As a river fishing guide for steelhead over the last 22 years, I’ve tested just about every fishing line guys use for steelhead fishing. I’ll break down the best fishing line for steelhead by method, best line colors, best line strength, and even provide some pro tips, all to help you decide the best line for you.
|Choose the right fishing line based on your steelhead fishing method.|
|Consider using high-visibility lines for better visibility and bite detection.|
|Fluorocarbon leaders can be beneficial to reduce visibility and improve sensitivity.|
|Line size should be selected based on the water type and steelhead size.|
|Braided lines are often preferred for casting lures and some other methods.|
|For fly fishing, choose the appropriate line type based on your technique (nymphing, streamer, spey).|
Be Careful About Fishing Line Recommendations
When you ask about the best fishing line for steelhead on the fishing forums, you’ll get a bunch of anglers recommending their favorite steelhead lines, and some will swear by one fishing line while others will hate it.
I see anglers recommending fishing lines that I’ve tested, and didn’t like becuase they didn’t perform well. The problem is that most anglers have only tried one or two fishing lines, so they really don’t have a lot of experience.
There have been times when I’ve had to say to my clients, “Try my rod”, because I could see the issues with their lines when they didn’t. I could also see that those “issues” were affecting their ability to catch steelhead. Most of those guys see the difference in a good line immediately.
I can tell you from experience, the line you use can make a big difference in your presentation and how many steelhead you will or you won’t catch.
What Types Of Steelhead Fishing Lines Do Guides Use?
So, what fishing lines do I and other fishing guides use for steelhead fishing? The answer is, it depends on the methods were using. I have reels rigged up with mono, other reels have braided lines, some even have fluorocarbon lines. I work with other guides, and most have similar setups to what I use.
I’ll break the best steelhead lines down by method to help decide which line is the best for you. The lines I recommend are the tested and proven fishing lines that guides use and recommend.
Best Fishing Line for Steelhead by Method
|Fishing Method||Recommended Line Type||Line Size (Mono)||Line Size (Braided)||Additional Tips|
|Drift Fishing||Monofilament / Braided||8-14 pounds||20-30 pounds||High-visibility lines for better visibility.|
|Plunking||Monofilament / Braided||12-14 pounds||20-30 pounds||Consider using fluorocarbon leaders.|
|Float Fishing||Monofilament / Braided||8-14 pounds||20-30 pounds||High-visibility monofilament with fluorocarbon.|
|Centerpin Reels||Mono / Braided||Same as float fishing||Same as float fishing||Choose lightweight lines for better performance.|
|Casting Lures||Braided / Mono||10-14 pounds||20-30 pounds||Braided lines are preferred for casting lures.|
|Trolling||Mono / Wire / Lead Core||Varies||Varies||Different lines for different trolling methods.|
|Back Bouncing||Braided / Mono / Fluoro||8-12 pounds||20-30 pounds||Consider fluorocarbon leaders for sensitivity.|
|Bobber Doggin||Braided / Mono||8-12 pounds||20-30 pounds||Fluorocarbon leaders can be beneficial.|
|Side Drifting||Braided / Mono||8-12 pounds||20-30 pounds||Use a 3-6 foot fluorocarbon leader setup.|
|Fly Fishing (Various)||Nymphing / Streamer / Spey||Floating Line||Varies||Choose lines based on your fly fishing technique.|
Best Lines For Steelhead Fishing
There are a ton of fishing lines that guys use, these lines are the best proven fishing lines for river fishing methods.
|Sufix 832 Braided Line||Popular and great braided line for steelhead fishing.||See Below|
|Sufix Elite Monofilament||One of the best mono lines for steelhead fishing. High Viz color with long fluorocarbon leader is my preferred set-up.||See Below|
|Berkley XT Monofilament||Still one of the most popular steelhead fishing lines. Not good with all methods.||See Below|
|Maxima UltraGreen Monofilament||Strong and once a very popular line for steelhead fishing.||See Below|
|PowerPro Braided Spectra Fiber Line||Another popular braid for casting lures, trolling, and back trolling.||See Below|
|Raven Main Line||Best line for float fishing and Centerpin reels.||See Below|
What Line Color Is Best For Steelhead
I teach a lot of anglers and high viz yellow or orange lines are great for teaching and learning.
But, even when I’m not teaching I still prefer brightly colored line for multiple reasons.
High viz lines allow you to see the line where it enters the water so you can see the line hesitate, stop, twitch, or pull when a fish bites. High-viz lines are also seen by other anglers around you, so they are less likely to cross your line with theres.
I use high viz colored lines for most of the steelhead fishing methods listed below.
Clear or green lines are preferred by some anglers, often because they believe the steelhead can see the high viz mainline, and I agree, but only if you DO NOT use a long 3 to 6 foot fluorocarbon leader, which I highly recommend for multiple reasons, including abrasion resistance and not losing your entire set up, or a giant steelhead due to line damage.
I always use a Fluorocarbon leader line for all methods since steelhead in clear rivers are often line shy. If done correctly, even when using brightly colored lines, only the clear fluorocarbon will be in the fish’s strike zone. See 5 Best Steelhead Rig Setups.
Best Line For Drift Fishing Steelhead
The best fishing line for steelhead when drift fishing is either monofilament line which is probably the most popular line for this method, or guys like me will use braided lines.
Mono is very versatile, but compared to braid, it is less sensitive and it’s thicker at the same pound test. Thicker lines get pushed by the current more, which is not good, and thicker lines can make the bait sink slower.
Braid on the other hand has no stretch and I find when combined with a 2 to 5 foot leader line, it casts well, fishes well, and is sensitive. It also provides good solid hook sets.
Braided line is not great when fishing below freezing and this is when I’ll switch to the monofilament line.
Braid also tends to give anglers more troubles with wrapping around the rod tip.
For most anglers, it’s a personal preference between the two types of lines for drift fishing for steelhead.
The best lines for drift fishing for steelhead are:
- Sufix 832 Braided Line – Popular and great braided line for steelhead fishing. Check Price.
- Sufix Elite Monofilament – One of the best mono lines for steelhead fishing. High Viz color with long fluorocarbon leader is my. preferred set-up – Check Price
- Berkely XT Monofilament – Still one of the most popular steelhead fishing lines – Not good with all methods. Check Price.
- Maxima UltraGreen Monofilament – Strong and once a very popular line for steelhead fishing. Check Price
- PowerPro Braided Spectra Fiber Line – Another popular braid for casting lures, trolling, drift fishing and back trolling. Check Price.
- Raven Main Line – I use this line a lot for drift fishing and bottom bouncing. Check Price
Line Size For Steelhead Drift Fishing:
When using Mono, I will use different line sizes for different water types.
- Small Great Lakes Rivers – 8 to 10 pound
- Large or Fast Great Lakes Steelhead Rivers: 10 to 12 pound
- Small West Coast Steelhead River – 10 to 12 pound
- Large West Coast Rivers and Fast Water – 12 to 14 pound
Braided line Size: A braided line of 20 to 30 pounds is best and will be able to handle big fish. 20 to 30 pound braid will have a line diameter equivalent to 6 to 10 pounds.
Remember, the main line pound test is irreleavnt since you weakest link is your lighter leader line.
The Best Fishing Line For Plunking
The best line for steelhead fishing when plunking is a braided line or a monofilament fishing line.
Mono lines are likely the more popular steelhead line for plunking and they are a good option, but I prefer a braided line with a long 4 to 6 foot leader line. Use Raven, Suffix Elite, or any of the above recommend mono lines.
The braid is more sensitive to subtle bites, and it cuts the water better. It also casts further if you are casting from shore out into the ocean.
I would would use 20 to 30 pound braided line and 12 to 14 pound mono line, both with a fluorocarbon leader. Sufix 832 Advanced Superline.
A third option is using an all-fluorocarbon main line because it is less visible.
The Best Steelhead Line For Float Fishing
I prefer to use and guide with high-vis monofilament with a 4 to 6-foot fluorocarbon leader. Others prefer a clear mainline which is fine too. My personal favorite monofilament float fishing line is the Raven Mainline.
A braided line is also very good for float fishing, except when fishing below freezing.
I also use lighter lines than most anglers and have found that lighter lines have many benefits.
Braid is also good, check out Sufix 832 Advanced Superline.
See all the best lines for float fishing, and why certain lines are better and some common lines guys use are not good, on my page Best Float Fishing Lines.
|River Type||Recommended Mono Line Size||Recommended Braided Line Size|
|Great Lakes Rivers||Small rivers: 8 Pound||20 to 30 pounds|
|Great Lakes Rivers||Big Rivers: 10 pound|
|Great Lakes Rivers||Heavily wooded rivers: 10 pound|
|West Coast Rivers||Small Rivers: 10 pound||20 to 30 pounds|
|West Coast Rivers||Large Rivers: 12 to 14 pound|
The Best Line For Centerpin Reels
The best line for Centerpin reels is a floating line made of mono or a braided line. Yes some mono lines float or are atleast more bouyant, and some don’t float or are heavier lines.
Centerpin fishing is arguably the most effective method for steelhead fishing on a river, but the line you put on the reel matters.
You want a line that is lightweight so it sags less between the rod tip and the float and you want a line that stay on the surface on very long drifts.
A line on the surface can be mended, and it much easier for hook sets. A sinking line sucks. use the same pound tests as recommended above for float fishing.
Best Lines For Centerpin Fishing
The Best Fishing Line For Casting Lures For Steelhead
The best line for steelhead fishing when casting lures is braided line. However, based on what I have observed on the river, the most popular line for lure fishing is still monofillament and most guys us 10 to 14 pound mono.
Most anglers are still using a spinning reel for lure fishing, however, baitcasting reels are growing in popularity and they are good, and do prevent line twist.
Braid offers better casting, cutes the water better which keeps the lure down, its more sensitive so you can feel the lure wobbling or vibrating more, and you get a really soild hook set. It twists a lot less to.
My favorite casting braids are:
- Sufix 832 Advanced Superline.
- Berkley FireLine Thermally Fused Superline
- PowerPro Braided Spectra Fiber Line
The Best Line For Steelhead Fishing When Trolling Is
The best fishing line for trolling steelhead will depend on the methods you use. I have full article on the best trolling lines for steelhead, and why each line is used.
- Mono – Good for Downriggers, Dipsy Divers, and Planner Boards
- Wire Line and Copper Line- Best for Dipsy Divers
- Lead Core line – Best for planner boards and Dipsy Divers
The Best Line For Steelhead Fishing When Back Bouncing Is
The best line for backtrolling for steelhead is braided line, however some angler will use monofilament lines.
The Best Fishing Line For Back bouncing For Steelhead
The best fishing line for steelhead when back bouncing is braided line, mono, or even a full fluorocarbon mainline. Any of these lines in 8 to 12 pound test will work. Combine it with the write leader setup and you are good to go.
The Best Line For Steelhead Fishing When Bobber Doggin Is
The best line for bobber doggin is either braided line or mono line with a fluorocarbon leader. 8 to 10 pounds is good for Great Lakes Steelhead, and 10 to 12 is good for West Coast steelhead. I prefer the Raven high-viz line for bobber doggin.
The Best Line For Steelhead Fishing When Side Drifting
The best fishing line for side drifting for steelhead is braided line or mono line. Both should have a 3 to 6 foot fluorocarbon leader setup. 8 to 12 pound main line is good for sidedrifting.
Best Line For Fly Fishing For Steelhead
If you are planning to fly fish for steelhead, there are mutliple methods you could use, such as Nymphing, Streamer fishing, and Spey Fishing. All of these require different lines.
- Nymphing – Any standard high floating line will work.
- Streamer Fishing – Any standard line will work but a dedicated streamer fly line is better.
- Spey Fishing – I like and use Skagit lines or Scandi lines.
See my article Best Fly Lines For Steelhead.
Best Fishing Line For Steelhead Q&A
That concludes this article on the best fishing line for steelhead. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.