The Best Panfish Setups for Every Budget
No matter your budget, there is a perfect panfish setup out there for you! Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist breaks down the best options for each budget!
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When many anglers approach the water, they have one goal in mind: catch the biggest fish possible. While it is exhilarating to get on the water to make a long cast just to wrestle a three-pound bass or a five-pound pike all the way back to the bank, panfish anglers can have a similarly exciting experience when equipped with the right gear. Small species might not look quite as impressive mounted as a mantelpiece compared to a trophy largemouth bass, but fishing for panfish with light tackle is still a skill that takes time to cultivate and perfect.
Panfish are species like bluegill, crappie, perch, and smaller trout. Essentially: fish that can easily fit in a small pan. They are plentiful in most waters where fish are present—which includes small streams and urban ponds—making them easily accessible to almost everyone.
In this guide, I’m going to offer some recommendations for quality fishing gear that’s tailored to the needs of anglers targeting panfish with light tackle. For the most part, this will be spinning rods with light or ultralight power and small spinning reels between sizes 1000–2500. For line, 4lb fluorocarbon or monofilament will be perfect for most techniques.
Beginner Budget: Under $100
Daiwa Presso + Shimano Sienna
You don’t need to break the bank when targeting small fish, but having the right rod makes a huge difference. With lightweight lures and small fish that produce faint bites, a sensitive rod will allow you to easily feel nibbles and set the hook. At its price point, the Daiwa Presso is an exceptional and versatile rod. It excels when used with the lightest of lures and performs well above its price point. You will be able to feel the blades of spinners as they spin while being retrieved underwater, you’ll be able to feel when your lure has hit the bottom, and—most importantly—you’ll be able to feel the bites of small trout and panfish as they come up and engulf your presentation.
The Shimano Sienna is a great, no-frills spinning reel that is perfect for ultralight fishing. It has plenty of line capacity for long casts and pairs easily with the Daiwa Presso or any ultralight fishing rod.
Advanced Beginner Budget: $100 - $150
Lew’s Mach 1 Spinning Combo
The Lew’s Mach 1 is a spinning combo that includes both a solid rod and reel in the same package. Often pre-assembled combos feature a durable rod with a cheaper reel, or vice versa. However, with this setup, both pieces included are high-quality fishing equipment.
This setup doesn’t come in an ultralight option but does come in light and medium-light-powered variations—which are perfect for anglers who fish around a lot of weeds or who are also targeting bass larger trout. The graphite rod is lightweight and sensitive and balances perfectly with the reel, making it easy to present your lures to unsuspecting fish. The reel uses a durable graphite frame that cuts down on weight, and the DuraMax drag system allows anglers to fight aggressive fish without snapping the line. The rod has plenty of backbone for setting the hook, but the tip is soft enough to keep from pulling hooks out of the mouths of aggressive fish and protects their softer mouths from unnecessary harm for those who practice catch and release.
Low Intermediate Budget: $150 - $200
TFO Trout & Panfish + Daiwa Revros LT
The Temple Fork Outfitters Trout & Panfish Rod is an excellent option for anglers looking for a versatile, all-around panfish rod that won’t break the bank. Despite its affordable price, this rod is still a formidable piece of fishing equipment. It features a hefty backbone for an ultralight rod and a super soft, fast tip. The tip enables anglers to impart subtle action to lures—like micro jigs and drop shots—to entice fish into biting, and the power section makes it easy to quickly set the hook and safely land your catch.
The Daiwa Revros LT is a durable and versatile spinning reel that is perfect for finesse fishing applications. Daiwa’s LT (light and tough) platform reels feature carbon bodies that are lightweight yet rigid, so they won’t flex while under a heavy load. This makes them durable and offers anglers plenty of power over aggressive fish.
High Intermediate Budget: $200-$250
Mostly known for their bass-fishing rods, Dobyns also makes rods that cater to the needs of panfish anglers. The Dobyns Sierra Trout & Panfish Rod is a performance-focused spinning rod designed to be used with light line and smaller lures. The graphite blank is lightweight and balanced, and the solid carbon tip is especially sensitive for techniques where you need to feel every bump along the bottom and faint bites from small species of fish. This is a versatile rod that allows anglers to catch more fish whether fishing with micro jigs, spinners, or spoons.
The Daiwa Fuego LT spinning reel stands out at its price point for its weight, smooth performance, and durability. The body is made of a high-density carbon composite that is exceptionally rigid, especially considering how light it is. This makes it lighter than many similarly priced reels, so it excels at fishing with light tackle.
Expert Budget: $250 and Above
Shimano Vanford 2500 + St. Croix Legend Elite Panfish Spinning Rods
The Shimano Vanford is a relatively new spinning reel that is quickly becoming a favorite when it comes to finesse fishing applications. Shimano’s Vanford line replaces the Stradic CI4+ while streamlining it and offering it more sizes.
What makes the Vanford stand out is the lightweight, CI4+ body and the MagnumLite (MGL) rotor. This lightweight body balances well with an ultralight rod, and the lightweight rotor reduces startup inertia—making it easy to maintain the perfect amount of tension on your line; this is especially important when using lightweight lures and light line. The cross-carbon drag system offers anglers plenty of stopping power when fighting aggressive fish—important when using a low-poundage test fishing line.
With the closest attention to detail and finest components, the St. Croix Legend Elite Panfish Spinning Rod has everything that panfish anglers need to make the most of their time out on the water and catch a lot of fish. Rods this light and sensitive require a rod blank with a significantly higher carbon density than heavier graphite rods. This can also make them more brittle. So in order to maintain strength and durability, precisely formulated epoxies are needed to hold them together without adding excess weight.
Along with the advanced epoxying process, the St. Croix Legend Elite uses quality components like lightweight and durable titanium guides and Fuji Torzite inserts which increase casting distance and are highly resistant to damage from the elements.
Hopefully after reading through this list you have found a setup that suits your needs. While this guide speaks to some of the best fishing gear at various price points, as a Curated Fishing Expert, I know that “best” is a subjective term. If you need more help finding gear that’s right for you and your conditions, reach out to me or our team of Experts and we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect fishing gear to be delivered right to your door.