What Are The Top Rod And Reel Combos For Catfish In 2021?


by Robert Ceran

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If you’re  looking for a good rod and reel combo for catfish, make sure you choose gear that’s heavy enough for the job.

You need extra power for this kind of fishing, even if you’re just targeting small 3-4 pound channel cats, since there’s always a chance of running into a 30 pound blue or flathead cat.

This can happen faster than you think, since they often overlap in habitat, and tend to like the same bait presentations. So you don’t want to be stuck fighting a monster fish on light spinning gear. 

Ideally, a good catfish combo should be sensitive enough to enjoy catching smaller fish, but it should also have enough backbone to handle a really big fish as well.

Here we review the top 6 rod and reel combos for catfish that cover all requirements to handle a wide range of fish sizes.

Best rod and reel combo for catfish in 2021 reviewed

BrandImagePriceRod sizeReel sizeOur verdict
Abu Garcia Catfish Commando comboAbu Garcia Catfish Commando7' medium heavy6000Best lightweight option for channel cats
Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 comboUgly stik gx27' medium heavy3500Best budget lightweight option
Penn Battle II comboPenn battle 28' medium power5000Best medium weight all round option
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S comboAbu Garcia Ambassadeur8.6' medium heavy6500Best medium weight option with baitcaster
Penn Passion spinning comboPenn Fierce III8' medium heavy5000Best for beginners
Zebco Big Cat spinning comboZebco Big Cat10' medium heavy 8000Best heavy option for big catfish

While all of the combinations above are strong enough to handle catfish, some of them are on the light side, and thus best for smaller fish, and some are heavier, and thus ideal for targeting bigger fish. 

Let’s look at these differences in more detail.

1. Abu Garcia Catfish Commando combo

This combination by Abu Garcia comes with either a baitcaster or a spinning reel. Many anglers prefer baitcasters, since they enable longer casting distances than spinners. 

In addition, the round spool baitcaster design can hold more line than a spinner of comparable size, which can be very helpful if you want to make sure that a big fish doesn’t take all your line during the battle.

On the downside, however, baitcasters are a lot harder to master for beginners (for more details on this, check out our article comparing the pros and cons of baitcasters vs spinning reels). So if you’re just getting started, it’s probably better to get the combination with a spinner, so you can focus on catching fish.

The 7 foot pole has moderate fast action which results in excellent casting performance. The 6000 size spinner, or the 6500 size baitcaster (depending on which variant you choose), have plenty of drag power and line capacity to handle strong fish.

Overall, this is the best lightweight catfish option that works very well for catching small to medium sized fish.


  • 1-piece 7’ rod
  • Medium heavy pole with moderate fast action
  • Composite material
  • Split grip EVA handle
  • Up to 11 lb drag power

Recommended size:

  • 7 foot medium heavy power

2. Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 rod and spinning reel combo

Photo of Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2

If you want to use the Ugly Stik GX2 to target cats, you should choose the 7 foot medium heavy size, which is the heaviest option in this series.

The 7’ medium heavy is a one-piece graphite and fiberglass combination that has a sensitive tip plus strong backbone. The sensitive tip is great if you’re fishing for small channel cats, since you’ll still be able to feel them put up a fight. 

At the same time, the backbone of the pole is strong enough to handle fairly big fish, and can even deadlift a 30 pound object without breaking. With that kind of power, you don’t need to worry about breaking your gear if you hook into a trophy sized fish, though this isn’t the best option for that purpose.

The medium heavy size comes with a 3500 size spinning that has 3 ball bearings, and works well with either 6-15 lb braid or 6-10 lb mono (for more info on the ideal pound test to use, check our spinning reel size guide). The 5.2:1 gear ratio is medium speed, which is perfect for fighting strong fish that don’t want to come to the net.

Overall, this is the best budget lightweight option for catching small catfish. It’s ideal if you want to focus on channel cats, since it offers enough sensitivity for this species, while still being strong enough just in case you run into a big fish. 

For more details on the rod of this combination, check out our review on Ugly Stik GX2 vs Elite.


  • 1-piece rod with enough backbone to handle big catfish
  • Graphite & fiberglass combination results in strength plus sensitivity
  • Clear tip is useful for spotting bites
  • 3 ball bearings
  • 5.2:1 medium gear ratio

Recommended size:

  • 7 foot medium heavy size with 3500 spinning reel

3. Penn Battle II combo with 5000 reel and 8 foot casting rod

Photo of penn battle 2

This Penn Battle 2 reel is part of of our selection for the best spinning reel under 100, and its superior quality is part of the reason why this is such a great combination.

It was actually designed for surf fishing, but provides exactly the right combination of power and casting ability required for catching medium to big catfish from the shore.

See also: best Penn spinning reel.

The Penn Battle 2 surf casting combination is ideal for catching strong fish. It comes with a powerful two-piece 8 foot pole with moderate fast action. This combination of length and action are excellent for long range casting, which is essential if you want to cast a large bait for cats from shore. 

This combo provides you with the quality of Penn fishing reels, and comes with 5 plus 1 stainless steel ball bearings and instant anti reverse. The carbon fiber drag system has enough power to handle extended battles with trophy sized fish, and the 5000 size is ideal for loading braided line up to 30 pounds test, so you’ll have all the strength you need for the task.

Overall, this is the best medium weight combination that performs reasonably well for catching both small and large fish, and thus is the best allround option on this list.


  • 2-piece 8’ casting rod
  • Graphite composite blank
  • Full metal body, sideplate and rotor is highly durable
  • Braid ready spool
  • Powerful carbon fiber drag

Recommended size:

  • 8 foot medium power size with 5000 spinning reel

4. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S Combo

Photo of Abu Garcia Ambassadeur S

Similar to the Penn Battle 2, this is another medium weight combination that works well for both small and large fish, but it comes with a baitcaster instead of a spinner. As mentioned above, some anglers prefer baitcasters, and so we wanted to give you a second option in the medium size class with a baitcaster. 

See also: best round baitcasting reel.

The baitcaster comes with 2 stainless steel ball bearings, and delivers superior performance with a powerful drag system that can handle up to 11 lb pressure. You should choose the following size combination: 8.6 foot rood with the 6500 baitcaster, which is an excellent medium weight solution.


  • 2-piece 8.6’ casting rod
  • 24 ton graphite composite blank
  • Cork handle
  • Braid ready spool
  • Powerful drag system 

Recommended size:

  • 8.6 foot medium heavy size with 6500 baitcaster

5. Penn Passion spinning combo

Photo of Penn Fierce III live liner

This is another great combo from Penn that was originally designed for saltwater fishing, but it’s also perfect for catching catfish.

Blue cats  and flatheads are the biggest freshwater fish species found in North America, and on top of that they are strong fighters that like to put up a determined and prolonged struggle before you can land them. Because of this, you need to upgrade to heavy gear if you want to pursue them successfully.

The 8 foot pole combined with the 5000 reel make this a great all around combo, which is ideal for beginners. So if you are new to this type of fishing, and are looking to catch your first catfish, then this is the right combination for you.

The long pole enables increased casting distance, and also helps to control a really big fish on the other end of the line, should you hook into a monster. The 5000 size spinner can easily handle up to 40 pound test braid, which is necessary for battling monster sized fish.

Overall, this is the best option for beginners.


  • 2-piece 10’ casting rod
  • Graphite composite blank
  • Split grip EVA handle
  • 4 stainless steel ball bearings
  • Braid ready spool
  • HT-100 carbon fiber drag

Recommended size:

  • 10 foot heavy power size combined with 8000 spinning reel

6. Zebco Big Cat spinning combo with 10 foot rod

This is the heaviest combo on our list, and is ideal for catching big fish, and while it’s not quite as impressive as the Penn Passion, it also comes at a much lower price, making it the best budget option for pursuing big catfish.

You can choose four different sizes when you get this combination, but if you want to use it for big cats, be sure to choose the 8000 size reel with the 10 foot pole. This gives you a similar amount of power to the Penn Fierce III Live Liner, but at less than half the price.

You can also use this combination for saltwater applications, like striper fishing. The rod comes with a high visibility glow tip, which helps to notice even subtle bites. The gear ratio of the 8000 size is 5.0:1, and it can handle up to 50 pound test braid. 

Overall, this is the best budget option if you want to target big cats.


  • 2-piece 10’ casting rod
  • High visibility glow tip
  • Split grip EVA handle
  • 1 ball bearing
  • Stainless steel rod guides

Recommended size:

  • 10 foot medium heavy power size combined with 8000 spinning reel


This concludes our review of the best rod and reel combo for catfish. Which one is best for your purpose depends a lot on which species you want to target, what size you want to focus on, as well as your budget of course. 

If you’re going to be catching mostly channel cats, then one of the lighter options is good for you. But if you want to pull in some of the monster blues or flatheads, then you definitely need to go for one of the heavy options.

Tight lines and see you on the water!

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