One of my new guides is getting set up to start guiding for salmon fishing and he asked me what spinning reels should he buy that are suitable for salmon and steelhead fishing. I get this question a lot from clients as well so this article is all about the best reels for salmon fishing on great lakes rivers.
Spinning reels for salmon must hold enough line, have a smooth drag, and have a wide spool that allows the line to come off smoothly for a better presentation. The best spinning reels for salmon fishing are the Shimano Stradic FL, the Abu Garcia Revo SX 30, or the Pflueger Supreme XT 30X.
If you are considering buying a reel for salmon fishing you will want a reel that also has bearings that won’t get stripped on the first big salmon and you want one that has a drag that is strong enough to hold the salmon.
Many of the cheaper reels just can’t manage big salmon, but I will recommend some reels suitable for salmon from about $70.00 to $700.00.
If you are looking for the best Centerpin reels for salmon check out my page Best Centerpin Reels.
A Smooth Drag Is A Must On A Salmon Reel
Not all reels are created equal and not all size reels should be used. I have seen reels with sticky inconsistent drags break lines, rip hooks out of the salmon’s mouths, and even break rods.
For salmon fishing, it is important to get a reel that has a nice smooth and consistent drag system that can handle big fish.
A sticky drag is one where the drag will come off the spool for a second or two at one pressure and then loosen, then tighten again, and again, again and again. You can easily spot the guys with these reels because their rod tips jump up and down as the pressure tightens then loosens.
The opposite to a sticky or inconsistent drag is a smooth drag that comes off the reel at the same pressure all the time and these are the types of reels that will help you catch more salmon.
Best Size Of Reel For Salmon Fishing
Reels are usually rated by different brands by the thousands or by the tens. A size 1000 reel is the same as another brand’s size 10, or a 3500 size reel is the same size as a size 35.
I’m not a big fan of giant reels for salmon fishing around the great lakes region. I see guys using 5000 and 6000 sizes but unless you are fishing large fast rivers like the Niagara river or a huge BC or Alaska river where you may not be able to walk the banks to chase a huge salmon, reels of this size are not good. They are heavy and awkward when casting and when float fishing.
I have caught plenty of 30 to 35 and even some possible 40-pound salmon on 2500 and 3000 sized reels. Most of the time I recommend a 3000 or 3500 size reel for most great lakes rivers where you are able to walk the bank and chase running salmon if you need to. The 3000 and 3500 sizes are also great for steelhead fishing.
When fishing salmon on some of the bigger rivers or for guys that might be fishing off the piers, I’d say go with a 4000 reel.
The 5 Best Reels For Salmon Fishing
Before I get into the best reels for salmon fishing I just want to say that there is no substitute for knowledge so if you don’t have a clue on how to fish lures for salmon, or how to float fish for salmon, or even how to setup up a leader for salmon none of these reels are going to help you catch any salmon.
Make sure you check out my page How To Fish For Salmon to be sure you are doing it correctly and effectively.
#1 Shimano Stradic: The Best Salmon Reel
The Shimano Stradic is likely the best reel for salmon fishing that I have ever used.
I have been fishing with Shimano Stradic reels for what feels like 20 years now. Ok maybe not that long, but I would think I started using Shimano Stradic reels over 10 years ago.
The old models were great but the newer ones are even better with an improved and super smooth drag system along with improved bearings, improved gearing, better, bails, a better spool, and I think they are even lighter than the older models.
The Shimano Stradic is a proven reel and is a very popular reel used by many top anglers for great lakes salmon and steelhead which is why I would say that it is for sure one of the best reels for salmon fishing on the Great lakes and on the west coast.
I recommend the Shimano Stradic FL 4000 size if you just want a reel for salmon and the for both steelhead and salmon consider the 3000 size Shimano Stradic
#2 The Shimano Stella FJ
Even better than the Shimano Stradic is the Shimano Stella FJ Spinning Reel and the only reason I did not recommend it as the #1 salmon reel is that this is a reel the 90% of guys wouldn’t buy simply because it sells for about $700.00.
The last time I looked it was on sale at Bass Pro Shop.
However, if you are the type of guy that wants the best of the best and can afford this reel then go for it, it’s a fantastic reel for both saltwater and freshwater salmon.
Consider this reel in the 4000 model size when fishing for salmon around the great lakes in both rivers and in the lakes or on the piers.
This is a lightweight reel with bearings that can handle any salmon and a spool that casts lures across rivers.
I have had a bunch of Abu reels over the year and they are super smooth.
When salmon fishing I like this reel in the 40 size but for both salmon and steelhead fishing on small to medium-sized rivers I prefer the 30 size.
- Insert Molded C6 carbon body
- 1-piece X-craftic aluminum gearbox
- Computer-optimized machined aluminum gears
- Lightweight graphite rotor with Everlast bail
- Rocket line management system
- Braid-ready machined aluminum spool
- 8 stainless steel HPCR bearings + 1 roller bearing
- K-Clutch anti-reverse
- Carbon Matrix hybrid drag system
Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel
The Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel is one of the best reels for salmon under $100.00.
At this price range, you start risking salmon doing damage to your gears or your drag system but this reel should be able to handle many big salmon.
I recommend this reel in the 35 or 40 sizes.
Pflueger President Spinning Reel
The Pflueger President Spinning Reel is for those anglers on a really tight budget and wants a really well-liked reel with tons of great reviews that sells for about $60.00.
I would not use a reel under this price or quality for salmon fishing. You can get this reel at Bass Pro Shop for about $60.00
The Best Salmon Reels On Amazon
I have old and new clients ask about reels they found on Amazon. They will often send me links to a bunch that they found that have lots of good reviews.
I’m going to be straight up and honest with you, there are a ton of reels, rods, and other fishing products with lots of reviews on Amazon that are just crap! I really don’t know how they get so many good reviews but I suspect that most reviews are coming from new anglers that wouldn’t know the difference between a salmon rod and a bass rod, or there’s just a lot of shady and fake reviews.
When you buy from Amazon just stick with brand name reels and avoid the no-name China crap.
Since I know guys will ask, these are the best salmon reels that I would recommend on Amazon.
5 Best Salmon Reels On Amazon are:
- #1 – Shimano ST4000XGFL or Stradic FL
- #2 – Abu Garcia Revo SX Spinning Reel
- #3 – Penn – Conflict II Spinning Reel
- #4 – Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel
- #5 – Pflueger President Reel
Got A Question About The Best Reels For Salmon Fishing
I’d love to hear from you so if you have a question, comment or a recommended reel for salmon fishing let me know in the comments section below.
Cool River Fishing Accessories
Simms Taco Bag
It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.
Duffel Bags and Stream Packs
Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.
Waterworks Release Tool
Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.
When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.