Line is one of the most hotly debated topics in ice fishing. There is monofilament, fluorocarbon, braided super lines and even different copolymer options available. When you’re ice fishing for panfish, it’s hard to know what your best choice is based on the situation.
To help you sort through all the noise and confusion, we tracked down some of the best and most well-known ice fishermen out there to explain how they choose their ice fishing line, whether they are fishing for crappies, perch or bluegills.
What is the Best Line for Panfish Through the Ice?
The main thing I’m looking for when I’m choosing ice fishing line is the balance between the lure and the line. You need to match your lure with a line that will lay straight and won’t kink up. Lighter line straightens out pretty easily with any bait, while heavier line requires heavier lures to keep it straight. Traditionally, I had used two-pound monofilament line with the smallest micro presentations, but in recent years I’ve been able to use three and four-pound mono more and more due to the advent of tungsten lures. Tungsten is denser/heavier, which means I can get away with using three or four-pound test because the lure is heavy enough to straighten the line out. The advantage of the heavier line is that it’s going to be a lot more durable and you’re going to land more fish.
What I usually look for in ice fishing line is a low-stretch monofilament — one of my favorites is Micro Ice. The reason why I go with monofilament over fluorocarbon is it’s durability. Based on my experience, I don’t think fluoro lasts very long. When it’s brand new I like it, but I’ve found that a weekend of fishing will leave it ruined. That’s my experience with it anyway.
Keep in mind when you’re using monofilament line that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You need different properties in line from your one-pound lines all the way up to 20-pound test. As the diameter gets thicker, you need a softer line so it doesn’t slinky off the spool when you open the bail. When you’re fishing a smaller diameter light line, you need something stiff.
I tend to avoid super lines because I spend most of my time fishing outside in the cold. If you’re inside a nice warm house it’s not bad, but when you’re outside, super line can create some issues. Ice crystals will form all throughout the line, and it also pulls up a lot more water, which will freeze up the guides of your rod. Those are just a couple reasons why I tend to stay away from the super lines. The only time I’ll use them is when I’m fishing out beyond 30 or 40 feet of water. Even then, it depends on the weight of the lure I’m using and how much it’s already straightening out my mono. You typically don’t need to jump to a super line if your line is nice and straight.
For the most part, my line selection is broken down into one, two and three-pound fluorocarbon. My bread-and-butter for perch and a lot of my dead-sticking applications is three-pound fluoro, and I’ll jump down to one or two-pound for my jigging. One-pound is my go-to now in most situations, but I’ll use two whenever there are hammer-handles in the area or a chance at catching bigger fish. You need to reach down and grab the fish in the water when you’re using light line like this, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra bites you’re going to get. That said, I’m finding I can lift some of the smaller fish up out of the hole with the Sunline fluorocarbon I like using because it’s so strong.
The reason why I’m using fluorocarbon instead of monofilament is sink-rate, fluoro sinks better. This means I’m not stuck fishing only tungsten baits. Some of my favorite ice jigs are made of lead, nickel and brass (ie. the Gill-Getter and the Mud Bug), and I know they’re going to hang vertical and lay straight with fluoro. When I’m trying to decide between one and two-pound, I keep a couple things in mind. The thinner the line, the better it behaves vertically and the more bites you’ll get. If you’re in an open playing field without any vegetation around, you want to go as light as possible. If you’re fishing around weeds, you can probably get by with heavier line. As I stated earlier, I like two-pound when there are small pike or bigger fish in the area.
If you’re inside a fish house where it’s nice and warm, a braided line can be really nice. Braid doesn’t stretch at all, which means you don’t need to do a big, tall hookset inside your little house. It’s also pretty handy when you’re fishing down in 30 feet or deeper. When I fish braid, I’ll generally add a shock-leader of three-pound fluorocarbon connected with a micro-swivel. I actually use tiny micro-swivels on almost all of my rods for a number of reasons:
1 – Line twist is an obvious reason. Many of the lures I use will twist your line to oblivion if you aren’t using a swivel.
2 – Connecting your leader with a swivel is nice because it’s much easier tying a new leader to a swivel than it is tying directly to your main line.
3 – Tiny, tiny micro-swivels can be nice because they are less likely to damage my rod than a normal sized swivel when one of my clients reels it up through the guides.
One of the most common questions I’m asked, and also one of the hardest to answer, is which line for panfish? The challenge lies not only in the breadth of species that covers, but all the variables the go with them: shallow or deep, finesse or aggressive, exclusively panfish or predators mixed in? All of these can be confusing, so I find it easiest to lay out a few essential setups, how I use them, and what line I pair with each option. Keep in mind, there are plenty of unique situations that may call for something different. Think along these lines however, and you’ll cover your bases.
I use Sufix InvisiLine Ice – which is a fluorocarbon line that’s supple enough to pass for some of the most memory-free copolymers. It also has the benefit of near invisibility, so I’m covered in ultra-clear waters. If you’re looking at respooling your whole fleet and fish primarily in stained systems, the Sufix Ice Magic is great line too and will save you a few bucks. Here’s what I mix in for poundage for each application
Basic Jigging – 3# – Moderate depths – I fish Tungsten and lead jigs, primarily for gills, both with plastics and meat as bread and butter type presentations. 3# test handles occasional small pike and bass that might be mixed in.
Shallow Feel bite – 2# – I pair an Okuma SLV 2/3 fly reel with the drag clicker taken out on a Tuned Up Customs Quick Tip in ultra-clear water shallower than 10 feet. No spin, natural falls, and lifelike actions are paramount to success in these situations.
Deep Crappie Aggressive – 4# – I fish deeper crappies suspended over basins at times with larger lures. Jigging Raps, Rattle Spoons, and Slab Raps will draw larger fish, and seem to fish better on a slightly stiffer line. Pike will occasionally come calling with aggressive presentations such as these so I’m ready in that event.
Deep Crappie Subtle – 3# – This is tungsten territory, and many of the same Basic Jigging setups I’m using will be swapped in and out, provided they’re on a noodle type or similar rod.
Perch – 4 – 5# – Many of my perch rods and setups will also be for walleyes, as the two species so often roam together. That and many of the popular perch waters are also known for great ‘eyes. I tend not to have any issues with schooled up perch getting line-shy, and again, bigger baits fish well on this type of line. That, and if I’m fighting finicky perch, I can always use a Basic Jigging setup and go down a bit on poundage.
To help me keep it all straight, I simply put some masking tape on the bottom of each rod butt section so I know where to go with what.
It’s kind of funny that we spend so much time complicating what should be a simple task—catching hardwater panfish. When it comes to line choice, line is line, right?
Not exactly, although 4-pound monofilament is going to work just fine for most situations—and everybody has their favorite brand. When it comes to ice mono, I’ve had great luck with Sufix Ice Magic.
But if you’re on a kill-a-few-for-dinner mission out deep (30’+), a small-diameter superline plus a fluorocarbon leader is hard to beat. The lack of stretch makes for better bite detection and quicker hooksets. Again, Sufix makes good stuff in both line categories.
The past few years, though, I’ve been fishing copolymer more in all depths – from shallow weeds to deep, open-basin crappies. Spending time on the ice with NAIFC (North American Ice Fishing Circuit) pros Kevin Fassbind, Nick Smyers, and Shawn Bjonfald taught me plenty about the benefits of copolymer lines.
Copolymer is just what it sounds like – a blend of two polymers (typically nylon) into one line. It might look like monofilament, but it has different characteristics. Bagley Silver Thread was one of the original copolymers on the market, a line that became popular with trout anglers who needed a nearly invisible, supple, strong, and ultra-thin diameter line.
In terms of performance, copolymer is a bit like monofilament but thinner by test strength, more sensitive, and great in cold weather (less coiling, memory, and it sheds water/ice better). Copolymer fishes straight, supple, and true, even in sub-zero temps. Most copolymers also have excellent abrasion resistance, a benefit in the hardwater arena.
In terms of stretch, copolymer occupies the middle ground between very stretchy mono and less stretchy fluorocarbon, which adds to its sensitivity, making it better than mono in deeper waters. In the three- and four-pound tests I prefer, it’s a heck of a lot more forgiving than fluoro. If needed, I can slide a big crappie or ‘gill out of the hole without line breakage — or having to take my gloves off when it’s brutally cold. And, for those situations when a nice walleye or bass grabs your tiny tungsten jig, three- or four-pound typically handles the fish just fine. Of course, any line is best paired with a quality reel with buttery drag.
Years ago, NAIFC pro Shawn Bjonfald turned me on to Lindy Ice Line, which I later learned was simply re-branded Silver Thread. I started using three-pound for general bluegill and crappie fishing and four-pound for crappie spoons/small Jigging Rap-style baits. For negative to neutral bites I’d occasionally step-down to two-pound, but not very often. Some NAIFC pros even resort to one-pound on palm rods when the going gets tough. That’s some surgical fishing.
With Lindy Ice Line seemingly discontinued, I’ve bought up all I could find in Mills Fleet Farm bargain bins and on eBay, storing the surplus in the freezer… (Seriously, the freezer is best place to keep line “fresh” for future use. No UV rays and vacillating temperatures. Might absorb some venison funk, but I’m not too worried.)
So why not go back to Silver Thread? Even various light-test Silver Thread products seem to be in short supply.
I’ve run into NAIFC pros who swear by P-Line copolymer, while others tout high-dollar Japanese lines. Me, I’ve been experimenting with some European nylon, copolymer, and fluorocarbon lines from ASSO (yes, that’s their real name). One of my favorites is this fluorocarbon-coated copolymer called New Micron 3. The results are very promising.
And for straight-lining, I’ve been playing with this stuff, ASSO Diamond. Like the hi-vis gold Stren the first Michigander-straight liners used, but with all the benefits of copolymer listed above.
The toughest part about panfish line is that there’s no perfect line. With walleyes, I can get by with ten-pound braid with a fluorocarbon leader for most of my presentation. I might need six or eight-pound mono for a few things. It’s pretty straight forward. Panfish on the other hand are a little bit more complex. The depth of the water I’m fishing, the types of lures I’m using and the attitude of the fish all play a big part in which line I choose. My overall favorite line would probably have to be three-pound monofilament. That said, there are times when I’ll use one, two and four-pound mono, or even braided line in some situations.
First off, I like using braided line (four or six-pound) with a fluorocarbon leader when I’m fishing for perch on Devils Lake or anywhere over 20 feet or so. It allows me to detect bites much better in deep water and allows me to get a better hookset. For everything else, I like to use monofilament line. What I’ll typically do is start out with four-pound mono and work my way down from there as needed. The beauty of fishing three or four-pound test is that it allows you to land a lot more fish. One and two-pound might get more strikes when the panfish are hesitant to bite, but you’re going to lose a lot more fish on that lighter line, and honestly, sometimes it isn’t necessary to go that light. Heavier line allows you to reel the fish up faster, and you don’t need to worry about breaking fish off at the hole when your line gets wrapped around the transducer or when you’re lifting the fish out of the water.
Back in the day, three-pound mono was my go-to line, but truth be told, I don’t use it nearly as much anymore. The tungsten craze has had a big impact on my line choice in recent years. It’s a denser metal that will straighten out heavier monofilament line while still maintaining a small lure profile. This means I can get the line performance of a lighter line, with the durability of a heavier line thanks to that extra weight. Most lead panfish jigs aren’t fishable on four-pound mono, so I would usually avoid it. The beauty of tungsten is that it makes four-pound line feel like three-pound. It creates a better connection between the jig and your rod.
I bring a bunch of rods with me when I go out on an ice fishing trip; they each have different line and rod actions, which allows me to change quickly and adjust my presentation. I always start out with four-pound test, but if I’m marking fish that won’t commit, I’m never afraid to change my line choice fairly quickly. It’s important to have gear rigged up that is prepared for the worst, but don’t go into a day of fishing immediately assuming the bite is going to be tough. If you can catch them on four-pound test and tungsten right from the start, you’re going to have a lot more success than you would have if you started with lighter line. When the bite is good to average, the tougher four-pound mono is going to be a lot more effective than the lighter two or one-pound stuff that is more prone to breakage. Remember that you can always downsize your line selection if the bite proves to be tough.
If I was heading to a lake I had never fished before — and could only bring one rod — I’d grab one that’s spooled up with 3-lb Sufix Ice Magic monofilament. Mono is lo-vis, has less memory than fluorocarbon (less coiling) and offers just the right amount of stretch to help keep fish pinned. That slight stretch is going to act as a shock absorber to the fish’s thrashing head. At the end of the day you’ll have less torn-out hooks and put more fish topside. Even better…mono is the cheapest option out there. For most situations you’re going to want to run a clear, invisible line. One exception to that rule is for a technique called ‘tightlining.’ The key component to this technique is running a highly-visible line (neon orange or hi-vis gold) and detecting the bites by watching the coils in your line as you pound the jig.
If fish are finicky, picky, or just straight up smart, I’ll reach for my rod rigged up with 100% fluorocarbon. Fluoro is going to be more ‘invisible’ than mono, making it one heck of a weapon in ultra-clear water, or when targeting heavily-pressured fish. Sufix InvisiLine Ice Fluorocarbon also sinks 4 times faster than mono, which allows you to get those tiny ice jigs back down the hole more quickly when there’s a hot school waiting below. The downfall to fluoro is that it needs to be replaced more often. The added memory means it’s going to get ‘the coils’ more quickly on the tiny spools of micro ice reels. You can make it more affordable by filling the spool with cheap ‘backing’ or old line, then put on just enough fluoro (say 50′ or 60′) to be able to fish for the day.
Personally, I think braided line is overrated in the panfish world. Don’t get me wrong: I love it for a ton of different applications, but hardwater panfish just isn’t one of them. The obvious disadvantage is that it’s much more visible to the fish. Also, braid is not your friend if you’re someone that likes to hole-hop outside the shack — it’s going to freeze up far more often since it absorbs moisture. Sure you have a little better feel thanks to the no-stretch qualities, but that also means you’re more likely to set the hook too early and/or rip the bait from the fish’s mouth. Unless you’re fishing ridiculously deep water, say 30’, 40’, or 50’, leave the super lines at home.
Some time this winter when you’re ice fishing for yellow perch, bluegills or black crappies, attach your lure to 1-, 2- or 3-pound test line and then drop it into your hole and watch how you can manipulate it. Now, do the same thing with the lure tied to 4-, 5- or 6-pound test line.
The difference is outrageous?
Line type, too, will influence how well you can maneuver your bait. I know a lot of ice anglers favor fluorocarbon line, but in the cold temperatures that I frequently ice fish – it’s often -20 F or colder – I find the frigid weather makes the already kinky fluorocarbon even wirier. So, I stick with either a high performance ultra-limp monofilament line or a super thin microdyneema gel spun.
The knock on gel spuns in the winter is that they shed water when you reel up your lure and it tends to ice up your guides and rod tip, but I find it’s a small price to pay for their superior lure performance. Plus, because they’re so thin, so sensitive and non-stretch, they’re ideal when you move out into deeper water.
I also favor florescent orange (Sufix) gel spun so I can watch my line and see the bites long before I ever feel a fish. And I tip my main lines with a short 18- to 24-inch limp monofilament leader, using back-to-back uni-knots. Have never had one break.
One thing that Tony Mariotti has started to pay more attention to is line color. In his opinion, the color itself doesn’t seem to have a big impact on the fish, but one thing that it DOES impact is the angler. A brightly colored line (green, orange, red etc.) can make things much easier for ice fishermen, whether they are trying to tie knots or if they’re watching their line, trying to detect strikes.
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