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10 Best Crappie Reels in 2021 (The Ultimate Guide)

Crappie are delicious and immensely fun to catch, but without the right gear, your fishing trip may not yield any results. In this ultimate guide, we cover everything you need to know about the 10 best crappie reels of the year.

Best Overall
Pfleuger President
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Best value
Okuma Ceymar
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Best Premium
Penn Battle III
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Dale Shetler
By Dale Shetler
Updated February 8, 2021
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Crappies are a type of sunfish found all over the United States. They're especially common in lakes where the fish have their pick of vegetation for cover and lots of food. While crappies are on the smaller side and don't put up a big fight, they can be fairly easy to hook, which makes them fun! They're a great catch for beginners or anglers who don't want to work too hard.

To nab this little fish, you'll need the right tackle, including the right fishing reels. A spinning reel is the most popular choice. In this article, we'll describe ten of the best reels for crappie fishing, as well as important buying considerations and frequently asked questions.

Top 10 Best Crappie Reels

1. Pfleuger President Spinning Reel

Best Overall
Pflueger President Spinning Fishing Reel

The Pfleuger President is available in five models with different line diameters and drag pressures. For crappie, we recommend choosing one with a lower model number, which indicates a lighter weight.

The lightest model, the 20, is around 6 ounces, while the heaviest (the 40) is 11.5 ounces. The 20 model is the only one with a 7 ball bearings; the others have 10. Because all the Pfleuger Presidents are meant for light tackle, they could all work for crappie fishing.

All the models come with a graphite body and rotor, as well as a smooth, multi-disc drag system and instant anti-reverse. The bearing system is resistant to corrosion thanks to its stainless steel construction. Because the shaft and handle are stainless steel, they are also corrosion-resistant.

The double-anodized aluminum spool is braid ready. Slow oscillation gearing helps with line lay and line twist. The maximum drag begins at 6 pounds and goes up to 14 pounds for the 40 reel size. All the reels have a 5.2:1 gear ratio. Taking all the features into consideration, this Pfleuger is our pick for the best crappie reel.

Pros:

  • A range of model options all designed for light tackle
  • Stainless steel bearing system, shaft, and handle
  • Braid-ready aluminum spool
  • Affordable price

Cons:

  • Some reviews mention problems with durability, but we couldn't find many issues with this reel! 

2. Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel

Best value
Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel

Looking for a quality reel that offers the best features for the price? The Okuma Ceymar is a great reel for crappie thanks to its light weight and reliability. There are a handful of sizes available, but the C-10 is the best choice for crappie.

It weighs just 6 ounces and works with 2-6 pound mono fishing line. Besides crappie, it's a good choice for trout, sunfish, bluegill, and small perch. It also works for ice fishing. For features, it offers a multi-disc drag system with seven ball bearings and one Quick-Set, anti-reverse roller bearing.

The pinion gear is precision machine-cut brass, while the Blade Body design is corrosion-resistant. This design also reduces the size of the reel, so it's nicely compact and easy to carry around. The 2-tone spool is machined aluminum. The solid aluminum bail wire and over-sized line roller also add to this reel's performance. 

Pros:

  • The rotor system uses Okuma RESII computer balancing for reliable spinning at high speed
  • Excellent build quality like an aluminum handle, spool, and bail wire 
  • The C-10 is designed with crappie fishing in mind

Cons:

  • The 5.0:1 gear ratio is a bit slower than comparable reels, which is most noticeable when you're retrieving longer casts 
  • Reviews suggest some issues with smoothness

3. Penn Battle III Spinning Reel

Best premium
Penn Battle II & III Spinning Fishing Reel

If you're willing to spend some extra cash on a premium crappie spinning reel, the Penn Battle III is one we recommend. With an attractive black and gold design, the reel is more than just looks. Instead of their usual cast gearing system, Penn is now using proprietary CNC-cut gears. This gives the reel better durability and superior smoothness.

The HT-100 carbon fiber drag system is also sealed, so if you fish in saltwater, the gears are well-protected. For crappie fishing, we recommend the Battle III 1000. It has a 5.2:1 gear ratio and 9 pounds of front drag power. It weighs close to 8 pounds, which is on the heavier side. It has five stainless steel ball bearings and an instant anti-reverse bearing, as well.

The Superline spool doesn't require backing, though many anglers will recommend this step. For ease of use, the spool also has line capacity rings marked at 1/3, 2/3, and full capacity. Durable, smooth, and high end, this crappie fishing reel hits the mark. 

Pros:

  • CNC-cut gears equal a great performance
  • Sealed carbon fiber front drag system 
  • Instant anti-reverse
  • Suitable for saltwater

Cons:

  • Expensive, but that's expected for a premium quality reel 
  • One of the heavier reels on this list

4. Cadence CS-8 1000 Spinning Reel

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel

The CS-8 1000 has the most impressive drag system on this list of crappie spinning reels. Thanks to the innovative wave spring drag system, you have the power to adjust your drag power, which goes up to 11 pounds. This gives the reel more versatility for other fish species.

The reel's durability is increased with an aluminum OS gear, main shaft, and pinion gear. The one-piece spool, which holds the carbon fiber drag system, is made from light but strong machined aluminum. It's braid ready. We also like the CMC (carbon-magnesium-carbon) main body.

Unlike regular carbon fiber body reels, the addition of anodized magnesium keeps the reel strong, but light. An ergonomic EVA handle also helps with weight reduction. There are 10 bearings - 9 stainless steel ball bearings and one anti-reverse bearing. The gear ratio is 5.2:1. If a powerful drag is your main priority, this is great fishing reel. 

Pros:

  • Adjustable drag power up to 11 pounds
  • CMC main body that's both light and durable 
  • Ergonomic handle 
  • Ten-bearing system

Cons:

  • We couldn't find any major issues!

5. KastKing Centron 500 Spinning Reel

KastKing Summer and Centron Spinning Reels

The Centron 500 from KastKing is a great ultralight fishing reel that's also excellent during the winter. The body is made from quality materials like anodized CNC aluminum (the spool) and graphite (the frame). The superior drag system, which consists of a hardened metal main shaft, mesh drive gear, and a precision pinion gear, offers up to 11 pounds of drag force.

The bearing system boasts 9 MaxiDur shielded ball bearings. There's one instant stop one-way anti-reverse bearing. Looks aren't everything with a crappie reel, but the KastKing Centron does have a brilliant finish and two-color spool, so you get a nice appearance with a good performance.

Speaking of the spool, it has a power launch lip, which helps with further casting. For ease of use, the reel has a computer balancing system. The gear ratio is 5.2:1, which is common for a crappie spinning reel. The reel weighs close to 7 pounds. Whether you're ice fishing or need a high-quality spinning reel for an ultralight rod, the Centron 500 is a good choice. 

Pros:

  • Compact size that works for crappie ice fishing 
  • Lightweight and durable thanks to CNC aluminum and graphite body
  • Good drag system

Cons:

  • Some reviews indicate some issues with the ball-bearing smoothness

6. Shimano Sahara 1000 FI Spinning Reel

SHIMANO Sahara Fi Spinning Reel

One of the smaller models in the Shimano Sahara FI line, the 1000 fishing reel offers great durability and performance. Features include a 7-pound maximum drag, silky smoothness, and X-Ship and Hagene gearing.

The X-ship gears are impressive, with a pinion gear supported by bearings on both sides. There's reduced friction, which makes it easy to cast longer distances with the lighter lures typically used for crappies. The Hagene gear system, which reduces the need to machine-cut the gears, gives you a high-quality crappie reel for a better price.

Shimano uses a unique cold-forged 3D cutting technology instead of traditional machine cutting. For ease of use, the reel has a G-free body, which moves the reel's center of gravity closer to rod. This improves comfort and makes it easy to fish without fatigue.

The reel weighs 7.6 ounces and has a 5.0:1 gear ratio. There are four ball bearings and one roller bearing. As for construction, it's made with a graphite frame, rotor, and side plate. 

Pros:

  • Impressive X-ship and Hagene gearing
  • Less fatigue when fishing for a while 
  • No friction when casting

Cons:

  • No anti-reverse system

7. Daiwa QZ Ultralight Spinning Reel

Daiwa QZ Ultralight Spinning Reel

The best crappie reel will be on the light side, but we liked this Daiwa QZ for an ultralight option. The 750 size in particular is a great choice for anyone targeting panfish or trout. It's also a good fit for ice fishing. It weighs just over 5 ounces and balances well with ultralight rods.

The spool, which is made from aluminum, works best with a 4-6 pound mono line or a 6-8 pound braided line. There are six ball bearings to ensure a smooth performance. Another reason why this reel is good with ice? It has a premium cork handle that helps your hands stay warm.

For anglers packing light, you'll appreciate the aluminum folding handle, which makes the reel easy to pack and store. The 5.1:1 gear ratio works for either lure or bait fishing, while the 5-pound drag is sufficient for catching crappies. 

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to pack or store
  • An excellent fit for ultralight rods

Cons:

  • It's so lightweight, it can't really be used for many fish on the heavier side

8. Lew's Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker 100

Lew's Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker 100 Spinning Reel

Looking for a budget reel? The Mr. Crappie Slab Shaker 100 offers all the necessary features for a low price. It has a graphite body, rotor, and spool, which gives the reel good sensitivity and durability.

This material also helps keep the reel nice and light, so it weighs under 7 ounces. The spool comes pre-spooled with premium 6-pound Mr. Crappie mono fishing line. Other features include a 2-bearing construction and a thin, compact gear box. It has a gear ratio of 5.2:1, which is a good fit for crappie fishing. Because of its compact size and low price, it's one of the best crappie reels for kids or for anglers looking to add a cheap reel to their tackle box.

Thanks to the line already being spooled and ready to go, there's very little prep involved to start fishing right away. If you're looking for something really simple, the Slab Shaker 100 is a good choice.

Pros:

  • Good gear ratio
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Good graphite construction

Cons:

  • Might be too basic for more experienced anglers 
  • Due to the price, the gear parts aren't that high-quality 
  • Some reviews mentioned problems with the pre-spooled fishing line

9. Sougayilang Fishing Reel SC1000

Sougayilang Fishing Reel, Colorful Ultralight Spinning Reels with Graphite Frame

While crappie are mostly freshwater fish, you can find saltwater crappie in rivers, creeks, and other waters fed by salty water from the sea. You'll need a reel designed to withstand corrosion. We chose the Sougayilang SC1000 as our pick for the best crappie reel for saltwater.

It represents an upgrade on older generations. Thanks to the main gear drive made from zinc alloy and a solid brass pinion gear, you can expect superior smoothness. Smoothness is also achieved with 12 corrosion-resistant ball bearings and a single instant stop one-way anti-reverse bearing.

The carbon drag system provides more than enough force to handle crappies and leaves a cushion for other species you might catch. As for the rest of the reel's construction, it boasts a lightweight graphite frame with a computer balancing system and an aircraft-grade aluminum braid-ready spool. The gear ratio is 6.0:1. You can fish comfortably with the Super Polymer handle knobs. 

Pros:

  • Durable corrosion-resistant construction suitable for saltwater
  • Great carbon fiber drag system 
  • Attractive appearance

Cons:

  • Some reviews indicate issues with line management

10. Tempo Apex-1000 Spinning Reel

Tempo Apex Spinning Reel, Ultralight Premium Magnesium Body

Just beause the Tempo Apex is last, it doesn't mean it isn't impressive. This last crappie reel has all the features you could need. The magnesium frame is both light and strong. The main shaft and pinion gear are also durable thanks to aircraft-grade aluminum.

This creates a product that's strong, but not heavy, which is exactly what you want for a crappie reel. The Apex-1000 weighs just over 6 ounces. The Japanese bearing system has 10 ball bearings and 1 roller bearing, giving you smooth retrievals.

The handle is also crafted from high-quality aluminum and can be used by either your right or left hand. For comfortable hours of fishing, there are EVA handles. The sealed drag system has carbon fiber drag washers and an impressive 12-pound drag force.

To reduce line twists and knots, the spool has a special lip design. You can get great casts with the one-piece bail. Prefer braided line? The spool is designed for that. The Tempo Apex 1000 has a 5.2:1 gear ratio, making it a good choice for a crappie reel. 

Pros:

  • Light and durable construction 
  • 10+1 Japanese bearing system provides great performance while crappie fishing 
  • Sealed drag system 
  • EVA handles

Cons:

  • We couldn't find any major issues with this fishing reel!

Things to Consider When Buying Crappie Reels

We presented our favorite ten reels for crappie fishing, but what are the features every angler should look out for? Shopping can be overwhelming. There are countless crappie reels on the market with all kinds of specifications. Knowing what buying considerations matter most helps you identify the reels that can make a big difference in your success.

Here's what you should check out before making a choice:

Weight 

When crappie fishing, light or even ultralight tackle is a great choice. That includes a light rod, lure, line, and reel. If it's too heavy, long hours of fishing can get awkward and painful. Light reels, on the other hand, make your tackle easy to carry and use.

Balancing the rod and reel is very important. While you can - in theory - use a larger reel for crappie on a light rod, it can make it harder to fish. No matter what species you're fishing for, a balanced rod and reel combo is essential. In our list of reels, we always included the weight, which is measured in ounces. You can find more options for ultralight spinning reels here

Spools and gear ratio

Gear Ratio Infographic

The spool is the part of the reel that holds the fishing line. It affects distance and the smoothness of your casts. Spools on spinning rods sit perpendicular to and underneath the rod. Each time you turn the handle, the spool spins a certain amount of times.

This is measured by a gear ratio. As an example, if a reel has a ratio gear ratio of 5.0:1, this means the spool spins five times with each turn of the handle. For crappie fishing reels, a gear ratio in the middle range - such as 5.2:1 - will work just fine. 

Line capacity

Line capacity refers to how much fishing line a spool can hold without getting overloaded. Generally, crappies don't drag out your line forever, so you won't need a huge spool. Most lightweight crappie reels have enough line capacity.

A fishing line's diameter goes up with its strength, which means higher test lines take up more of the spool. A reel that can hold 160 yards of 30-pound test monofilament will hold less when you use a 40-pound test line.

Most fishing reels include line capacities for both mono and braided lines. Generally, a reel's braided line capacity is higher than mono. 

Materials and durability

What's the reel made of? If it has poor construction, it won't be very durable and won't serve you long. You want to take a close look at build quality. You can find reels in a variety of materials such as steel, plastic, carbon, aluminum, and magnesium.

Carbon and graphite (which is a type of carbon) is a nice choice because it's both strong and lightweight. Graphite is less sturdy than metal, however, and more likely to rust. Metal, like aluminum or magnesium, is also strong and lightweight. These materials have the benefit of corrosion resistance, so they're good for both saltwater and freshwater fishing.

Die-cast aluminum is probably the best, but can be expensive. Steel isn't great, so there are fewer and fewer reels using this material because it's heavy and easily rusts. 

Ball bearings

ball bearings and fishing reel smoothness

Ball bearings are in place to help circular wheels move with as little friction as possible. In a fishing reel, the ball bearings are there to help the spool and handle of the reel operate in a silky-smooth movement.

The smoother the spool, the farther your casting distance. Line retrieval is also much easier with a good ball bearing system. Most good reels have at least five ball bearings, but you can find some reels with many more. Quantity doesn't always mean quality, though.

Stainless steel ball bearings are the best, so if you find a reel with just a handful of ball bearings, but they're stainless steel, you're probably good. Cheaper reels often use chrome. You'll most likely see one roller bearing on a good reel, too. Roller bearings are made from rollers instead of balls. 

Drag system

"Drag" refers to the pressure put on the spool to get it to stop releasing your line. Instead, the reel will start moving backward. Drag serves two main purposes: it stops tension so your line doesn't reach its breaking point and it puts pressure on the fish, tiring it out and letting you reel it in.

The drag system is very important on a spinning reel. If the drag is too "sticky," your line can easily break when you hook a strong fish. On the best spinning reels, a smooth drag prevents broken lines and lost fish. Look for easily adjustable buttons and knobs, as well as metal drag washers. Drag systems are either positioned behind the reel or on the front of the spool.

Rear drags are easy to get to, but not as effective as front drag systems. One downside with a front drag system is that you do lose some accessibility. Some high price point reels have waterproof and sealed drag systems, but most freshwater anglers don't need them. 

Anti-reverse 

The purpose of the anti-reverse switch on your reel is right in its name. It stops your reel from reversing and letting out more line. It's useful when a crappie bites and starts to swim away, taking your line out.

Usually, the drag kicks in right away and your reel starts moving backward so the line doesn't snap. Engaging the anti-reverse stops the handle from turning backward. This lets you fight the fish with a tensed line.

By having a switch, you get to choose if you want to use the tension from your drag system or not. Anti-reverse is a classic technique that works well with smaller fish. The best crappie reels let you turn the switch off or on as you prefer.

 Frequently Asked Questions

Man holding a crappie in his hand

Are spinning reels better than baitcasters for crappie?

There are different kinds of fishing reels used for different scenarios. Spinning reels and baitcasters are common.

The main difference is where the reel sits on a rod. Spinning reels are perpendicular to the rod and underneath it, while baitcasting reels rest on top of the rod with their spool parallel. For crappie fishing, spinning reels have several benefits.

First, they're a better fit for lighter fish (like crappie), light lines, and lightweight lures. Spinning reels are also easier to use, especially for beginners. You can easily switch between left and right-hand orientations.

Baitcasters are best for heavier lines, lures, and fish, so they're worth investigating if you want to expand your skills. For crappie, we only included spinning reels on our list. 

What rod should I pair my spinning reel with for crappie?

Most rod and reel combos work for crappie fishing. Which one works for you depends a lot on where you're fishing and the water's depth. First, you'll need to know the different types of fishing rods out there. If you're an experienced angler, you'll already be familiar.

Essentially all rods are either baitcasting rods or spinning rods. Since we've already explained that spinning reels work best for crappie, a spinning rod gives you the best performance.

You'll want to consider factors like strength, power, and length. For most crappie anglers, an ultralight spinning rod is the way to go. 

Looking for some guidance on the perfect rod for crappie? Check out our article here

What is the best line for crappie fishing?

There are three main types of fishing line: monofilament, braided, and fluorocarbon. Monofilament, which is made from one strand of synthetic fiber, is the most common fishing line. It is versatile and cheap.

On the downside, it's the most visible type of line and absorbs water. Braided line is made from two types of nylon. While it shares some similarities to mono, it's stronger, sinks faster, and has less memory, which helps with kinks.

If you choose braided line, a braid ready spool is very helpful. Fluorocarbon line, the most expensive fishing line, is barely visible and holds up the best to wear and tear. It's trickier to work with, however, so it's often used as a leader.

So, which line works best for crappie fishing? Factors like weight, visibility, and flexibility (how easy is it to tie knots) matter, but in general, any line could work. For most anglers, monofilament is strong enough and easy to use.

Fluorocarbon, while more expensive, is also a good choice especially if you're fishing in deeper waters and want your line to sink. Braided line is much less popular.

Crappies have famously delicate mouths (they're nicknamed "paper mouths") and braided lines can rip right through them. Because of its price, ease of use, and benefits, we believe mono is an excellent choice. 

How deep do you fish for crappie?

Crappie can be found at various depths throughout the water column. They also love hiding in cover and hanging around underwater structures.

During their spring spawn, the depth they like depends on water clarity. If it's muddy, you can find them in shallow waters. If the water is really clear, take a boat out to 20+ feet. After spawning, they'll stay around this depth in heavily-covered areas.

In the later afternoon and dusk, they tend to move closer to the shore to eat. Keep in mind that post-spawn crappie are trickier to catch because they're more spread out. They like drop-offs, weedy areas, and timber. In the winter, crappies stay in deeper water, typically at least 25-feet.

They suspend themselves based on water temperature. How deep you're fishing plays a part in the best tackle and techniques, so remember that's a consideration when you're developing your game fish strategy. 

Conclusion

caught crappie fish on the grass with a fishing rod

Crappie fishing offers a lot of fun for any angler, including a beginner. Found in a variety of places, these freshwater fish are small, pretty easy to catch, and tasty. For the best chance of success, the right tackle is essential, including a great fishing reel.

We explored ten of our favorites that offer features like a superior drag system, corrosion-resistant materials, a graphite rotor, and more. Whether you're looking for the best value, high end, or budget reel, there are great brands out there.

The Pfleuger President is our pick for the best overall crappie spinning reel. When shopping for reels, keep in mind considerations like weight, line capacity, gear ratio, durability, and drag.

The balance between a reel and your rod is also important, so we recommend ultralight and light rods. For your fishing line, mono is the best choice for its low price tag, lightness, and versatility. Good luck! 

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