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Steelhead Setups – Rod and Reel Choices Explained

There are lots of different steelhead rigs for fishing various techniques involving bait and lures but you don't need a different setup for each one.

That would be overkill not to mention get very expensive.

Below are four basic steelhead setups that can be used for a variety of different approaches whether that is drift fishing with eggs or bank splunking with a spin'n'glo.

Matching your steelhead rod and reel requirements is not that difficult once you are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each type.

1. Spinning Setup 

A spinning rod and reel is probably the most versatile setup for steelhead. You can cover a lot of different techniques such as: 

  • Drift fishing
  • Splunking
  • Float fishing
  • Light lure work

Most steelhead spinning reels will fall into the 2000 to 3000 size range. It possible try to buy a reel that has a braid ready spool as some techniques are work out better when using braid.

A good spinning rod for steelhead will be roughly 9 feet in length a have a fast action with a line rating of roughly 12 lbs.

2. Float Rod and Center Pin Reel

Most fishermen will already know what float fishing is it was probably one of the first methods they used as a child.

However, for steelhead you need to do things a little different. You need to keep the line out of the water as the bobber drifts down stream and this will generally require a long rod.

The best brands are either Lamiglas or Okuma in 12 or 13 feet lengths depending on how large a river you are fishing.

A center pin reel is you great control of just how much line you are letting out. They are effectively a beefier fly fishing reel.

3. Casting Setup

A baitcasting rod and reel allows you to throw larger lures or weights a great distance.

Although a spinning rod can also do this they are generally not as suitable once the weights begin to increase.

Personally I like to only have one casting rod and baitcaster reel. However I do own multiple spinning setup for steelhead.

A good casting outfit can also be used for trolling so it is not just a one trick pony.

A lot of guys will use a baitcaster for drifting but I prefer to use a spinning setup for that as sometimes I use a very light drifting rig and on a baitcaster casting lighter weights can be a little bit trickier.

Look for a rod similar to the spinning setup for steelhead above roughly 9 feet in length and a reel in the 200 or 300 size.

You can use a more modern low profile baitcaster but the majority of fishermen I know continue to use the older style round baitcasters for steelhead.

4. Fly rod

Fly rods are pretty self explanatory for steelhead you will need a rod of roughly 10 feet in length and rated for a 7 weight fly fishing line assuming you are looking to cast a single handed rod.

Spey rods and switch rods of course will be longer.

Switch rods are considered general all rounders that can be used for several different types of casting.

Spey rods are generally the largest and strongest kinds of fly rods you will find.