5 Best Spinning Reels For Steelhead Fishing

Spinning reels for steelhead must be strong to handle big steelhead like this one

I have been getting a lot of requests about the best spinning reels for steelhead so I’ve decided to do an article about that. I sometimes use spinning reels when guiding for steelhead, salmon, and trout, and it’s not just the size of the reel that matters.

The best spinning reels for steelhead are ones that have a smooth strong drag that can handle the fast long runs of steelhead. A spinning reel with a smooth drag is also very important and you can find that on reels like the Shimano Stradic spinning reel.

The best size spinning reels for steelhead are a 3500, or 35, however, for smaller rivers or larger rivers you might find a smaller or larger reel better. There are other things to consider, which are all discussed below.

The Best Spinning Reels For Steelhead: What’s Best For You

Before you buy any spinning reel for steelhead you should seriously consider these things.

Reel Size

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.

It’s the size of the spool and how much line it will hold that is most important and not so much 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. See Type OF River Below

Gears and Drag:

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 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.

However, when fishing very large rivers like the Niagara river or the Frazer river, or many of the West Coast steelhead rivers you will need a size 40 to 50 ( size 4000 to 5000) spinning reel.

These larger rivers can have fast flows and lots of room for a steelhead to run 300 feet across the river. And, 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 line that will tire them out is a must.

For most rivers around the great lakes region, a size 30 to size 40 (3000 to 4000) spinning reel for steelhead is good. I use 30 and 35 when guiding. For most west coast rivers, a size 35 to 45 (3500 to 4500) spinning reel for steelhead is best.

Size Of Steelhead

The average size of the steelhead in your rivers can be a factor to consider. If you fish the river mouths and cast out int other ocean or great lakes, you may require a different size, see below.

On some 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 25 to 35 would be good.

On lake Ontario rivers or west coast rivers where the average steelhead is much larger, a 40 to 50 (4000 to 5000) spinning reel for steelhead is best.

For lake and ocean fishing where you might be casting from shore or fishing a river mouth, I would recommend a 40 to 50 (4000 to 5000) size spinning reel for steelhead since those fish are hard fighting with miles of water to run.

In the meantime, I discuss the best reels for steelhead when float fishing on my page 4 Best Spinning Reels For Float Fishing. I use these same reels for lure fishing and for bottom bouncing and drift fishing for steelhead so check it out.

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

The 5 Best Steelhead Reels


  • Graham - River Guide / Instructor

    I am a full-time river fishing guide with over 20 years of guiding experience and I run one of the top river guide services with a team of great river guides. I have guided about 3000 anglers and this website is a compilation of the tips and methods that I teach my clients and other guides. Check the About Us page in the bottom menu for more about me and our river guide contributors.

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