These are the spinning reels that other steelhead guides and I have tested in all conditions and for all sizes of steelhead, so you know they work well for steelhead.
I’ve also consolidated the most recommended spinning reels from other websites and forums so you get details on over 15 reels and can end your search here.
I use spinning reels when guiding steelhead to cast lures, drift fish, float fish, or surf fish. It’s not just the size of the reel that matters when fishing for steelhead.
Steelhead spinning reels must have a smooth and strong drag that can handle the fast long runs of steelhead. They need to have a good line capacity, and durable gears capable of reeling in many large steelhead.
Our Picks For The Best Steelhead Spinning Reels
I was able to test all of these five spinning reels out on steelhead, and I had some of my guides that I work with test these reels out, so we had hands-on experience with all of them before we recommended them.
Pro Tip Sizing: Most of these reels are good for steelhead in sizes 30/3000 to 40/4000. Look the the line capacities of each reel to determine the best for your river and the size of the steelhead. Bigger rivers and bigger steelhead will need a larger line capacity.
What To Look For In Spinning Reels For Steelhead
Before you buy any spinning reel suitable for steelhead, you should seriously consider these things.
Reel Size For Steelhead
Your reel size will depend on the average size of the steelhead you will be fishing, the size of the river, and how much line you might need to present your bait or lure, or to fight the fish properly.
The size of the spool and how much line it will hold are most important, not the actual size of the reel.
However, a larger reel is required if you want a larger spool with a higher line capacity.
When buying a spinning reel for most steelhead rivers, you want a reel that can hold at least 150 yards of 10-pound test monofilament line.
Gears and Drag: The Most Important Part Of A Great Steelhead Reel
Cheaper reels will have inconsistent drag systems that are not smooth, and they may also have gearing not capable of reeling in big steelhead.
A smooth drag can make all the difference when you are fighting that trophy of a lifetime steelhead.
And, the better the gears, the more line uptake you will have and the longer your reel will last.
You will also need a heavy enough drag of at least 20 pounds. This is more important on the bigger rivers and bigger steelhead. However, remember that often, your leader is your weakest link, and rarely do we fish more than 18-pound leaders.
Type Of River
The type of river, or should I say the size of the river, matters a lot when deciding on the right spinning reel suitable for steelhead.
What I mean is that if I’m fishing a Great Lakes steelhead creek that’s 30 feet wide, I can probably get away with a size 20 or 25 (size 2000 – 2500) spinning reel because often you are fishing steelhead in confined spots.
Even if the steelhead does run far up or down the river you can chase them, therefore you really don’t require a large reel with a large line capacity.
When fishing very large steelhead rivers like the Niagara River, the Frazer River, Skeena, Columbia, or many of the big West Coast steelhead rivers, you might consider a spinning reel in a size 40 / 4000 spinning reel.
The primary benefits of a 4000 size reel on very large rivers are that they hold more line, and a have a stronger drag system.
This is good since anglers on the larger faster flowing rivers will use heavier and thicker lines.
These larger rivers can have fast currents and lots of room for a steelhead to run 300 feet across the river. If the steelhead decides to bolt down the river, you may not have the ability to chase them, and this is where a good drag combined with lots of fishing line that will tire them out is a must.
The downside to using a 4000 to 5000-size reel is that many anglers find it to be too big and bulky for all-day-long fishing.
Anglers that use 4000-sized reels say they are a bit too big for smaller to medium-sized rivers.
However, not all reel brands size their reels the same. A Pflueger XT 40 is a good size for steelhead another brands might be to large.
For most rivers around the Great Lakes Region, a size 25 to 35 (2500 to 3500) spinning reel is suitable. I mostly use size 30 and 35 when guiding for steelhead. For most West Coast rivers, a size 30 to 35 (3000 to 3500) spinning reel is best.
Size Of Steelhead
The average size of the steelhead in your rivers can also be a factor to consider.
On some Great Lakes rivers, like the ones you find in Lake Superior, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the steelhead are on the smaller side, averaging 5 to 8 pounds. For this size steelhead, especially on the smaller rivers, a size 30 would be good.
On Lake Ontario rivers or West Coast rivers where the average steelhead is much larger, a 3500/ 35 or a 40/4000 spinning reel is best for steelhead fishing.
If you fish the river mouths frequently and cast out into the ocean, you may require a different size spinning reel that has a lot of line capacity since steelhead in the lake or ocean are full energy and have a ton of room to swim far.
So for lake and ocean fishing where you might be casting from shore or fishing a river mouth, I would recommend a 40 to 4500 (4000 to 4500) size spinning reel for steelhead.
In the meantime, I discuss the best reels for steelhead when float fishing on my page 4 Best Spinning Reels For Float Fishing.
If there’s a chance that there might be some salmon in the river when you are fishing for steelhead often, you can see the best reels for salmon at Best Reels For Salmon Fishing.
I also have reels that I use for trout since trout spinning reels are often smaller and don’t have the same drag and line capacity requirements.
Other Recommended Steelhead Capable Spinning Reels
I did the research an found out what the top five websites are recommended as the best steelhead spinning reels. I’ve tried many of these reels, and although I do not agree with some of their choices, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
- Pflueger President (3500 and XT Models) – Recommended three times and once by us.
- It’s known for its smooth performance and low weight.
- Strong drag system and durable construction.
- Suitable for various fishing conditions and techniques.
- Shimano Vanford (3000 and 4000 Series) – Recommended two times. I’ve also recommended this reel before on my trout pages and salmon pages.
- Penn Battle III (2500 and 4000 Series) – Recommended two times, and I have recommended this reel before.
- Shimano Stradic FL (2500 and 3000 Series) – Recommended two times. I highly recommend this spinning reel for steelhead, trout, and salmon.
- Recommended for its durability and excellent performance.
- Good line management capabilities.
- Durable construction, suitable for demanding fishing conditions.
- Daiwa BG (3000 Series) – Recommended two times and once by me.
- It is known for its oversized main gear and rigid frame.
- Effective for targeting powerful fish like steelhead and salmon.
- Slightly heavier but offers significant power and durability.
- Okuma Ceymar (C-30 size) – Recommended once.
- A budget-friendly option with good performance.
- One of the lightest reels in its price bracket.
- High tolerances and high-quality gears.
- Check prices and details at Amazon
- Daiwa Tournament SS 1300 – Recommended once.
- Favored for its worm gear oscillation, facilitating longer casts.
- Noted for balance issues but appreciated for its casting capabilities.
- Penn Spinfisher VI 2500 – Recommended once.
- Preferred for its better performance and durability compared to similar models.
- Suitable for challenging fishing environments.
- Penn Pursuit and Fierce – Recommended once.
- Good alternatives to the Penn Battle III.
- It has a similar performance but is slightly cheaper.
- Known for their reliability and strength.
- Shakespeare Sigma 2200 – Recommended once.
- Mentioned for its quality, durability, and drag performance.
- Suitable for anglers who value traditional reel designs.
- Orvis 100As and Shakespeare 2062 – Mentioned once.
- Noted in the context of vintage reels.
- No specific recommendations or details provided.
- Lews Reels – Recommended once.
- Recommended for their great performance and durability.
- Specific models were not singled out.
- Okuma Carbon ITX – Recommended once.
- Recommended for its overall quality.
- No further details were provided.
- Cardinal 4 – Mentioned once.
- Briefly mentioned without specific details.
- Mitchell 300 – Recommended once.
- Noted for its durability and performance.
- An older model but still appreciated for its reliability.