Best Lines For Ice?

By Steve Pennaz - February 1, 2014
Application is name-of-the-game for determining best ice fishing line

Whenever you play on the fringes of extreme, the choices you make truly do impact success.

Ever see what -25 degrees does to motor oil? How about fishing line?

When I started ice fishing line choice was simple. You used mono on "jiggle sticks" and Dacron on tip-ups. Pound test was determined by size of fish targeted-2- or 4-pound test for panfish, 8-pound for walleye, and 20 or so for pike.

The biggest issue I struggled with back then was line memory. Cold, stiff mono went down the hole in coils so I'd load the line with enough split shot to get it straight, then select a float large enough to keep it all from sinking!

Fortunately, numerous advances in fishing line have taken place since then and now you can find the right line for every ice fishing situation. So, what's the best line for ice fishing? All of 'em.

I'm not kidding. Depending on the application, I'll use a monofilament, super line or fluorocarbon.

Choosing the right ice fishing line comes down to two questions: 1. What do you need the line to do? 2. How strong do you need it to be? The line you choose to jig lake trout in deep water is very different from the line you need for catching shallow-water 'gills. There is no ONE best line for ice fishing. It's very much application specific.

Whatever line you choose, pay particular attention to line memory. Low memory increases sensitivity and more detected bites.

When to choose mono

It's really hard to beat a good monofilament when fishing in shallow water, say under 20 feet. Advanced products like Berkley Micro Ice have low memory and stay pliable in cold weather. And although monofilament typically absorbs some water, the formulation of Micro Ice absorbs less, meaning it resists icing and getting caught in spring bobbers and guides. It also has some stretch, which also puts the odds of landing fish in your favor. I almost always use mono when fishing crappies for this very reason. They call them "papermouths" for a reason.

These days, 3-pound Micro Ice has become my go-to for shallow-water panfish fishing. It's skinny enough that fish aren't line shy and strong enough to land those bonus bass, pike and walleye that come along-if my drag is set up properly.

Fluoro made for finesse

Today's fluorocarbons handle much better in cold weather than early formulations and in situations that require the ultimate in finesse it's the line I go to. Nearly invisible thanks to a low light reflectivity index, fluoro makes a difference in clear or heavily-pressured waters.

One great example is sight fishing trout under the black shroud of my Frabill portable, where I sit head tilted down, actually watching trout swim through turpentine-clear waters via a couple 8-inch holes. Fluoro's near invisibility also makes it the line of choice for tight-lipped crappies and bluegills, or walleyes bellied into the bottom, during frontal systems.

Fluorocarbon also sinks, which makes it a great choice anytime you're fishing small, light jigs. With fluoro, you can often get away without having to use split shot, an unnecessary component more anglers should jettison. The fall rate of fluoro also adds to getting your bait back down into the strike zone quicker when fish move into your vicinity. For waters where fish move in and out fast, it can make a huge difference.

And although many anglers believe fluoro has zero stretch, in actuality it does stretch, which means you can land bigger fish with a smaller diameter test when combined with a smooth-drag, high-quality spinning reel.

The past couple years I have been running 8-pound fluorocarbon on my walleye tip-ups and I've found my catch rate has gone up tremendously. Not only is fluoro nearly invisible, its weight helps keep minnows where you want them-near bottom. For neutral or negative walleyes, this can be key. I've watched high-pressure system walleyes on my Aqua-Vu that balk at chasing a shiner or fathead that swims up and away from them. The split shot act like a fulcrum keeping the minnow on a well-defined leash.

Similarly, for pike rigs I alternate between Knot2Kinky wire and 50-pound fluoro, depending on the situation.

Super line time

I use superline when fishing 30 feet or deeper because the lines offer superb sensitivity at those depths. Likewise, because there's almost no stretch, hooksets are immediate even at depths of 40 feet and more. Keep in mind that at these depths light penetration is often limited anyway, so the more visible aspect of super line doesn't come into play.

The nice thing about super line is you can up your break strength, too. Most super lines also offer considerably smaller line diameters for comparable break strength, which means you can go up in test for peace of mind. Also, the small diameter means it cuts through the water easier, so can get your bait back down to fish in deep water faster. For those rare situations where water visibility is still very clear below 30 feet, I simply attach a fluoro leader to the super line via an Aquateko Invisaswivel.

Author Steve Pennaz
Steve Pennaz