice reels,” said Gruenwald. “Some of the first straight-line reels that I can recall were Slater reels ( HT made its first straight-line reel, the TR-10B, back in the mid-80’s.” Gruenwald said the earliest straight-line reels had inherent issues with spools that were too small that created tight coils of line and drags that promoted line twist.


HT’s TLS-34 is your basic no-frills, straight-line reel that is totally adequate for most ice-fishing situations. It features a lightweight carbon fiber body, a larger arbor to keep your line coil-free and a positive 1: 1 drag system. HT also offers the MFR-1 Micro Fly reel that offers dependable simplicity in an inexpensive, entry level ice reel.

“The biggest changes in straight-line reels has been the drag systems,” shared Gruewald. HT has two new multipliers in their straight-line offerings. The PFI-5000 is made from machined aluminum for added durability, boasts a four ball bearing drive with a positive drag system and a quick 2:1 gear ratio for speedy line retrieval. The oversize double handle makes it easy to use with gloves. The new HT’s TLS-34 goes one step further offering a blistering 3.5:1 gear ratio.

With any straight-line reel Gruenwald said adding backing will help prevent line snarls. “When using extremely light line on tight-line reels I would recommend adding some backing instead of just filling the reel with the thin line. If you’re going to be fishing 1- or 2-pound test line, use some larger diameter 4- or 6-pound test line as backing and attach the two with a tiny barrel swivel to help prevent line twist. The drags on the straight-line reels are just not as smooth as a spinning reel.”


Sportsman’s Direct ( offers an extensive line of light-line reels for ice fishing. The Ice Hopper Tight Line Pro is their flagship reel. The reel’s claim to fame is that you can engage free spool and release free spool with one finger or disengage and let it go until you turn the reel handle with even the lightest of jigs. With its dual action single lever you can choose a momentary free spool, which stops the spool when released, or a total free fall until your lure hits bottom. The Ice hopper come in at a skinny 5.9 ounces, has a 49 mm arbor diameter for low line memory, a fast 3.6:1 gear ratio that picks up an astonishing 21 inches of line per revolution.

Sportsman’s Direct offers an impressive collection of their own and other manufacturer’s straight-line reels that cover the complete range of value, function and composition. Learn how the new and improved straight-line reels can change the way you ice-fish when you enter the No-Spin Zone.




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