In my formative ice fishing years, I tagged along with my dad, lugging a bucket of broom-handle ice sticks that were little more than wooden dowels fitted with line-wrapping pegs and a sharp point on one end for positioning next to the hole. Times have certainly changed, as today’s ice fans have a forest of fine rods and high-tech reels at their disposal.
Frabill’s Straight Line 371 Bro Series Combo rides the scene’s cutting edge in more ways than one. It’s designed for straight-lining, a progressive hardwater tactic that leans on the direct connection of a fly fishing-style reel to boost sensitivity, banish line twist and put a stop to unnatural lure gyrations.
Six species- and technique-specific combos are available, ranging from a 24-inch ultra-light built for panfish jigging to a 36-inch light model ideal for finessing tight-lipped walleyes and panfish of slab proportions. I put the latter combo to the test and quickly appreciated the many amenities it brings to the table.
Let’s start with the reel. Composite construction keeps weight down without sacrificing durability, and I especially liked the fact it didn’t feel cold against my bare hands while fishing outside in bitter temps. Boasting a seamless drag and instant anti-reverse, it’s definitely a smooth operator—thanks in no small part to 5-plus-1 ball bearings and Frabill’s patented Sub-Zero lubrication.
The reel comes with a pair of stems. The shorter of the two shines for palming, while the extended version works well with mittens or heavy gloves. In another nod to the challenges of keeping your digits from freezing, the ambidextrous, super-size handle and knob are easy to operate with bulky handwear.
Another feature I appreciated was the multiplier reel’s 3.7:1 gear ratio, which allows it to swallow nearly two feet of line with every rotation of the handle. Such speed is a godsend when recalling dainty baits from active duty in the abyss. Other nice touches include an audible bait clicker and free spool function for quickly dropping baits to the strike zone.
As for the rod, each blank is crafted from proprietary materials matched to the species and style of fishing. I thought the 36-inch light model was supremely sensitive—transmitting jig action and light bites—yet offered enough backbone to easily hoist spirited crappies from their watery homes. Other features include aluminum-oxide line guides, which aid line flow, and a sturdy yet light aluminum seat for holding the reel fast.
All in all, the Straight Line 371 Bro Series Combo performed admirably and merits serious consideration anytime you’re upgrading your ice rod arsenal.