Panfish species are some of the most rewarding fish to target. Whether you're after crappie, bluegill, or sunfish, you can count on plenty of action and a load of fish for the fryer! These fish can be caught with basic equipment; however, some anglers invest in high-end gear to maximize their chance of success.
Whether you fish occasionally or actively target panfish, using the right reel will help you catch more fish and enjoy your time on the water.
This guide will break down the best panfish reel qualities and help you get set up with the right tackle. We recommend reels for anglers with all budgets and experience levels. Let’s get you out on the water and catching fish!
Reels Reviews (Jump-to section)
Spinning reels are better than casting reels for targeting panfish. These setups are more sensitive and ideal for casting small lures and baits. Spinning reels are also easier to learn for beginners and pair well with fluorocarbon lines.
For species-specific equipment, see our guide to the best crappie spinning reels.
1000-size reels are best for catching panfish. While a 2000-size can be used, this larger size adds unnecessary weight and few benefits. Smaller reel sizes, such as 500 and 700 ultra-light models, have less line capacity and reduce casting distance.
A 1000-size spinning reel will offer the best line management and lightweight performance. Lightweight panfish setups are also the most fun to use and don’t overpower small fish species. You don’t want to take the fun out of fighting fish!
Brand & Price
You don’t need to break the bank to start fishing for panfish. Several brands make affordable, high-quality 1000-size spinning reels with plenty of performance for the average angler. However, if you’re looking for professional-grade equipment, we’ll discuss the most advanced panfish reel on the market!
Our list also includes reels for those that don’t know how to use spinning setups. A spincast reel is a great way to get kids and beginners catching bluegill and sunfish!
1. Daiwa Fuego LT 1000 Spinning Reel - Best Overall
4.5 Stars | 40 Angler Reviews
The Daiwa Fuego LT 1000 Spinning Reel is the best reel overall for panfish fishing. This high-tech model has exceptional performance, making it an incredible value for the money. We recommend the 1000-size model, which pairs well with many light-action spinning rods.
This spinning reel has a sleek design and exceptional reeling action. The buttery-smooth cranking action comes from a 7-bearing system and quality aluminum components. Everything on this reel is fitted together well, so there’s no play in the handle or spool.
Daiwa’s Fuego LT is lightweight, strong, and comfortable to fish. The gears absorb most of the strain, so your wrist won’t get fatigued after a long day of fishing. This model also has improved sensitivity, which helps you feel even the smallest panfish bites.
A carbon-infused housing, Air Bail, Air Rotor, and Magsealed main shaft make the Fuego LT technologically advanced for the price. The well-designed housing keeps the internal components sealed off from weather, preventing corrosion.
The drag system on the 1000-size reel is surprisingly strong. Many small spinning reels lack drag power, but the Fuego LT can stop the largest crappie and other panfish species.
Overall, this reel won’t disappoint. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced angler, you’ll have more fun panfish fishing with the Fuego LT.
2. Shimano Vanford - Best High-End Panfish Reel
4.7 Stars | 263 Angler Reviews
If you’re searching for the best panfish spinning reel money can buy, Shimano has the answer. The Shimano Vanford Spinning Reel has all the best qualities anglers need when targeting crappie, bluegill, perch, and other small freshwater fish.
This model has a CI4+ carbon fiber housing and ultra-responsive MagnumLite Rotor. While many small spinning reels have a delay between movements, the Vanford seamlessly transfers power to your line.
Shimano’s Vanford reel will handle anything you throw at it. This model is known to be reliable through years of intensive fishing, requiring very little upkeep.
While the Vanford spinning reel is more expensive than the other models on our list, this is expected for the premium components.
The Vanford features Aero Wrap technology, Propulsion line management, X-Protect water-resistance technology, and a Silent Drive for quiet cranking. Eight bearings are used to make the cranking as smooth as possible, which is an impressive count for a 1000-size reel.
Whether you want to take it ice fishing or on the boat to catch panfish, the Vanford does it all. This model casts like a dream and has the best casting distance we’ve ever seen for the size.
3. KastKing Sharky III - Best Value Panfish Reel
4.6 Stars | 3,856 Angler Reviews
The KastKing Sharky III was a close contender for the top spot on our list. This spinning reel is inexpensive and has enough performance to satisfy an advanced angler. KastKing completely rehauled the third generation of the Shaky series, giving the reel performance that gives high-end panfish reels a run for their money!
We think this is one of the coolest-looking spinning reels on the market! The body and rotor are constructed from carbon fiber reinforced graphite, making the Sharky III surprisingly lightweight. This model also has tremendous drag strength, with up to 40lbs of fish-stopping power.
KastKing’s infamous reel features a triple-disc carbon fiber drag, strong brass pinion gears, and eleven high-quality stainless steel ball bearings. This is the first reel to offer such advanced components for a budget-friendly price.
The Sharky III’s cranking action is super smooth. It reels quietly and has an anti-reverse system that engages quickly.
If you’re looking for an affordable way to fish high-tech gear, a KastKing reel is the way to go. KastKing is changing the fishing industry and innovating to reduce prices and keep fishing exciting for everyone.
4. Zebco 33 Micro Triggerspin - Best Kids Reel
4.5 Stars | 4,373 Angler Reviews | $20 - $30
The Zebco 33 Micro Triggerspin is the best panfish reel for kids and beginners unfamiliar with spinning setups. Zebco designed this unique spincast-style reel that imitates a spinning reel's design. This makes it easier to pair it with the right rod, as many manufacturers don’t make spincast rods.
This Micro Triggerspin model is operated using an easy-to-use lever above the spool. You don’t have to time bail flips or manage the line with your finger. Unlike traditional spinning reels, the Triggerspin keeps kids and beginners from tangling their line.
Zebco designed this model for bluegill, crappie, sunfish, and other panfish species. The housing is made from sturdy graphite composite; however, the materials aren’t as high-quality as those used to make the spinning reels on this list.
Dual ceramic pickup pins, a multi-stop anti-reverse, and a dial-adjustable drag system all come standard. You can switch the handle between right and left-hand retrieve.
The Zebco 33 Micro Triggerspin also comes pre-spooled with 4lb fluorocarbon line, so it’s ready to use straight out of the box.
5. Pflueger President Spinning Reel - Best Crappie Reel
4.7 Stars | 2,724 Angler Reviews | $50 - $70
If you’re looking for a dedicated crappie fishing reel, the Pflueger President Spinning Reel has become the industry standard. This rugged, reliable reel has thousands of anglers vouching for its build quality. The Pflueger President has an elegant appearance and doesn’t look as aggressive as KastKing’s Sharky III or Daiwa’s Fuego LT.
This model has a lightweight graphite body, nine stainless steel ball bearings, and a double-anodized aluminum spool. The multi-disc drag is smooth and silent, and the handle has a comfortable grip design.
Pflueger designed the President Spinning Reel to be as strong and reliable as possible. Slow oscillation gearing gives you more control over your presentation, and the solid aluminum bail wire is easy to flip.
While the President Reel doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the Sharky III or Fuego LT, the 1000-size is comfortable to fish and perfect for targeting crappie.
6. Shimano Sedona FI - Best Shimano Panfish Reel
4.6 Stars | 1,258 Angler Reviews
Many anglers are obsessed with the performance and build quality of Shimano reels. The best panfish reel from this manufacturer is the Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel. This model has affordable performance and many high-end upgrades usually found on top-tier reels.
This new Sedona model is faster, lighter, and stronger than the previous generation. Shimano reels are known to last for years without showing signs of wear. While the 1000-size panfish model only has four ball bearings, the cranking action is decently smooth.
Shimano’s Sedona FI features a new G-Free frame that significantly reduces the weight. The reel also has a Magnumlite rotor and cold-forged Hagne gears for improved durability.
This model has the versatility to handle panfish, perch, and small trout. The reduced number of ball bearings means there are fewer moving components, and it’s less likely that something will break. For the price, this is the best Shimano spinning reel for panfish.
7. Daiwa Regal LT 1000 Spinning Reel - Fuego Alternative
4.5 Stars | 141 Angler Reviews
If you’re interested in a Daiwa reel but don’t want to spend Fuego LT prices, the Daiwa Regal LT 1000 Spinning Reel is exceptional for panfish fishing. This model has an elegant design and features a rigid carbon fiber frame.
The Regal LT performs best when paired with a lightweight 7’ light-power extra-fast action rod. You’ll find this model has a buttery drag and casts like a dream. We found this reel has the best casting distance when paired with Sufix Nanobraid fluorocarbon fishing line.
Daiwa’s Regal LT is part of the brand’s “light but tough” collection. The frame is made from thin carbon fiber, and an Air Rotor and Air Bail reduce the weight by more than 15%. By incorporating these lightweight components, Daiwa was able to add ten ball bearings.
The ATD drag system keeps you in control of panfish, and the machined aluminum handle doesn’t have any “play.” While the Fuego LT is more comfortable, the Regal LT is still an exciting panfish reel.