Salmon and steelhead trout are two of my favorite fish to catch, and they’re challenging enough to keep me on my toes but not hard enough to push me over the edge while catching them. Here I’ll explore the best salmon steelhead casting, trolling, fly-fishing, and spinning rods, their price range, and determine the top picks of 2023.
Salmon and steelhead trout can be a bit of a nightmare to catch without the right gear. One of the first mistakes I made as a beginner angler was not using the right equipment. My salmon and steelhead catching skills instantly improved when I switched from my all-purpose rod to a special salmon steelhead rod.
As the name suggests, salmon steelhead rods are specifically designed for salmon and steelhead fishing (see the best bass fishing rod and reel combos here). They come in many types—casting, spinning, trolling, fly-fishing, etc.—but they all have two things in common: they’re longer and more powerful than the average rod to counter the strength of these fish.
I’ve listed the five best salmon steelhead rods of different varieties in the article below. If you’re fishing in popular spots such as the great lakes, southeast, or the pacific northwest, I believe you’ll find this information helpful. I’ve also included a buyer’s guide (see our other guide to the best baitcasters under $100 here) to help you with your final purchase.
Before we dive into in-depth reviews of all five Salmon Steelhead Fishing Rods on the list, here are my top 3 picks:
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Best 5 Salmon Steelhead Fishing Rods for 2023
Chosen for their durability, power, and overall quality, here are some of the best salmon steelhead rods you can buy today!
|Salmon Steelhead Rod
|Okuma Celilo Graphite Salmon Steelhead Spinning Rod
|Great for beginners or on a budget
|St. Croix Triumph Inshore Salmon Steelhead Spinning Rod
|Versatile but few bells and whistles
|Daiwa ACCULITE Salmon Steelhead Rod
|Flexible, durable, and great price
|Fenwick Eagle Salmon Steelhead Spinning Fishing Rod
|Light, thin, and great for long days on the water
|Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Salmon Rod
|High performance at a great price
If you’re a beginner angler and not quite ready to spend hundreds of dollars for a salmon steelhead rod (see great beginner rods by Zebco here), the Okuma Celilo is for you.
The Celilo is one of the best beginner rods. It’s lightweight and sensitive to the lightest bites, and the casting ability is phenomenal, especially for its price. Additionally, it’s made from graphite material, which is decently durable.
The Celilo comes in multiple rod lengths and power, but I personally recommend the CE-C-862 when fishing for salmon and steelhead. It’s 8’6” long, with a medium-heavy action and a 10-to-20-pound line rating.
- Two-piece construction for easy portability
- Heavy action with a great backbone
- Sensitive enough to feel a tap
- Comfortable cork grips and rod handle
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St. Croix makes some of the best spinning reels and rods (learn about the champion-named Abu Garcia Jordan Lee Baitcaster Combo here) and they delivered yet again with the Triumph Inshore Spinning Rod. Its power is felt from the first cast—it won’t let you down.
Made with the new and improved SCII carbon construction, the overall best salmon steelhead rod oozes quality. It’s designed with aluminum-oxide guides with sandblasted frames, eco-friendly sandblasted hoods, and XDPS reel seats. Plus, it’s cured with two coats of Flex-Coat to preserve color and add shine.
The Triumph comes in multiple power and action options, but I recommend the heavy/fast action as the best option for salmon and steelhead fishing.
- Fantastic construction for accurate casts and big game
- Well balanced and comfortable
- Super smooth reel
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The Daiwa Acculite is made explicitly for salmon, trout, and steelhead applications, and its IM-6 blank-through graphite construction is rugged yet sensitive. The guides are made with cut-proof aluminum, and the reel seats are stainless steel.
Although heavier than I’m used to, the Acculite is relatively well-balanced. Its overall performance is quite good, considering its entry-level price point.
At 9’6″, the Acculite is long enough to cast far and wide for salmon and steelhead. It also has enough bend to prevent the fish from going anywhere when pinned and the right amount of strength to steer big fish with little to no issues.
- Excellent resistance and power at a great price
- Decent sensitivity
- Two-piece construction
- Strong two-year warranty
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The Fenwick Eagle Spinning Rod (see the best spinning rod for bass fishing here) is one of Fenwick’s most popular rod models—and for a good reason, especially for salmon fishing.
Firstly, its weight perfectly balances its sensitivity. It’s not too light nor too heavy, and while not the most sensitive rod around, it still lets you feel a bite promptly.
Secondly, its construction material is surprisingly good for its price. It’s made with 24 Ton graphite and features stainless steel guides with aluminum oxide inserts and comfortable TAC grips. The blank through construction transmits light bites, while the inserts increase casting performance without adding friction.
The Fenwick Eagle measures 9’6″ and has a 10-to-20-pound line rating, making it more than suitable for salmon and steelhead fishing. The handle is a bit short, but it doesn’t compromise the rod’s overall performance (learn more about fishing rod weight rating here) when fishing.
- Excellent feel
- Great casting
- Durable construction for heavy fish
- Short handle that may require additional padding
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The Ugly Stik Elite has everything you need in a high-quality salmon steelhead fishing rod: durability, flexibility, and power. It’s strong enough to battle king salmon but sensitive enough to feel the bite of small trout. It’s versatile, trolling to cast spoons, spinners, and plugs!
Those who have tried the rod in action claim that the Elite is “nearly indestructible”—praise not easily thrown around in the angling community.
And indeed, this medium-heavy rod doesn’t joke around with strength. It’s made with 35% more graphite than the Ugly Stik GX2 series, so while noticeably lighter, it’s built to last through many battles.
- Durable construction for larger fish
- Excellent flexibility; can be used in numerous fishing situations
- Great sensitivity
- Lure rating could be better; only 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds
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What to Consider When Buying Salmon Steelhead Rods
To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth when buying a salmon steelhead fishing rod, consider the following factors to determine the best rods for you:
If you ask an experienced angler what the best fishing technique for catching salmon and steelhead is, he’ll likely answer, “It depends on the rod.”
There’s no single way to catch these two fish, and you can catch them through casting, spinning, fly fishing, etc. Each method comes with technique-specific rods.
So, when buying a salmon steelhead fishing rod, consider your fishing style and the type of rod you’re most comfortable handling.
Some of the most common salmon steelhead fishing rods (see the best swimbait fishing rods here) include steelhead spinning rods, baitcasting rods, salmon trolling rods, and fly-fishing rods, with the former two being the most popular.
Casting rods are much more accurate than spinning rods, but they’re also more challenging to master. While suitable for anglers of all professional levels, spinning rods are ideal for beginners as they allow longer casts and are less prone to tangles.
Fishing rods come in several lengths, from 6 feet to a staggering 15 feet. Some even go up to 50 feet!
For salmon and steelhead fishing, search for a fishing rod between 8’ to 10’6″.
Fishing rods that measure 9’6″ are best suited for float fishing and drift fishing applications, two of the most popular techniques for catching salmon and steelhead.
The best steelhead rods and salmon rods are typically longer than most. Professional steelhead anglers prefer a long rod to give you more power, enough backbone, and more leverage on the hook set, to help you reel in salmon and steelhead trout.
Rod power refers to the rod’s resistance ability when flexed. It’s usually classified under the following terms:
- Ultra-light: UL (1)
- Light: L (2)
- Medium-light: ML (3)
- Medium: M (4)
- Medium-heavy: MH (5)
- Heavy: H (6)
- Extremely heavy: XH (7)
Salmon and steelhead are heavy fighters, so your rod’s power must exceed their strength. Ideally, buy a rod with a medium-heavy to heavy power rating.
Salmon and steelhead are among the most challenging fighting fish, and they fight pound for pound, not giving in without a match. Your fishing rod should be constructed out of fiberglass, graphite, or a combination of the two for added strength and flexibility.
If your budget allows it, opt for a carbon fiber rod.
Carbon fiber rods are the strongest, stiffest rods available, but they’re also the most expensive. Still, with the higher price comes quality, and they excel in almost every aspect of rod durability.
Top Salmon Steelhead Rod Brands
|Fishing Rod Brand
|Well-balanced and well-designed
|Premium power, durability, and price
|Excellent attention to detail and quality
|Lightweight, comfortable, and well balanced
|Among the best overall fishing rods
Here are some of the more well-known brands that sell salmon steelhead rods:
Founded in 1987, Okuma, officially Okuma Fishing Tackle Corporation, is a Taiwanese fishing gear company that produces top-quality fishing gear at a very competitive price.
Okuma salmon steelhead rods are well-balanced and well-designed, plus they’re lightweight and decently sensitive. They’re nothing revolutionary but far better than other budget-friendly rods.
St. Croix is well known for its meticulous construction and top-quality design. St. Croix salmon steelhead rods are robust, durable, and clean, so they are desirable in the fishing world. Best of all, they’re budget-friendly!
Most of the company’s rods fall under the mid-range category, and many deliver great sensitivity, accuracy, and power.
Daiwa is a household name for most anglers, and it’s almost as popular as the ever-famous Shimano.
Since its establishment in 1958, Daiwa has been making some of the world’s best high-quality rods and reels. It’s a trustworthy brand with a spick-n-span reputation, so you can’t go wrong with it.
Daiwa salmon steelhead rods are better than most other salmon steelhead rods. The company’s attention to detail and quality can be seen in its rods.
Fenwick isn’t as well-known as some other brands on this list, which is a shame because it’s genuinely a good brand.
Fenwick rods don’t deliver as much power or performance as high-quality Daiwa or St. Croix rods, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. For a mid-range product, they’re actually fantastic.
Most of the company’s rods are lightweight, comfortable, and well-balanced, so you’ll face a few issues. Plus, most models are backed by a lifetime warranty, so your investment is in good hands with Fenwick.
Only Ugly Stik can name its company “ugly” and get away with it.
Despite the name, Ugly Stik rods aren’t ugly—not the newer ones, anyway.
According to the manufacturers, the company’s first rods were unappealing, as can be. They had thick bodies, metallic handles, and black-and-white pinstripes. But as the company evolved, so did their rods.
Ugly Stik rods, specifically Ugly Stik salmon steelhead rods, aren’t “ugly” anymore; they now feature a shiny jet-black finish, a slim, precise tip, and a recognizable red-and-yellow basket weave design at the handle.
Ugly Stik manufactures some of the best all-around fishing rods there are. The Ugly Stik carbon line is among the company’s most popular products, praised for its durability, sophisticated style, and power.
We cover the differences between the Ugly Stik GX2 and Elite Rods here.
Best Salmon Steelhead Fishing Rods FAQs
Why are salmon steelhead fishing rods so long?
Salmon and steelhead are fighters; they won’t go down (or, in this case, up, in your boat) without a fight. If you catch a salmon or a steelhead on a shorter line, there’s a high chance that it’ll break from the pulling pressure of these fish.
Salmon steelhead fishing rods are between 8 to 10 feet long, but some are even longer. This is because longer rods are more flexible than shorter rods, which helps reduce the strain on the line.
Can you use a bass rod when catching salmon and steelhead?
It depends on the rod’s length, power, and action. If the bass rod is over 8 feet tall, with a medium-to-heavy power and fast action, then yes, you can use a bass rod for catching salmon and steelhead.
The problem here is that bass rods aren’t usually as powerful as the alternative because bass aren’t heavy fighters. You can certainly give it a go, but make sure it has the same qualifications as salmon steelhead rods.
What’s the best technique for salmon and steelhead trout fishing?
Using the right gear certainly helps, but you won’t effectively catch salmon or steelhead without the proper technique.
First and foremost, use the right bait (find the best buzzbait for bass here). Salmon and steelhead go crazy for live bait and cut bait, but flash trap spinners work just as well.
Also, make sure your hooks are incredibly sharp. These fish have thick jaws that can make hook setting more difficult.
Finally, pay attention to timing. Salmon and steelhead are best caught an hour before or after high or low tide.
What is Side Drifting for Steelhead?
Side-drifting is an effective technique for fishing for steelhead in rivers, and it is one of the best ways to cover large amounts of water from a boat. In fact, this natural rate of movement entices fish to bite a high percentage of the time compared to other techniques.
My fishing rod of choice is a super-high modulus graphite rod that is 9-feetlong and rated for 6 to 10-pound test lines and lures weighing one-quarter to one-half ounce, with a moderate action medium-light weight. You’ll pair the rod with the appropriate line and leader to meet the fishing conditions, then focus on the terminal gear. I’ve fished a wide array of side-drifting presentations, from double-hook bait setups topped with a drift-bobber to eggs on a small single hook. Single eggs work well, and beads, Lil’ Corkies, rubber egg clusters, and yarn balls and rags are all good side-drifting baits.
I try to avoid too much weight, which results in dragging, not allowing the bait to be channeled by natural currents into food funnels. A larger bait with no weight can even be effective in very calm conditions. Thread on a bait-floater, barely exposing the tip of the hook to keep the hook’s point aimed upward, decreasing the chance of it hanging up during a drift.
Have multiple rods rigged and ready to go, pre-cut baits, and pre-tied leaders if the terminal gear is lost while drifting through a section of prime water. Often, rivers are flowing too quickly to row back upstream to fish, and you don’t want to miss that prime holding water. All anglers in the boat should simultaneously cast slightly upstream of the boat, parallel. The oarsman or motor operator takes over from there, positioning and timing the vessel’s speed downstream to that of the lines on the surface and terminal gear.
Bites when side-drifting are often slow to develop, so avoid the tendency to immediately jerk every time you see or feel something so you don’t yank the terminal gear out of the strike zone. After you try side-drifting, you’ll know why it’s ranked as one of the most effective ways to catch winter steelhead.