Drifting a bait along a steelhead run in anticipation of a strike waiting for that bite can be one of the most exciting ways to fish in freshwater.
Steelhead rods need to be matched to the type of water you are fishing and the style of fishing whether that’s casting lures or drifting eggs down a good looking seam.
Steelhead fishing rods should have a medium power rating, fast action and be at least 8 feet minimum in length
The type of fishing you are doing will have a big influence on your rod choices.
A good steelhead float rod will be practically useless for casting larger spoons or spinners into deep pockets so understanding what type of setup is required is crucial to choosing the right steelhead rod.
- Drift fishing – 8’6″ length minimum, fast action and medium power rated for 8 to 12 pound line
- Float fishing – 9′ length minimum, moderate/fast action and rated for 8 to 12 pound line
- Casting lures – 9′ length, fast action and rated for 10 to 20 pound line
Our top choice is the Lamiglas X-11 Cork. They have both spinning and casting models available and a huge rage of technique specific models.
Built on a carbon graphite blended blank that are extremely well balanced and offer high end performance and feedback through the full length of the rod.
** Crisp rod blank and light in the hand, the X-11 range from Lamiglas are some of the highest quality rods available.
What Kind of Rod for Steelhead Fishing?
1. Drift Rod
Drifting is by far the most popular method of targeting steelhead and it is also one of the most simple.
Cast or swing your bait upstream of a seam or other steelhead hot spot and allow you bait to drift along downstream with the current
A good drift rod for steelhead will be roughly 9 feet in length at a minimum. That is not a hard and fast rule however as the size of your river should dictate the length of rod.
Big river, long rod and small river, smaller rod.
A fast action allows for quick hooksets and better sensitivity as to what is going on at the sharp end.
You should be looking for a rod rated for 8 to 12 pound main line. These ratings refer to monofilament.
That will generally mean a rod blank that has a light/medium or a medium power rating depending on the manufacturer.
2. Float Rod
Float fishing allows you to control the exact depth that your bait runs at and can also reduce the number of snags that you experience.
Whereas drifting is at the mercy of the current and the contours of the river bottom bobber fishing is a way to fine tune how you preset your bait in front of of the steelhead.
You’ll generally need a longer rod when bobber fishing as the extra length allows you to lift your line up high off of the water reducing the amount of drag it creates on the water surface.
This drag will usually end up pulling your bobber away from where you what it to naturally float along on the river.
The majority of steelhead float anglers will use a rod that is 10 feet minimum in length.
The extra length allows you cast a bobber a little longer and also makes your line pick up quick when striking.
A moderate or a moderate/fast action is also preferred to add a bit more backbone.
3. Lure Rod
Casting spinners and spoons requires a rod with a bit more power and backbone so you will need at least a medium power rating that is rated for 10 to 20 pound main line.
Either a casting or spinning setup is fine, but a lot of anglers will opt for a baitcasting rod and reel.
Spinning gear works great on lighter setups but casting lures all day can get a little tiring.
A casting rod for steelhead allows you make quick and very precise casts with your lures as thumbing the spool on a baitcaster gives you the ultimate form of control that a spinning reel quite simply cannot match.
Best Steelhead Rods
Lamiglas have firmly cemented themselves into the salmon/steelhead rod building market and offer a very high quality range that challenges the like of even G. Loomis.
The X-11 range has a big choice of techniques specific models and make some of the best salmon steelhead rods on the market today.
With the X-11 Lamiglas has made high quality steelhead rods affordable for almost every angler and come in at a fraction of the price of most high end rods.
They have offerings in both the spinning and casting rod variation with lengths ranging from 7’9″ up to 10’6″ with different actions and power ratings.
The LX86MS for example makes a great all round steelhead pole and suitable for drifting, floating fishing and spinner work.
That model number translates as 8’6″ in length with a medium power rating at is designed for a spinning setup.
It has a line rating in the 8 to 12 pound range and can handle lures in the 1/4 to 3/1 ounce range.
A perfect all rounder it has a really crisp 24 ton Carbon Graphite blend that has a nice light crisp feel and great sensitivity all while maintaining enough backbone to handle a determined stealhead.
High quality SeaGuide guide frames, aluminum oxide inserts and a high gloss merlot finish really round out the look.
St Croix are probably most famous for their trout and inshore specific spinning rods.
The Avid Salmon and steelhead range is a line of rods based on their high end spinning series the ‘Avid’ but beefed up in terms of length and power ratings to handle salmon and steelhead.
You get the same super sensitive high-modulus SCII graphite blanks built using their IPC manufaturing technology as their trout series rods.
They come with with some of the best line guides in the business, Fuji Concept Guide system with Alconite inserts and black frames and a Fuji reel seat too.
Made in the USA and backed by their legendary warranty these rods are a sound investment for any serious steelhead angler.
Okuma offer a range of budget friendly rods for most styles of fishing and that includes a rod for steelhead too.
The SST line are a good low cost choice if you are looking to do some light spinning work throwing spinners and small spoons along seams and into deeper pockets.
They are built on as well proven IM-8 graphite blank and come with high durable stainless steel guide frames with Zirconium inserts that can handle the more abrasive properties of braided main line.
Length wise they start at 8’6″ and top out at a 10’6″ model with power ratings in the medium/light to medium/heavy range.
This full graphite version of the the X-11 range featured above drops the cork handle in favor of harder wearing graphite handles.
If you are looking to back troll for steelhead on larger rivers or salmon for that matter and use a rod holder then they are a better bet than the cork handled version.
The full range of technique specific rods is available with all of the same length, powers and rod actions.
Another great budget option the Berkley Buzz Ramsey Air Series has been around for years and has a solid following.
Berkley aren’t the first name to spring to mind when you start discussing steelhead fishing rods but the Air Series has lots of fans.
The original and highly popular version was built on im7 rod blanks and gained a lot of fans for there performance and durability.
The newer IM8 models are a little more sensitive and perform just as well if not better than the original.
They come with titanium nitrate coated line guide inserts that can withstand years of abuse from casting braid all day long.
Steelhead rods are certainly a step up in price from normal trout rods and with the quality and materials that are put into these rods it easy to see why steelhead fishing can become rather expensive when compared to other freshwater species.
That being said you can buy a decent steelhead rod under 100 if you are looking for a more budget friendly entry model.
With so many techniques available for catching steelhead is is safe to say that there is no best all-round steelhead rod as each type of rig will require that the rod and line weight is matched correctly to get the best performance from your setup.
Spinning vs Casting
For most anglers the choice between using a spinning rod for steelhead or a casting setup will normally come down to personal preference.
Some guys are just die hard spinning reel fans and never take the time to learn how to cast with a baitcaster.
Spinning reels really excel when you are using lighter bait rigs and drifting or using bobbers.
Steelhead spinning rods are definitely the most popular choice but casting rods are definitely on the up and up.
A baitcaster really shines when you are casting larger lures all day long.
However they can also make life easy when you are floating a bobber down a river.
No bail arm to re-engage when you want to strike and you can also thumb the spool to lowly add a bit of drag it needed so you have a really precise control of your line.
The majority of modern steelhead fishing poles will be made from graphite or a carbon/graphite blend.
You won’t see many made from glass fiber any more as the sensitivity of graphite fishing poles is considerably better than on a fiber glass rod.
Modern blended rods offer a combination of both sensitivity and backbone.
A fast action rod is the go to choice however a moderate/fast action is used quite a bit when float fishing.