If you want to be successful when ice fishing, it’s important to bring the right tools to catch the particular kind of fish you are hoping to catch. An essential part of this is the pound test of your fishing line. It has to be the right amount of strength.
Use 2 to 8-pound test line for small fish and 14 to 20-pound test line for large fish. The line needs to be strong enough to support the type of fish being targeted. Using too high pound test line will significantly decrease effectiveness as well.
Every kind of fish is a little different, so to remove any confusion about what pound test line to use, here’s a list of what to use for practically every species you’ll find ice fishing in North America.
|Type of Fish
|Pound Test Line to Use
Use 2 to 6 lb line for crappie.
Crappie are on the small side. They are classed among panfish, which are named as such because they are small enough to fully fit in a frying pan.
That’s why you don’t need heavy pound test line to catch them. Stick to thin line with a pound test of as little as 2 pounds.
Crappie are popular targets for ice fishing and summer fishing, too, since they’re not hard to find or catch.
One thing to keep in mind about crappie is that they have excellent eyesight. The thinner your line, the harder it will be for them to see it. If they don’t see the line that suspends your jig or whatever you may be using, they are far less likely to find anything suspicious. That means more bites and more catches for you.
So, use as thin of line as possible. Different factors may require you to use a slightly higher pound test line, but there’s no reason to exceed 6 pounds for crappie. If you do, you’ll likely miss out on a lot of bites.
If you find a lot of crappie, you will probably be able to find bigger fish which feast upon them in the same spot. However, they are unlikely to bite on the bait you’re using to attract crappie since they’ll want bigger meals, so they won’t break your line.
But if you do want to get in on the action of catching larger fish, it’s a good idea to have a second line well-equipped to handle whichever large fish you’re looking for.
With a very light line, you’ll be able to bring in tons of crappie. Not only is a light line hard for them to see, but it also makes it easy for you to notice a bite. With a bigger line, a small fish will only be able to move it so much. It gives too much resistance. You might not even notice the bite at all.
But with a small line, the fish can bite the bait and start swimming away, only to have you, the fisherman, reel it in instead.
So, a 2-pound line or one slightly heavier is the way to go for crappie and other small fish as well. You’ll get the most bites this way and have a ton of fun catching crappie.
For walleye, 4 to 6 lb test line works best.
These fish are not too big, but trying to catch them is tricky and makes for a fun challenge. Their behavior is not very well understood.
What pound test line to use, however, is a straightforward piece of the equation when it comes to catching them. Since walleye are not too big, you don’t want your line to be too big either.
2-pound test line may be a bit too small for some of these fish and could potentially result in a broken line, but you can try if you’re OK with that. However, to be more on the safe side, I recommend 4-pound line as a minimum.
You could go a bit heavier than that, but I wouldn’t go much higher than 6-pound test line. That’s specifying a very small range, I realize, but it’s an optimal one. It’s a balance of being subtle yet strong enough to support the weight of a hooked fish.
Walleye are not likely to tear through your line, since their teeth are sharp but not knife-like, so whether you want to use a leader or not is up to you. A leader could result in more bites due to better camouflaging the danger that awaits those who bite your bait.
If you’re going to use braided line, which is often a good choice when ice fishing, then a leader definitely will be harder to see than your line, so I’d certainly recommend it in that case.
2 to 6 lb is the optimal range of line for perch.
Perch aren’t huge, so you certainly won’t need to be hitting the gym in order to reel one in. Your line won’t need to be heavy-duty, either.
Perch can see rather well. The thinner the line, the better, especially in clear water. 2-pound line is going to be very effective. 4-pound line is nearly just as good.
6-pound line is what you can use if you want to ensure your line won’t break, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. If you’re fishing in darker waters, of course, then there are fewer downsides to it because perch’s visibility will not be good enough to notice the line.
The 6-pound line will still make for a slightly less sensitive set-up, though, but it’s probably not so much that you’ll miss any bites.
Whichever line you choose, you can attach a leader to it to make your fishing even better. If you use a fluorocarbon leader in combination with a braided line, the fish are going to be totally convinced your bait is the real deal because the leader will be practically invisible to them.
Perch are fun to target. Recently I made a list of tips to help people catch more of them. Now that you know what pound test line to use, go study on those other tips and you’ll be catching plenty in no time.
For pike, use 14 to 20 lb line.
The pike, also called the northern pike, is a predator. These fish aggressively hunt throughout the winter. As you can imagine, this means they are quite a bit bigger than many other fish. It also means they are wonderful targets for ice fishing.
Pike are not picky eaters. Their only requirement for a meal is that it’s sizable. So, the question of what bait to use is a matter of size, then. Now we just need line that can properly suspend it and can support the weight of a pike when one is hooked.
Since northern pike are pretty sizable, the line will need to be in a range from 14 to 20 pounds. Anything more than that is probably not necessary and would make it more difficult to detect a bite.
Luckily, the visibility of your line is not an issue here. Northern pike really don’t care if there’s a line in front of them. Like I said, they aren’t picky eaters. If it looks like food, they’re happy to consume it. I guess there’s a reason it’s been said that gluttony is a deadly sin.
Despite there being no need to hide your line, a leader is still going to come in handy because of these fishes’ sharp teeth. They will tear up your line easily. A leader will keep your stuff from being lost at the bottom of the lake.
If you’re hunting northern pike, you’re looking for some of the bigger fish in the pond. You won’t find their population as abundant as you will panfish, naturally, but when you pull one out of a hole you’ve dug in the ice, it sure makes for an impressive catch.
By the way, I’ve written tips on how to catch more pike ice fishing. They will help you.
For kokanee, 6 to 10 lb line is best.
The kokanee is an interesting species of fish because compared to most of the others on this list, you can’t find it in as many places. Kokanee are natively found in the northwestern part of North America, as in the U.S.’s pacific northwest and anywhere beyond that.
They are not incredibly well-understood by fishers, probably due to being less common, and they’re kind of unpredictable, so if you’re looking for some variety in your ice fishing, targeting kokanee can be a lot of fun. If you live in a region where they can be found or know of one of the many lakes elsewhere which have had kokanee brought in, try it out.
Kokanee won’t shock anyone with their size, as they are a nice small-medium species, but they do look like they could make for a good meal. Naturally, you won’t want to use a super-heavy line to catch them, nor a super-light one.
A range of 6 to 10-pound line is what I recommend. It’s always smart to stay on the small end of any range when it comes to this topic for maximum sensitivity and minimum visibility, but depending on what jigs you want to use or if the kokanee in a particular lake are simply unusually large, you may go bigger.
Despite these fish not being all that tiny, their bites can be rather soft, which again leads me to highly recommend lighter lines over heavy ones. Just make sure the rod you use has a sensitive tip and you keep a close eye on it.
8 to 14 lb is a great range for catching lake trout.
Lake trout are definitely on the bigger side of the spectrum of freshwater fish you’ll find ice fishing, though they are not nearly the biggest. Still, you don’t want to let one of these fish get away because you expected to hold on to it with 4-pound line.
You will want to use 8-pound line as a minimum. These fish hunt using their sense of sight, so you will want to use as inconspicuous of line as possible. 8-pound line is strong enough to handle most lake trout while not being too easy to see.
However, if you want to be on the safe side, or if you’re really hoping to haul up an extra-large fish, you can go with heavier line.
Regardless of the pound test line you choose, you are going to want to use a leader due to these fishes’ sharp teeth. Having your line cut is a big inconvenience. Plus, needless to say, a fish that cuts your line is getting away from you, too. So, use a leader to prevent such violence against the fishing line.
And once again, the leader will also help immensely in attracting fish because it’s almost invisible to them. Your line may be fairly easy for them to spot, but with a leader in between the thick line and your lures, you’ll get a lot more bites.
Lake trout make for a good catch. They’re a bit large, so all your friends will be impressed when you get one. Make sure the line you use is strong enough to actually make that happen.
Since strong line is no good if you can’t first attract lake trout and get them to bite, check out my article for tips.
For bluegill, use 2 to 4 lb line.
Bluegill is another species of fish on the small side. That’s fine, though; catching them is a lot of fun. They’re found in great abundance in many places.
For small fish like these, you should avoid heavy line. 2-pound line will usually work perfectly. You’ll feel a decent tug whenever a bluegill bites and almost certainly will be able to reel it in.
The average mass of a large adult bluegill is 2.6 pounds, so there is a chance that 2-pound line won’t be enough.
4-pound line will work great if you’re thinking you might encounter some bigger fish. You’ll have less sensitivity for the smaller fish, but it’s nothing hard to deal with.
By the way, the heaviest bluegill ever on record weighed 4.8 pounds according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
If you have reason to believe you’ll break that record, you could use 6-pound line, but I don’t recommend it. Still, you would probably be able to still catch fish with it, but you’re bound to miss out on some bites.
Maybe you would use 6-pound line if you wanted to fish some different species while only having one set of line.
You’re going to want to use small jigs and bait when fishing for bluegill since that’s what appeals to them, so jigs shouldn’t affect your choice of line a whole lot.
Bluegill are found all over North America, so if you haven’t caught any before, it could be fun to try this winter. I haven’t eaten any myself but I hear they taste better than crappie, at least.
You’ll need at least 14 to 20 lb line for catfish.
Usually, when I think of ice fishing, I don’t think of catfish, but why not? True, catfish are known as summer catches, and they live in warmer water than most fish enjoy. Countless people have enjoyed catching these fish in ponds in the summers of generally warm places.
It’s not like they disappear during the winter, though. They’re still in the water. If you can find a lake they inhabit with ice thick enough for you to walk on (and many places they live will not get cold enough for this, unfortunately), by all means, I encourage you to try to catch some catfish.
Catfish are big. They can grow to quite massive sizes.
And as you may know, they appear to have whiskers, which I am certain led to them being named the way they were. Other than that, they’re nothing like cats.
Catching them is an unusual challenge because of how hard they fight. They swim with all their might to get away from you once hooked. You’re going to need tough line for catfish, no question.
Their size is a problem even aside from that. You’ll most likely be able to bring in plenty of average-sized catfish with 14-pound test line, but if you want a big one that will blow people’s minds, you’d better use 20-pound test line. Maybe even more than that.
Couple size with how hard they fight and you’d better be prepared for intense battles. The line could get pretty beat-up from all the twisting and turning involved in reeling the fish in. To help with that, you should use a leader. It should be a 10-pound test leader. (Source)
Catching catfish in the middle of winter isn’t something most people can say they’ve done. So, you definitely should give it a try if you have a chance. To catch a big one, you’re going to need to drill a pretty large hole in the ice. It may not be an easy catch even if attracting these fish isn’t too hard, but what is a sport without a bit of challenge?
14 to 20 lb test line or higher is needed to catch sturgeon.
Have you heard about the sturgeon? Compared to the wildly abundant panfish of crappie and bluegill, this is an entirely different category.
Technically, there are many species within the sturgeon family. The advice I give will be targeted towards lake sturgeon, though it may apply to other species as well.
Sturgeon have long life spans that almost rival that of humans. And scientific evidence suggests they have existed as a family of species for one hundred thirty-five million years! Sturgeon are essentially dinosaur fish. I suppose sharks are similar in that sense, but good luck catching a shark. You sure can’t ice fish a shark.
Despite the hardiness of these creatures, overfishing in the past has driven sturgeon to endangerment. Conditions have improved for them in America, luckily, so you can actually catch quite a lot of them here, but it’s still important to be careful. (Source)
Now, I don’t know if you were even thinking about catching sturgeon ice fishing anytime soon since they are somewhat of a rare fish, but I said I’d give info for as many species as you can find ice fishing in North America, and that’s what I’m going to do.
If you do decide to try to fish for these unusual creatures, plan to handle any you catch with care. Be sure to check local regulations before starting.
With all that said, let’s get back to the main issue of what pound test line is needed to actually reel sturgeon in.
They are large fish. That’s what makes them appealing, aside from the novelty of them being somewhat unusual. Naturally, for large fish, you need line up to the task.
The largest lake sturgeon caught that we know of weighed 310 pounds. (Source) That is an incredible fish. I don’t think an ice rod could handle that, so hopefully, you won’t have to try. But this gives you an idea of how big these fish can get. 300 pounds is an anomaly, but the point is these things are big.
14-pound test line is a good minimum, but you might consider going for as strong of a line as you can find.
Luckily, aside from their sheer size, sturgeon aren’t difficult catches. Their teeth aren’t particularly sharp because they aren’t predators. Rather, they are bottom-feeders who dine on insect larvae, crayﬁsh, snails, clams and leeches.
They don’t use sight to feed but rather rely on barbels which they drag across the ground. Because of that, you don’t need to worry at all about hiding your line. If they detect food, you should have a bite.
So, you mainly just need to make sure your rod and line are well-equipped for carrying any sturgeon that bites up to the surface.
I can see why sturgeon were so over-fished: they’re big and not too hard to catch. For that reason, have fun fishing them, but make sure to behave so that sturgeon can continue to live on and future generations can enjoy these remarkable fish as well.
10 to 16 lb line will do the trick for largemouth bass.
The largemouth bass is not a popular target in ice fishing, for some reason. This may be because it’s simply not the tastiest fish you can find. Many people also believe that these fish are inactive during the winter, but this is in fact not the case. (Source)
You absolutely can find largemouth bass in the winter. Sure there may be tastier fish to catch instead, but going for largemouth bass can be fun.
The word “bass” certainly implies largeness, so it’s no surprise that largemouth bass are considerably bigger than your run-of-the-mill panfish. While not the king of the pond either, largemouth bass are pretty big. A large adult has an average weight of 12 pounds.
Catching these fish is actually not too difficult, so make sure your line can handle them.
Anywhere within a range between 10 and 16 pounds should be sufficient to haul up a bass. It’s smart to opt for as light of a line as possible, but you don’t want to have your line break, so somewhere in the middle of this range might be best.
By the way, if you’re looking for the largemouth bass’s relative the smallmouth bass, expect it to be considerably smaller, more similar in size to a perch.
For muskie, use 14-20 lb test line or more.
Muskie are big, uncommon, and aggressive, making them a very desirable catch for any angler. In the winter, their aggression slows a bit, which adds even more challenge for those ice fishing. And plenty of fishermen love a challenge.
A large adult muskellunge, as muskie are formally called, can commonly be as heavy as 39 pounds. That’s rather impressive. I bet you want to snag one yourself now if you didn’t want to already.
With a size that large being typical, you will need a line with high pound test line. 14 pounds is a fine minimum, but you’ll be catching muskie on the small end of the scale at that pound test. If you’re hoping to track down and catch some huge muskie, get the highest pound test line a fishing rod can use.
It can be a bit tricky to lure in these predators, especially when they’re in their winter lethargic mood, but through effective lures and jigs, you will hopefully be able to convince them there’s an easy meal waiting.
Then, provided you have strong line, you can reel in a big muskie, perhaps creating a fishing story for the ages.
Well, those are my pound test line recommendations for all the fish species common for ice fishing in North America and some less common ones too. Getting the right pound test line is one of the easiest aspects of reeling in a fish, big or small, but it’s not one you can skip over. Keep this guide handy if you’re ever in doubt about the size of a fish you’re looking for.