There are fish and then there are cats.

As any man will tell you, tying into a flathead or big blue is an exhilarating experience. It’ll test your rod and reel as well as your line and hook-like nothing else.

Although some may argue that catfishermen are different, one thing is certain: A good combination of a catfish rod-reel combo is a great choice!

Cats require a strong rod. Professional catfish guides Chad Ferguson recommend that you use fiberglass or fiberglass composites instead of lighter, less sensitive, and more fragile carbon fiber and graphite. When you reach trophy-sized cats, it’s almost mandatory to switch to traditional reels.

A combination of sharks, tuna, or sailfish can be required by a really large blue or flathead. This is a far cry than what we normally expect in freshwater.

We’re here to help if you aren’t sure what could fit the bill.

Below are review and buying guides for some of the top catfish rods and reel combinations.

Combinations of Catfish Spinning

  • Ugly Stik GX2 Fishing Rod & Reel Combo
  • KastKing Centron Spinning Reel and Rod Combo
  • Pflueger President Spinning Reel & Fishing Rod Combo
  • Zebco BiteAlert Spinning Rod & Reel Combo

Catfish Conventional Combos

  • Penn Squall 40 Lever Drag Rod & Reel Combo
  • Penn Squall 50 Lever Drag Rod & Reel Combo

The Best Catfish Rod and Reel Combos – Reviewed

Combinations of Catfish Spinning

Ugly Stik GX2 Fishing Rod & Reel Combo

Drag: N/A

The ratio of gears: 5.1.1

Line capacity:12/280, 14/215, and 17/195

Bearings 3 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: N/A

Length 7

Material Composite graphite/fiberglass

Power/action medium-heavy

Size of the lure: 1/4 to 5/8 oz.

Line weight: 8-20 lbs

Handle: continuous EVA foam

Guides 5 + 1 stainless steel

Pieces 1

Shakespeare’s Ugly Stiks are well-known for their bomb-proof durability. This is due in large part to their mastery of fiberglass rod manufacturing techniques. GX2 adds graphite to its core, making this 7-inch medium-heavy combination suitable for cats of all sizes.

Let’s begin with the rod.

The composite construction of this rod will not let you down. Stiks can be tough. This medium-heavy rod is well-equipped for long castings and has a strong backbone that will make heads turn.

Anglers who are inclined to use large lure sizes and heavy mono lines can run very thick braids to increase their security against big blues or flatheads. It’s sensitive enough not to pick up strikes from small channel cats so it’s easy to fill a cooler with fish fry.

This makes the rod ideal for all-around use. Even if it were available in heavy power I don’t think I would prefer it for three-species men.

The guides of this Stik are made from well-polished stainless and protect the line from friction.

Shakespeare’s reel won’t be a serious challenge to Shimano or Pflueger, but it will get the job done. Although they refuse to release statistics like weight and maximum drag, there is enough weight to perform 20-pound mono. The gearing is strong enough to withstand hard fights but not with the finesse or aplomb of better gear.

It’s smooth enough to cast long distances but powerful enough to handle big cats. This reel is a great deal for the price. You can always buy a new reel if it begins to wear and feel like you got your money’s worth.


  • Great, long-lasting blank
  • Excellent sensitivity
  • Casts of great quality
  • You have enough backbone to defeat big cats
  • Guides that are reliable and get the job done
  • This reel is quite good


  • ?? ??

KastKing Centron Spinning Reel and Rod Combo

KastKing Centron Spinning Combos,6ft Medium-Split Handle,2000 Reel

Drag: Maximum weight 17.5 lbs. Maximum

The ratio of gears: 4.5:1 (29.1″ per turn)

Line capacity: 12/330, 16/245

Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: 13.5 oz

Length 8
Material IM6 graphite


Size of the lure: 1/4 to 1/2 oz.
Line weight: 15-30 lb
Handle: Split EVA foam

Guides 8 + 1 stainless steel

Pieces 2

KastKing wants to be the leader in high-quality, affordable reels. The Centron is the core of this combo.

It has more than 17 pounds worth of reliable, smooth drag. This can be used to control any cat, even the largest. It casts well, is smooth, and feels great to fish with.

I am impressed by a heavy spinning reel!

This 8-foot KastKing rod pairs well with this reel. It makes me worry about what could happen if I tie it into a trophy or flathead.

Although the blank is strong and the guides are good, I would be concerned about repeated strains from a true bruiser. Graphite is not designed to withstand abuse. A few hard whacks with a gunnel or pier, and an invisible crack, and you’ve got a rod that’s broken in a bad fight.

This rod would be great in fiberglass or fiberglass composite. However, it is not designed for catfishing. Overall, the reel is great, but I would rather use the Ugly Stik combo to catch big fish.


  • Amazing reel
  • Amazing capacity
  • Amazing drag
  • Very smooth
  • Excellent sensitivity
  • You have enough backbone to defeat big cats
  • OK guides


  • The rod is adequate and graphite is not the best for cats.

Pflueger President Spinning Reel & Fishing Rod Combo

KastKing Centron Spinning Combos,6ft Medium-Split Handle,2000 Reel

Drag: Maximum weight: 14 lb Maximum weight

Ratio of gears5. 2:1

Line capacity: 10/320, 14/280, and 20/200

Bearings 9 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: N/A

Length 7

Material IM8 graphite

Power/action medium

Size of the lure:1/8 to 5/8 Oz

Line weight:6-12 lbs

Handle: Full cork

Guides 7 + 1 stainless steel

Pieces 1

Pflueger is a name we all can trust and their reels have a rightful legend.

Pflueger arm this combo with an outstanding President reel. You can rely on smooth, strong drags, great casting power, generous capacities, even when using heavy mono, and plenty of cranking power.

It’s the best spinning reel we have reviewed, and it’s a great deal for the price.

This reel and the rod Pflueger uses to remind me a lot of KastKing. It also has its faults. It’s great for channel cats as it is sensitive and casts well. However, as I get closer to the larger females of both species, I feel more worried.

High-modulus graphite works better with smaller fish. The casual catfisherman might be happy with this rod. But the true trophy hunter will be disappointed.

This Pflueger would be a great addition to the Ugly Stik!


  • Excellent reel
  • Amazing capacity
  • Amazing drag
  • Very smooth
  • Excellent sensitivity
  • OK guides


  • The rod is adequate and graphite is not the best for cats.

Zebco BiteAlert Spinning Rod & Reel Combo

KastKing Centron Spinning Combos,6ft Medium-Split Handle,2000 Reel

Drag: 16 lb. Maximum 16 lbs

The ratio of gears: 4.9:1 (32″ per turn)

Line capacity: 20/210

Bearings 1 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: N/A



Power/action medium-heavy

Size of the lure:1-8 oz

Line weight:17-50 lb

Handle: Split EVA foam

Guides N/A

Pieces 2

While everyone knows Zebco, not everyone is aware that they are aggressively entering the spinning market. They have decades of experience and are making the right moves.

Zebco’s BiteAlert was designed specifically for cats. It is a fiberglass rod that will not give up, just like the Stik. The 7-foot medium-heavy rod is strong enough to handle big cats and sensitive enough for smaller ones. It casts and loads well and is second only to Ugly Stik if it does play second fiddle.

Here’s the problem. Zebco is essentially a reel manufacturer so you would expect them to make a better reel than a cast. The reel’s gears are either made of plastic or pot metal and don’t stand up to larger cats.

This combo is a winner in my book, and I am sorry. Overall, I believe Shakespeare edged it out.

Catfish Conventional Combos

Penn Squall 40 Lever Drag Rod & Reel Combo

KastKing Centron Spinning Combos,6ft Medium-Split Handle,2000 Reel

DragMaximum weight: 18 lb. Maximum

Gear ratio: 5.1:1 (37″ per turn)

Line capacity:30/360

Bearings5 + 1

Weight: N/A


Power/action medium

Size of the lure: N/A

Line weight: N/A

Handle: Continuous EVA foam foregrip/slick butt

Guides6 + 1 stainless with aluminum oxide inserts


A traditional reel is the best choice for catfishermen who are out on the water looking for trophy blues or flatheads.

Penn’s Squall line-up is a proven performer in salt on the Great Lakes. They’re able to turn the tide in your favor, from tuna to shark, fish to fish to pike, and even lake trout to shark.

This reel from Penn’s 40-series Squall has 18 pounds of smooth drag. It’s designed to fight real monsters so you can rely on it to get the job done when you have the trophy of your dreams. These conventional reels are not like the traditional star-shaped drag wheel that is found on bait casters. Instead, they have a thumb lever that can be adjusted as needed.

You’ll love it, I promise!

These ultra-strong gears offer plenty of torque and ridiculous retrieval rates for freshwater.

Penn’s outstanding reel is paired with a medium-power fiberglass fishing rod that’s built to fight big fish. You’ll be ready for any cat, from the meanest of cats to the smoothest butt to the cushioned EVA foregrip.

This setup is not for everyone. You’ll need a second rod or reel to channel cats.


  • Excellent reel
  • Amazing capacity
  • Excellent drag
  • Very smooth
  • Excellent sensitivity
  • Useful guides
  • Excellent blank


  • Channel cats need too much!

Penn Squall 50 Lever Drag Rod & Reel Combo

KastKing Centron Spinning Combos,6ft Medium-Split Handle,2000 Reel

Drag: Maximum weight: 20 lbs. Maximum weight: 20 lbs

The ratio of gears: 4.3:1 (35″ per turn)

Line capacity:40/420

Bearings 5 + 1 roller bearing

Weight: N/A


Power/action medium-heavy

Size of the lure: N/A
Line weight: N/A
Handle: Split EVA foam foregrip/slick Butt

Guides5 + 1 stainless steel with zirconium dioxide inserts


A step up in the Squall lineup may be a wise move for trophy anglers who are used to fighting flatheads and monster blues.

The Squall 50 offers all the power and features of the 40 plus more.

You can increase drag and capacity, strengthen your blank, and reduce the rod length and you will be a true trophy catcher!


  • Excellent reel
  • Amazing capacity
  • Amazing drag
  • Very smooth
  • Excellent sensitivity
  • Useful guides
  • Excellent blank


  • Channel cats need too much!

What we look for in a good catfish rod and reel combo

There is no single rod that can control all catfish sizes, as they come in an incredible range of sizes depending upon their species.

Specialized tackle is not required for anglers who are looking to fill a cooler with fish and bring dozens of channel cats to shore. However, trophy blues fishermen, who can weigh up to 150 pounds, will need a specialized tackle.

The Pflueger would be my choice if I was buying a combination for channel cats; the Squall would be my pick for trophy blues, flatheads, and flatheads.

Let’s now discuss what makes a good catfish tackle.

Durability and strength

Guides and most pros prefer fiberglass rods over graphite or other carbon fiber.

Although it may reduce sensitivity, it can increase durability. And when you have to deal with a large, hard blue, you want a rod that can withstand the bruising.

Fiberglass rods are passé. They have given way to more sensitive, high-tech options. This is reflected in the new combos.

If you are thinking of spinning combos and think you might hook a true brute, I would choose either the Zebco or the Ugly Stik. The fiberglass rods in these pairings can handle whatever a tough cat may dish out.

The Stik has the better reel of the two and I’d choose it over the other.

Any of the spinning combos are great for channel cats. However, I would prefer one of the medium-power rods to anything else. Channel cats don’t need a stronger blank.

The Squall combos make the best choice if you are looking for trophy-class cats. Both will be a hit.



The force required to bend a rod is called power. A rod’s power, along with its action, tells you a lot about how it will perform.

The material it is made from and the amount of taper in its cross-section determine the rod’s power. The length of the rod also has an impact on its power. Shorter lengths of the same material are more powerful and taper is stiffer than those with longer lengths.


Because they are strong and sturdy enough to lift large fish, medium-powered rods can be found in saltwater and freshwater. They can be used to troll for large fish such as tuna, wahoos, or sailfish.

Medium rods can be used for many purposes, including running crankbaits or jerkbaits as well as yo-yoing swimming baits from the bottom. They are also great with live bait making them a popular choice.

The most popular line weights are 6-12 pounds. Lures weighing 1/4 to 3/4 ounces are common.


These rods are medium-heavy and have a lot of power. They allow anglers to muscle large fish and drive single hooks home. They are very stiff and are often used by largemouth anglers to fish for soft plastics like worms or soft plastics. However, they can also be used on the trophy catfish scene, especially in fiberglass.

They can be extremely tough when made of fiberglass.

The average line weight is between 10 and 20 pounds. You should expect to cast baits and lures that weigh no less than 3/8 of an inch.


Heavy rods can be as stiff as steel and as strong as iron. They’re made for largemouth bass and the biggest fish.

Expect a backbone as strong as steel, unmatched control in fights, and strength that will not quit.

Heavy rods can be used to catch large saltwater species such as tarpon, grouper, and sharks. They are also very popular for trophy pike and lake trout.

They are a popular choice for largemouth fishing, such as pitching and flipping, as well as single hook fishing. Braided lines will provide instant hooksets.

For lines over 12 pounds, heavy rods are usually made. However, the lure size will vary depending on the application.

However, unless the rod is made from fiberglass, it tends to be more rigid and sensitive than brute strength. Non-fiberglass rods are not recommended for trophy-sized cats.


It is important to have good guide quality on all rods, especially when you are moving up in power.

Guides serve two primary purposes. They protect your line from friction and distribute force along the length of the blank. As more contact reduces stress at each point of the rod and line, it is almost always better to have more. On spinning reels, they help channel line from the spool. This is why most spinning rods have a large “stripper” guide located near the reel.

You will typically need one guide per foot, plus one.

Guide material

Guides attach to your rod by feet and are secured with adhesives or some other form of wrapping.

These are three crucial things:

  • The guides must be securely fastened.
  • The guides must be strong enough for abuse.
  • The guides must be resistant to corrosion.

Stainless steel is a common material for quality guides. It is strong, durable, and resists corrosion.

Blank Material

Modern fishing rods are made of a variety of materials including graphite and carbon fiber. Some fishing rods feature composite construction that uses more than one material as their backbone.


Graphite, a common blank material that provides strength, stiffness, and lightweight in a single package, is a popular choice. Fishing blanks with higher modulus numbers, which are usually described by the word “modulus”, are larger and more flexible than those with smaller numbers.

Graphite is also known for its high sensitivity.

However, graphite’s weakness lies in its brittleness. If pushed too hard, graphite can crack and break.


Fiberglass rod technology is old, but it’s still a great rod technology.

Fiberglass rods are heavy, much like fiberglass boats. They’ll be heavier than other options, inch to inch and foot to foot. Fiberglass blanks are extremely flexible, but can also be extremely tough. They are also extremely rigid in very short tubular lengths making them an excellent choice for trophy-size catfish.

Fiberglass is not able to perform fast actions or sensitivity (except for very short distances). It is just not as stiff or strong as other options.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is space-age technology. It takes everything good about graphite and elevates it to a higher level. It’s an excellent choice for blank material because it is extremely stiff and strong.

Carbon fiber is susceptible to impacts. A hard hit on a boat or piling can cause damage to your rod.

As you would expect, it is also very expensive!


Manufacturers of rods often combine different materials to get the best out of each one. A graphite core is one common example. It provides stiffness and strength and is wrapped with fiberglass to give it flexibility and toughness.

These composite rods are very effective when done correctly.


The length of the rod is important.

The rod’s length will determine how far it can cast. The rod’s length will determine how accurate it casts.

The ideal starting point is between 6’6′ and 7′. This is the sweet spot for accuracy and distance: shorter ranges will result in loss of range, while longer ranges will lead to a decrease in inaccuracy.


The decision about which handle you choose is personal. What’s easy for me may not be right for you. You will find two main materials for rods: EVA foam and cork.


Cork is a natural material. It’s soft to the touch but firm enough to give you a comfortable grip. Premium-grade cork can withstand a beating, but it is not as attractive as synthetics.

EVA foam

EVA foam, a synthetic material, provides a soft grip. It’s a bit colder than cork but it’s usually more affordable and lasts longer.

Spinning Reels


The drag is what I first look at when looking at any reel.

I first assess the location. The best drag systems are situated directly over the area they will be working. Therefore, drag knobs are often located at the end of the spool.

While some spinning reels may have dials located elsewhere, these require a more complex mechanism that doesn’t work as well as does not last as long.

Second, I look closely at the maximum setting to see if it slips at this weight. For spinning reels, I look for a maximum setting that is appropriate to the species and the weight of the fish. I test the drag by putting some weight on the line and testing it with the weight.

This is about assessing the drag’s quality, not testing the maximum. I won’t set the drag that high.

I then spool up some medium-weight line, adjust the drag to about a third, and see how easily it lets me take the line. I like a steady, smooth release, no catching or jerking.

Ratio of gears

The reel’s gear ratio is the relationship between the crank, the spool, and the crank. It tells you how many turns the crank makes. A gear ratio of 5.2 to 1 means that one crank turn spins the spool 52.2 times.

This is important for two reasons.

Some lures require a slow, medium, or fast retrieve. A reel’s gear ratio should be matched to the intended purpose of the reel to improve action. A fast reel with a gear ratio greater than 5.2:1 is ideal for topwater lures and shallow crankbaits.

You should also care about the gear ratio because it shows you how fast it picks up lines. A medium to fast ratio is important, regardless of whether you are jigging deep and casting far out to cover the water.

Smooth operation

A reel of high quality should have a tight bail, a crank that spins freely, and a drag knob that adjusts the setting. To encourage solid hooksets, the anti-reverse system should also lock up quickly.


It is important to have a line capacity.

A properly filled spool will ensure that you don’t cast your line too far. Over a day of fishing, however, you may need to cut the line to either reduce abrasion or recover from a poor cast.

Your reel should have enough line to last you the entire day without having to re-spool.

I will be reporting line capacity using monofilament weights. You can change to braid to get more line on your reel or increase the weight to a mono equivalent of 4 or 6 pounds.

When I decided to use my ultralight to record big bass, I did exactly that!

Baitcasting/Conventional Reels

A low-profile baitcaster can be a great inshore or fishing bass. However, for fish over 50 pounds, it is time to move into the traditional territory.


The cost of conventional reels can be prohibitive, and it is frustrating to have a piece of tackle stop working after just one season.

Penn makes some of my favorite reels. If you stop by and chat with other anglers about salt, there’s a good chance you’ll spot one or two Penns in your boat.

Great drag

An awesome drag can be your best friend when you are fighting an evil monster. Smooth and strong should be your watchwords.

Many anglers recommend that you set your drag at 1/3 of the breaking strength. This gives you enough power to turn big fish and protects your rod and line.

Amazing casting

A good reel should have a spool that defies physics. The spool should spin as easily as possible, and it should be paired with smooth surfaces for the line. To make long casts, it is important to have the right design of the level wind (the part that guides the line onto the spool).

Ratio of gears

The gear ratio is the number of revolutions that one crank of a handle produces on the spool. A gear ratio of 7.5 to 1 means that one turn of your handle spins the spool 75% of the time. The faster the retrieve, the higher the ratio. This speed can also be represented by the number or retrieve per turn (IPT/RPT), which is 31. This would indicate that each turn of the handle picks up 31 inches of line.

Although speed isn’t always more efficient than slow, it can offer more flexibility. It is easier to slow down than speed up your retrieve. With a little practice, you can adjust your natural cadence to meet the requirements of slower presentations.

Speed is important when fighting fish that run straight for you.

It is important to keep your line straight. A fast reel can help you do this.


Capacity is not something to be proud of, especially if it’s necessary to strip and cut lines while you fish.

We list capacities such as 12/120 in mono-diameter equivalents and feet.


Baitcasting reels have an important bearing count, but the standard is only one roller bearing per spool. Retrieving is as easy as climbing icy stairs because the rest of the bearings are hidden in the internals.

Although it is not an absolute rule, more is always better.

Last Thoughts

We cannot tell you which combination is best for you. Only you can decide.

The Ugly Stik or Pflueger are great options if you like to catch channel cats and use your combo to capture other species. The stick shines when you fight larger fish.

If you are chasing monster cats, don’t think twice about skipping the Penn combos. That combination will give you rock-solid durability, a head-turning backbone, and a trophy-taming reel.

We hope you found this article helpful in choosing your next catfish combination. As always, we would love to hear from our readers!

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