Targeting steelhead while trolling is an effective method in open water, and anglers use this method for ocean steelhead and for steelhead in the Great Lakes. Using the best trolling rods for steelhead not only makes the experience more fun, but a good steelhead boat rod will do the job that is required based on the different methods used, and the different lines used.
|Key Takeaways for Readers|
|– Rod Selection Tips|
|– Best Downrigger Rods|
|– Dipsey Diver Rods|
|– Lead Core and Copper Lines|
|– Planner Board Trolling Rods|
What To Consider When Buying A Steelhead Trolling Rod
Before you go out to get geared up for steelhead trolling, it’s essential to consider a few factors when choosing the perfect trolling rod for the job.
Method of Trolling
Just like with salmon trolling methods, different trolling techniques for steelhead require specialized rods.
For instance, downrigger rods are typically shorter, with a more flexible tip, and a softer action to handle the pressure when the downrigger ball is deployed. On the other hand, Dipsy Diver rods tend to be longer and with a stiffer action to withstand the pull of the Dipsy Divers.
Most of the steelhead trolling rods recommended below cater to specific trolling methods so you know which ones you will need. Keep in mind that many of the same rods come in different models for specific methods.
Therefore, you will see the rod listed multiple times, but just make sure when purchasing the rod that you look at the rod specs to ensure you are getting the right rod for the methods you need it for.
These are not the same type of rods that fishermen use for back trolling in rivers. See Back Trolling For Steelhead.
Rod length often boils down to personal preference for many anglers. However, the charter guides know that rod length makes certain methods and rod spread easier, so take these recommendations into consideration when deciding on the right rod.
First, shorter rods are more manageable in smaller boats, while longer rods may be preferable in certain situations where line spreading is essential. Shorter rods are preferred for downrigger fishing and for rods with lines that need to be straight out of the boat.
Longer rods are preferred when fighting fish out far and for controlling the fish better, but longer trolling rods can be a problem in a smaller boat when netting the fish because it’s tough to back up far enough to get the fish in close.
Longer rods are also preferred when using long leaders commonly used with methods such as Dipsy Diver fishing. It’s harder to land a fish on a 7 foot rod when the leader is 10 feet.
Rod Power and Rod Action
Different trolling methods demand varying levels of rod action and strength. It’s crucial to use rods specifically designed for steelhead trolling rather than using general purpose rods or your bass rods.
Rod Line Ratings
Generally, steelhead trolling rods have line ratings between 12 and 30 pounds, however, many anglers will use their heavier salmon rods since salmon may be in the area. While lighter rods have their place for steelhead fishing, if salmon are in the area, good salmon trolling rods within the 20 to 40-pound range will work.
Steelhead trolling rods often endure rigorous use, especially when encountering rough waters. Unlike the high modulus graphite river fishing rods used for steelhead, most good steelhead trolling rods are constructed from fiberglass or fiberglass blends, which are known for their durability and smooth action.
Ceramic rod guides can be prone to popping out or wearing out when using trolling lines such as braid, wire, or lead core lines. To avoid this issue, many anglers prefer rods with steel rod guides, or roller guides, and twill tips, particularly when using wire lines that can damage standard guides.
Zirconium inserts are also a reliable option.
Cork rod handles can suffer damage when placed in rod holders so they are rarely seen on trolling rods for steelhead and salmon fishing. All of the recommended steelhead trolling rods are equipped with foam grip handles.
While all the rods listed here work for steelhead trolling, there is a range of price points to consider. I personally recommend mid-price to the more expensive trolling rods.
In my experience, the more expensive rods typically offer better construction and superior components, resulting in improved feel and longevity. And while a rod for $150 might last as long as three 50-dollar rods, you will likely prefer fishing with and fighting steelhead with the more expensive rod.
However, budget-friendly options like the TDR series can also get the job done.
Best Trolling Rods For Steelhead Fishing
|Type of Rod||Description||Rod Length||Best Rods|
|Downrigger Rods||Typically lighter, more flexible, shorter||7′ to 9′||FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod (8′), Shimano Talora A Trolling Rod (7′ to 9′), Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod (7′ to 8’6″), Ugly Stik Bigwater Conventional Downrigger Rod (7′ to 10′), Shimano TDR Trolling Rod|
|Dipsey Diver Rods (Braided Line)||Very popular with steelhead anglers. Come in two main categories: those designed for braided lines and those intended for wire lines.||8′ to 10′||FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod (9′ and 10′), Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod (10′), Shimano Talora (8’6″), Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod (9′ to 10’6″)|
|Dipsey Diver Rods (Wire Line)||Designed specifically for wire lines which can be tough on guides||8′ to 10′||FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod (9′ and 10′), Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod (9′ to 10’6″), Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod (8’6″ and 10′)|
|Lead Core and Copper Lines||Designed for lead core and copper lines with larger metal guides to accommodate knots and prevent wear.||7′ to 9′||FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod (8′), Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod (8’6″), Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod (8’6″)|
|Planner Board Trolling Rods||Specifically for planner board trolling||Varied||FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod (8’6″), Ugly Stick GX Trolling Rod|
Best Downrigger Rods for Steelhead Fishing
Steelhead downrigger rods are typically lighter and more flexible and shorter than other trolling rods for good reasons.
Downrigger Rod Action
Effective steelhead downrigger rods have a softer tip section paired with a heavy butt section. This combination allows the rod to flex in the holder while providing the strength needed to battle a large steelhead.
Downrigger Rod Length
Downrigger rod length is a matter of personal choice but in my expereince, most charter guides prefer shorter 7 to 7’6″ rods. However, consider factors like ease of transport, boat size, and netting requirements when making your selection.
- 7-foot to 7’6″ Rods: Popular for their versatility and suitability for smaller boats.
- 8 and 9-foot Rods: Some fishermen prefer a longer rod for their extended reach and enhanced line control when fighting bigger fish, especially in larger boats.
Best Downrigger Rods for Steelhead
These downrigger trolling rods are trusted by professional charter boats and everyday steelhead anglers for use with spoons, flashers, flies, and cut baits.
- FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod: 8-Foot Medium Action – (Model: FFSHIP-T-802M or FFSHIP-T-902ML) – Used by Captain Richard Hajecki when trolling spoons. Designed for steelhead fishing. Check Price
- Shimano Talora A Trolling Rod: Available in 7 to 9-foot lengths. Offers added backbone for fishing braided lines deeper but also suits Dipsey Diver, Planerboard, and lead-core line fishing. Check Price
- Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod: Ranging from 7 feet to 8’6″. An affordable option for steelhead trolling with downriggers. Check Price
- Ugly Stik Bigwater Conventional Downrigger Rod: Available in 7 to 10-foot lengths. A popular choice designed specifically for downrigger fishing.
- Shimano TDR Trolling Rod: A budget-friendly option suitable for downriggers and Dipsey Diver fishing. Check Price
Pair these rods with a good line counter reel for steelhead fishing. See Best Trolling Reels For Steelhead.
Dipsey Diver Rods for Steelhead
Dipsy Diver fishing is very popular with steelhead anglers but Dipsey Diver rods for steelhead come in two main categories: those designed for braided lines and those intended for wire lines.
Rod Length for Dipsey Diver Rods: Opt for longer rods of 8 to 10 feet, some stores will recommend starting with a foot rod, but typically nine to eleven feet is good to accommodate the extended leaders used with Dipsey Divers.
Rod Weight and Action for Dipsey Diver Rods: Dipsey rods should be a slightly heavier or stiffer rod action with moderate action to handle the drag and pressure created by Dipsey Divers. Flexibility is key for absorbing shocks during hookups and battles.
Best Dipsey Diver Rods for Steelhead
For Braided Line:
- FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod: 9-foot medium-heavy (Model FFSHIP-T-902MH) or 10-foot medium-heavy (Model FFSHIP-T-1002MH). Check Price
- Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod: 10-foot medium-heavy Dipsey rod (Model WD-DD-1002MH). Check Price
- Shimano Talora: Available in 8’6″ medium or medium-heavy options. Check Price
- Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod: Ranging from 9 to 10’6″, designed specifically for Dipsey Diver use. Check Price
For wire lines, remember that they can be tough on guides, so rods with suitable guides for wire are recommended.
Best Wire Trolling Rods for Steelhead
- FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod: 9-foot (Model # FFSHIP-T-902MHW) or 10-foot (Model # FFSHIP-T-1002MHW). Check Price
- Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod: Available in 9 to 10’6″ Medium Power. Check Price
- Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod: Choose between the 8’6″ Medium-Heavy and 10-foot Medium-Heavy wire line rod. Check Price
Lead Core and Copper Lines
Rods designed for lead core and copper lines typically feature larger metal guides to accommodate the knots and prevent wear. You can enhance them with a Torpedo Roller Tip or twilly tip for added durability.
Rod Action: These rods are generally slightly heavier than downrigger rods, with a faster action than Dipsey rods but still moderate. This design provides the necessary backbone while absorbing shocks from waves.
Rod Length: Consider uniform line lengths or longer 8 to 9-foot rods on outside planner boards and shorter 7 to 8-foot rods on the inside.
Best Rods for Lead Core and Copper Lines for Steelhead
- FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod: 8-foot medium for copper and lead core lines (Model: FFSHIP-T-802MLC). Check Price
- Okuma Classic Pro GLT Trolling Rod: 8’6″ Medium (Model: CP-CL-862M). Check Price
- Okuma White Diamond Trolling Rod: Available in 8’6″ models designed for copper and lead core lines. Check Price
As for planner board trolling, consider the following options:
Best Planner Board Trolling Rods for Steelhead
- FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod: 8’6 Medium planner board rod (Model: FFSHIP-T-862M).
- Ugly Stick GX Trolling Rod: The Ugly Stick GX2 trolling rod, somewhat similar to the Shimano Talora, offers a bit more backbone and works well for mono surface planner board fishing.
New Okuma X Series Trolling Rods
The recently launched Okuma X Series salmon trolling rods in late 2023 are creating quite a buzz in the trolling world and these may be good for large steelhead.
For more details and an initial review, visit the Okuma X Series Trolling Rod Review.
Best Trolling Rods for Steelhead Q&A
If you have any questions or comments about the best trolling rods for steelhead, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below. Additionally, feel free to share your favorite steelhead trolling rods and techniques.