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Ice fishing for panfish is a thrill! Keep reading to learn how to select the best ice fishing reel for panfish.

What to know when ice fishing for panfish

Anglers do not agree on the definition of panfish! However, they do agree that they are tons of fun to catch.

The term “panfish” has different meanings depending on who you ask. Some say that panfish are fish that can easily fit in a frying pan, while other experts maintain that only specific species fit into the panfish category.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to stick to the generally assumed, inclusive nature of the word. 

The Outdoor Writers Association of America defines panfish as, “Any of a variety of species of fish that resemble the shape of a frying pan, thus the name.” 

We will discuss panfish as loosely regarding several breeds of small fish, most of which can easily fit into a frying pan. This term often includes crappie, perch, sunfish, and other small fish species.

Technological advancements for ice fishing

The ice fishing technology scene has exploded over the last ten to fifteen years.

Most avid anglers have put away their plastic buckets to now focus on using sonar and GPS units to hunt the fish before they even drop a line.

You can drill over a dozen holes, know the fishing climate below the ice, and wait to present your jig until you know what you could be reeling in.

Ice fishing technological advancements greatly reduce the amount of time you sit in wait and increase the likelihood of reeling in a fine catch.

While panfish have similar characteristics on the surface, they have very different patterns of movement and behavior.

To have the best chances of success, you need to understand the differences among the species of panfish.


There are always plenty of sunfish to go around. Their great strength makes them super fun to fish, and, as they fight your line with circular motions, they can put the most pressure on your drag when compared to the other species of panfish.

They are also the most likely to bite during the day, but their feeding drops off after sunset.

If you are knowledgeable about the water conditions and composition of the lake, you can easily locate the massive bull sunfish. 

To go after the big guys, look in muddy bays and flats. They don’t typically prefer tall weeds.

Sunfish are most likely to be found in mid-depth ranges between 12 to 16 feet under.

Over the course of the ice fishing season, you will move from fishing the shoreline to spots in the center of the lake.

Some anglers boast high levels of success with sunfish by using horizontal jigs.


Crappie are the easiest to locate out of the fish we are discussing because you can usually find them in deep basin areas. However, the ease of locating them doesn’t necessarily make them easier to catch. 

Crappie are notoriously overfished, and they prefer to feed in tight windows.

This can make your job of catching them much more difficult since you must compete with other anglers and drop your jig at exactly the right time.

The height of their feeding cycle generally hits between midnight and 2 in the morning, so you also have to be a night owl or a very early riser to catch them at their peak.

Anglers often overlook the prospect of finding crappie in among the weed in the winter. Here, sonar is rendered useless, and you have to rely on more guesswork.

However, once you locate a school, you may have a feeding frenzy all to yourself!

If you are short on luck fishing in the main lake, try a few holes near coontail or cabbage, and fish 6 to 8 feet down.

You will not need live bait to fish for crappies along the weeds, but your best time period for success usually falls during the early and late parts of the season when oxygen levels are increased.


Perch are some of the most aggressive fish under the ice, which leads big catches and a lot of fun for you!

They are especially active in the late season when the insect larvae are beginning to move.

For best results, fish in muddy areas in depths of 15 to 25 feet.

Or, you can fish in shallower, grassy areas, fishing 6 to 12 feet below. Here, perch love to feed on crayfish. You may even be able to fish through the hole without using sonar.

What to look for in an ice fishing reel for panfish

To successfully ice fish for panfish, you are going to want a light reel and line. Your best bet in a reel for panfish ice fishing  is to combine an inline reel with a 2 pound test line.

A lightweight reel will add to the fun of fighting with and reeling in small fish such as crappie or sunfish.

And, using a revolving spool will make handling the super light lines even better.

You really need the capability to release the spool and drop you jig. When you are using super light lures, an inline reel is essential for minimizing line twists and dropping your line.

Best ice fishing reel for panfish

If you’re looking for the best reel for ice fishing panfish, there are a number of products that may work well for your next fishing adventure. We’ve highlighted just a few options below.

KastKing Summer and Centron Spinning Reels, 9 +1 BB Light Weight, Ultra Smooth Powerful, Size 500 is Perfect for Ultralight/Ice Fishing

The KastKing Centron 500 is packed with features typically only found in a much higher price range; it is a great value!

Its lightweight, slender design paired with computerized balancing provide high performance in a small package.

The 500 size reel is the optimal size to combine with ice fishing rods.

Even though the Centron 500 is a small build, it doesn’t sacrifice power. This spinning reel’s drag system packs stopping power up to 17.5 lbs!

This is possible due to the main shaft built of hardened metal, tough mesh drive gear, and machined pinion gear.

With the 9 high quality ball bearings and immediate stoppage using a one-way anti-reverse bearing, this reel has very smooth casting performance.

Its attractive finish makes this reel a must-have item. Complete with a strong, two toned anodized aluminum spool and a power launch lip, the Centron 500 can cast further and contain more line than the competition.

And, this reel will last for many ice fishing seasons with its high tensile strength, corrosion resisting frame.

Whether you are right or left handed, this reel will have you dragging in tons of panfish.

View at Amazon to learn more about this reel.

Features of the Centron 500:

  • Great value package
  • Lightweight, compact reel balanced for ice fishing
  • Highly attractive to panfish
  • 9 + 1 anti-reverse ball bearing system for smooth casting and instantaneous stops
  • High quality, durable components, tensile strength, and design
  • Shaft of hardened metal, tough mesh drive gear, and machined pinion gear
  • Anodized aluminum spool with power launch lip
  • 17.5 lbs drag system
  • Right and left hand interchangeable
  • Corrosion resistant frame
  • Attractive finish

Frabill 690701 Reel Straightline 371 Bro Clam Pack

Frabill has provided superior fishing product since 1938, and the 690701 Reel Straightline 371 Bro Clam Pack reflects the high quality reels they’ve been building for generations.

Tested in all weather conditions, this performance-driven reel will hold strong even in subzero temperatures.

With a 3:7:1 reel ratio with 22” line retrieval per turn, you can count on a very smooth drag and quick anti-reverse stopping.

It has a 5 + 1 ball bearing system with ultra-fine free spooling technology.

The design can work with any casting situation whether you have large, heavy gloves, or if you prefer to palm the reel.

Using the free spool with excellent drag control, you can drop the lightest jigs successfully below the ice and reel in tough fish of any size. The super light aluminum spool also minimizes line twists.

You can trust Frabill to take care of all of your ice fishing needs, from ice shelters to landing nets, rods, and reels.

View at Amazon for more information on how this reel might work for ice fishing.


  • Tested and approved for all weather conditions
  • Strong, performance driven reel
  • Will not freeze, even when the temperature plummets
  • 3:7:1 reel ratio with 22” line retrieval per revolution
  • Smooth drag and instant anti-reverse features
  • Great for any casting scenario
  • Free spool with precision drag control
  • Aluminum spool eliminates twists in the line
  • Experience building ice fishing equipment since 1938

13 Fishing Creed GT Spinning Reel

The 13 Fishing Creed GT 3000 Spinning Reel is the pinnacle of the Creed series, adding more power than the Creed X. 

It has a faster 6.2:1 gear ratio and reels in your line faster than its counterparts. 

It’s lighter, too, with the addition of the AirFoil carbon rotor and minimized handle.

With the carbon 6 disk drag and CNC flat line management systems, the backing knots can sit evenly within the spool. This allows for better line management and a smoother cast.

Japanese Hamai cut gearing gives you a high quality design that can handle all of your ice fishing catches.

And, Evolve EVA tech knobs allow for an even lighter build with higher quality comfort and durability.

The corrosion resistant drivetrain, precision engineered design, and advanced technology give you a reel that will enhance your ice fishing memories and competitions.

View at Amazon for more information on how this product may work for your next ice fishing adventure.

Highlights of the 13 Fishing Creed GT 3000 Spinning Reel:

  • Gives you more power than the Creed X with a lightweight build
  • Extremely fast 6.2:1 gear ratio
  • AirFoil carbon rotor and streamlined handle for a sleek, light design
  • Carbon 6 disk drag system
  • Advanced CNC flat line management system for better line management and fluid casting
  • Japanese Hamai precision cut gearing
  • Durable, rugged design that will last through all of your ice fishing trips
  • Good for rough handling
  • Evolve EVA technology for a lightweight, comfortable grip
  • Corrosion resistant drivetrain
  • Advanced engineering

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