Do You Need Special Line For Ice Fishing? (3 Things To Know)

PUBLISHED 08 DECEMBER 2022

by Bill Laney

Are you wondering whether you need a special line for ice fishing, or if your regular open water fishing line is good enough to get the job done?

Ice fishing presents unique challenges for your fishing line with its frigid temperatures, finicky fish in crystal clear water, and ice holes with rough edges that chafe your line.

Due to all these demands on your ice fishing line, choosing the right one isn’t always easy, and no fishing line is absolutely perfect for all ice fishing applications.

Do you need special line for ice fishing

To help you with this challenge, this article will cover what fishing lines you can use for ice fishing, and we’ll also discuss the key properties to look for in a good ice fishing line.

Does ice fishing require a special fishing line?

The short answer is no, you don’t need a special line for ice fishing.

You can get great results using regular fishing line for ice fishing, and many ice anglers catch plenty of fish every ice fishing season with regular fluoro, mono, or braided lines.

With that being said, ice lines do come with several clear advantages that can help make your ice fishing experience better (more on that below).

Photo of ice hole with fishing line running down into it

So, if you’re an avid ice angler, I recommend testing this for yourself by spooling one of your ice rod and reels with ice line, and comparing it to another rod and reel spooled with regular line under exactly the same fishing conditions.

When doing this comparison, pay attention to the details, such as line memory, and how well each line allows you to feel nibbles and sensitive bites.

In my experience, ice lines have less memory than regular lines. This allows me to keep a straight line between my rod tip and bait at all times, which in turn helps me to detect subtle bites from shy fish. 

What is ice fishing line?

Ice fishing line is line that has been specifically designed to perform well under the frigid temperatures encountered during ice fishing.

For example, while regular braid tends to ice up in the cold due to water retention, PowerPro has developed an ice braid that minimizes this problem by adding a water-repellent coating of Teflon to the surface of the braid.

Photo of Berkley Fireline Micro ice

Similarly, Berkeley Fireline Micro Ice is another braid that doesn’t absorb water, and this prevents the line from freezing, or clogging up your fishing rod eyes with ice. 

Ice fishing line manufacturers such as P-Line have gone even further by developing copolymer lines coated with fluorocarbon. These lines come with the low visibility of fluoro, while avoiding its high memory.

But it’s important to keep in mind that there are many types of ice lines on the market, covering the three main types of fishing line, including mono, fluoro, and braid.

Due to this diversity on the market, you have to consider the merits of each ice line individually, and can’t draw general conclusions about all other ice lines after testing just one.

Ice fishing line vs regular fishing line (what’s the difference?)

The main difference between ice fishing line vs regular line is that ice fishing line comes with a special coating that allows it to stay supple and straight at low temperatures, while regular fishing line tends to get stiff and coiled at these temperatures.

Photo showing coiled line as it comes off the spool of an ice fishing reel

In other words, regular fishing line has more memory when it gets cold, and as a result forms coils and line twists as it comes off the spool of your reel (see photo above).

This makes it difficult to maintain a straight line between your ice rod and the bait when using regular line for ice fishing, and this in turn makes it harder to feel the delicate vibrations of your bait in the water.

In general, ice fishing lines are designed for high performance under much harsher conditions, so they won’t let you down at a critical moment. 

What type of line is best for ice fishing?

Overall, the best type of line for ice fishing is fluorocarbon, since it comes with the lowest line visibility, as well as having low stretch, which makes it very sensitive for detecting subtle bites.

But there are some scenarios where monofilament or braided line can be better options, due to their unique strengths (read on below for the pros and cons of each line type for ice fishing).

In general, fish feed less actively during winter than they do in the summer, and as a result, bites can be much more subtle and difficult to detect when ice fishing.

In order to deal with this challenge, maximum sensitivity is one of the key properties to look for when choosing the best ice fishing line.

On the other hand, you also need to balance sensitivity with strength when you’re targeting large species through the ice, or when dealing with toothy predators like pike or muskie.

Monofilament fishing line

Monofilament is a great all-round ice fishing line, as it comes with lower memory than fluorocarbon, and lower visibility than braided line, and thus represents a middle-of-the road compromise between the other two line types.

Photo of ice fishing reel spooled with monofilament line

In addition, monofilament is also easy to tie in cold temperatures and it is one of  the cheapest lines on the market, making it an ideal choice for beginners and occasional ice anglers. 

On the down side, monofilament lines are not very resistant to abrasion, and this poses a real problem when fishing through the ice, as your line tends to get chafed against the jagged edges at the bottom of your hole in the ice.

This makes mono a bad choice for targeting big fish through the ice, such as lake trout, since they put up a determined fight, and will put your line to the test by pulling it over the rough edges of your ice hole over and over again as they make their explosive runs.

And if you’re dealing with finicky panfish or walleye, the high stretch property of monofilament tends to absorb the vibrations of subtle bites without allowing you to feel them, resulting in a lot of missed bites.

So, if you’re dealing either with big, strong fish, or a tough bite in pressured lakes, you’re likely to get better results by leveraging the key advantages of one of the other two line types. 

Pros:

  • Low memory
  • Medium visibility
  • Easy to tie in the cold
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • High stretch
  • Floats in the water

Braided fishing line

Braided line has the least amount of stretch of any fishing line, which makes it ideal for detecting subtle bites. 

Braid also has no memory, and will not form coils when it comes off your spool. This behavior is perfect for maintaining a straight line between your rod and your ice jig.

Using braid allows you to feel all the vibrations of your lure as you jig it up and down in the water column, as well as any subtle changes that can signal a potential bite.

On the down side, however, braid has a high visibility in the water, which makes it suboptimal for line shy fish, especially in clear water.

During the winter fish take more time to look at a bait before they commit to eating it, and because of this, low visibility of your fishing line is even more important for ice fishing than during the open water season.

Pros:

  • Low stretch
  • Small diameter

Cons:

  • High visibility
  • Expensive

Fluorocarbon fishing line

Fluorocarbon is by far the most expensive fishing line, but is almost invisible in the water, which makes it an ideal option for finicky fish.

Fluoro also doesn’t stretch, which means it won’t absorb vibrations as much as monofilament does, thus allowing you to sense subtle bites.

On top of this, fluoro is also resistant to abrasion, which is great if you need to fight a big fish through the ice, as your line will get chafed against the bottom edge of your ice fishing hole when the fish makes a run.

The abrasion resistance of fluoro is also very useful for targeting fish with sharp teeth through the ice, such as northern pike.

Finally, fluorocarbon also sinks in the water, which helps to get your lure or bait down into the strike zone faster.

All of these properties make fluorocarbon a near perfect line for ice fishing. The only down-side of fluorocarbon is its high memory, which can result in coil formation when there is no tension on the line.

This weakness is unfortunately more pronounced in cold temperatures, and it can affect your ability to feel subtle bites under the ice.

But you can get around this weakness of fluoro by using a copolymer line (such as P-LIne Floroice), which is a copolymer line designed with a fluorocarbon coating, and combines low visibility with low memory. 

Pros:

  • Low visibility
  • Low stretch
  • Resistant to chafing
  • Sinks in the water

Cons:

  • High memory
  • Expensive

Do you need a leader line for ice fishing?

Since each type of fishing line comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, none of them offer a 100% ideal solution for all ice fishing applications.

However, if you tie a leader line to your main line (either with a swivel or a double uni knot), you can combine two different line types and thus get closer to a perfect setup for your ice fishing purposes.

The best way to do this is to use braided line as your main line, combined with fluorocarbon line as your leader.

While the braided main line comes with low stretch and low memory, the fluorocarbon leader has low visibility in the water.

That way, you combine maximum sensitivity with maximum stealth, and in my experience this is a killer combination for tough panfish and walleye bites.

Best line to use when ice fishing for specific fish species

Now let’s take a quick look at the best fishing lines to use when targeting different fish species through the ice:

  • Crappie: 1 to 4 lb test fluoro or mono
  • Bluegill: 1 to 2 lb test fluoro or mono
  • Yellow Perch: 1 to 4 lb test fluoro or mono
  • Walleye: 2 to 6 lb test fluoro
  • Stocked trout: 2 to 6 lb test fluoro or mono
  • Lake trout: 12 to 15 lb test fluoro leader tied to 15 to 20 lb test braided main line
  • Northern Pike: 50 to 60 lb test fluoro leader tied to 20 lb test braided main line

Note that the recommendations above are for the best all-round line options for targeting these species through the ice.

Keep in mind that all three types of fishing line can be a good choice under specific circumstances, and depending on your tactics, you may want to use a different line than recommended above.

Also, in many lakes you can expect to catch several different species with the same ice fishing tactics, and this can also affect your choice of ice fishing line.

For example, if you’re mostly catching small panfish, but there’s a good chance of hooking a large walleye, you may want to use a slightly heavier line to avoid losing a trophy sized fish.

What type of line is best for ice fishing with tip ups or rattle reels?

Traditionally, the most commonly used line with tip ups and rattle reels is Dacron, which is a kind of braided line that has more flexibility than regular braid.

Photo of ice fishing tip up spool with line

The extra flexibility of Dacron allows a fish to swim more easily with the bait after grabbing it, giving you more time after the tip flag goes up (or your rattle reel starts sounding) to let the fish fully eat the bait before setting the hook.

However, the main disadvantage of Dacron is that it tends to get tangled up in a thick mat when you pile it on the ice. So after you pull in and land your fish, you then have to spend an inordinate amount of time untangling your line before you can start fishing again.

That’s why I personally prefer using a special tip-up line (such as the one made by Sufix) for this purpose, which comes with a coating that stops it from getting tangled on the ice.

Final remarks

I hope you got a lot of insights out of this article on what line to use for ice fishing, and that this will help you choose the right ice fishing line for your needs.

Tight lines and see you on the ice!