7 Best Steelhead Fly Rods Recommended By River Guides

Best Steelhead Fly Rods

River guides know the best steelhead fly rods because they get to use a lot of different fly rods. I have probably used over one hundred different fly rods for steelhead around the great lakes region and on the west coast rivers. I will go over the 7 best steelhead fly rods from economy rods to high-end rods and explain which sizes are best.

The best steelhead fly rods will be 10 to 11 feet long and in the 8 weight range. The best steelhead fly rod for great lakes steelhead is a 10 foot 7 weight rod and the best rod for west coast steelhead is a 10 foot 8 weight or 9 weight rod. These are the best rods for a few reasons.

There are many reasons why there are different fly rods for great lakes steelhead and different fly rods for West Coast steelhead. The method, the size of the river, and the steelhead itself are all reasons.

See below for the best rod for you and your area.

Best Steelhead Fly Rods For Great Lakes Steelhead

A 10 foot rod on a 50 foot wide steelhead river
This is one of my clients using a 10 foot fly rod on a 50 foot wide steelhead river.

Many of the great lakes steelhead rivers are small in comparison to the much bigger west coast steelhead rivers and therefore require different fly rods.

I think the average great lakes river is around 40 feet wide but there are smaller rivers that can be 20 feet wide or less, and the bigger ones can be over 100 feet wide.

Regardless, these smaller steelhead rivers that are under 60 feet wide do not require long casts to get your fly out to the fish, they are not as open and susceptible to heavy winds like the much bigger west coast rivers are, most of the fishing on these smaller river is in small confined sections of the river, and this all means that these smaller rivers do not require a heavy fly rod.

These smaller rivers can often be easily walked along the bank if you need to chase a big steelhead up or down the river so you also do not need a heavy rod to power the steelhead into the net.

For these reasons, a 10 foot seven weight or eight weight fly rod is ideal for great lakes steelhead fishing.

The rod that I recommend the most to all of my clients and the steelhead fly rod that I use all around the great lakes region the most is a ten foot, seven-weight fly rod. I have even used 10 foot six weight fly rods and 11 foot six weight fly rods for many years and I have caught steelhead up to 23 pounds on a six weight fly rod.

You might be thinking, why would I suggest a 6-weight fly rod, isn’t that too light for great lakes steelhead? Back when I was in my teens, I wise tackle store owner that sold steelhead fly rods said to me that the heavy bulky rods are not as nice to fish after 8 hours on the water. These heavy rods can tire out your wrists, arms, and shoulders.

So I took his advice and I bought a 10 foot 6 weight fly rod that I used for 20 years and I’m sure I landed over 1000 steelhead on it, and I haven’t met a steelhead on a river less than 80 feet wide that I could not handle with that six weight rod.

But there is another very important thing about steelhead fly rods that I learned from 20 years of guiding.

I have heard my clients tell me that the fly shop owner they talked to, or some guy in the fly shop only recommends an eight-weight fly rod for steelhead, so they are confused when I tell them a 6 or 7 weight rod works great for steelhead and that an 8 weight is too heavy for great lakes steelhead.

The reason why many anglers, including the shop owners, believe that an 8-weight fly rod is what you need for steelhead fishing is because they are thinking “BIG FISH, BIG ROD”. But this is wrong!

What they are not understanding is that sure, you could horse a big steelhead in with 16-pound tippet and that heavy eight weight rod that they recommend, but when I’m nymphing for steelhead, (which is what most anglers do), the steelhead are often line-shy around the great lakes and they are not going to bite my nymph if it’s tied to 14 pound, or 16-pound tippet.

So to catch steelhead consistently when nymphing, I and my clients need to use an eight to 10-pound tippet. But, if I do use an 8 pound tippet 90% of the time, I can’t apply all the pressure and the power of an eight weight fly rod or I’ll just keep breaking the steelhead off.

At best I’m probable only using 70% of the power and backbone of an 8 weight fly rod so whats the point of having an eight weight fly rod when you can;t use all that power anyways.?

So why not just downsize to a lighter six weight or seven weight fly rod and make it easier on my arms and shoulders.

The other thing with an 8 weight rod, is that if I do hook a big steelhead on 14 or 16-pound tippet and I apply too much pressure I’m risking bending out my fly hook, or ripping it out of their mouth. So again, with the flies we use for great lakes steelhead, an eight weight rod is overkill.

That is why I prefer and recommend a lighter 10 foot 7 weight fly rod that I can use a lighter tippet with and then take my time playing the steelhead more gently and I don;t have to worry about straightening my fly hook.

And trust me when I say that my clients, my guides, and I have proven that this size fly rod is the perfect size for great lakes steelhead.

The days when I’m standing in a pool and pulling out 50 steelhead beside other anglers that are struggling to catch a few, it’s a combination of the right rod and reel, the right line and leader setup, good flies, and the skills to get a great presentation.

I discuss all of this and more on my page Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style, so if you are not catching as many steelhead as you think you should be, check that page out.

Now if you are the type of fly angler that likes to nymph fish, streamer fish, and swing flies with the same rod then an 8 weight rod might be a better rod. 8 weight steelhead fly rods are better flor casting further distances, and are better in wide open areas with stronger winds.

When I fish massive rivers like the Niagara River or the St.Mary’s River I prefer an 8 weight or even a 9 weight fly rod.

The Best Length For Great Lakes Steelhead Fly Rod

You could use an 8 foot or a 9-foot fly rod for steelhead but I find them short and a longer fly rod will help you catch more fish.

The best length for a great lakes steelhead fly rod is 10 feet long because the longer rod allows you to cast further and easier, mend easier, and the added length helps to protect lighter tippets that are often needed when steelhead fishing.

If you want a steelhead fly rod for primarily casting streamers then a 9 weight rod is a good option.

Steelhead Fly Rods The Guides Use

I have found that in different areas, guides will use different rods based on a few factors.

Often guides in one area will use different rods based on what their local store sells, if the store is an Orvis dealer that could be what the guides are all using in that area. This is why sometimes guys will say to me “none of the guides in my area use the rods that I do”.

Also, a guide’s choice of rod is often dependent on the price and where they can get the best price from since guides often need multiple rods and that can be costly.

Guides will also use rods based on which company will provide them with a pro or guide discount. Many companies have guide programs to help out the guide and to get thier rods in the guide’s clients’ hands.

I got rid of all my rods at one point because Hardy gave me a fantastic price I could not refuse, 10 rods later and I was really liking their steelhead rods and so were my clients.

Because of these reasons, 4 different guides might use 4 different brands and chances are that they all are suitable for steelhead.

My point is that most decent to high-quality fly rods in that size range I recommend, and if set up and then fished properly should work provided they are meant for the style of steelhead fishing that you are doing. So you if do not like my choice of rods, there are many other brands out there.

My article helps anglers find rods from low to high price ranges that are suitable for steelhead. They are steelhead fly rods that I know other guides use, and I have used for steelhead and are all good choices for steelhead.

5 Best Steelhead Fly Rods

One of the best fly rods for steelhead under $200 is the TFO Professional II Fly Rod

TFO Professional II Fly Rod

I have been using TFO rods for about 12 years and I have spent years guiding with them. For the price, these are the best economy steelhead fly rods.

Check Alternative Price and Stock

This is a good rod for under $200 in some stores, and a rod that I have no problems using as a guide rod or fishing with for fun. I have always said for the price you can’t beat most TFO fly rods. They often fish and feel as good as rods that would cost you $200 or $300 dollars more.

The other great thing is I used to be a dealer of TFO rods when I owned my tackle store and their customer service and warranty is excellent.

For steelhead fishing around the great lakes, I recommend the 10 foot 7 weight TFO Professional 2 fly rod, model number TF 07 10 4 P2.

For steelhead fishing on bigger rivers or on west coast rivers, I recommend a different rod because this rod may not have the backbone or durability for the bigger rivers and bigger steelhead. See below.


Best Steelhead Fly Rod Douglas LRS Fly Rod 10 foot 7 weight
Best Steelhead Fly Rod Douglas LRS Fly Rod 10 foot 7 weight

Douglas LRS Fly Rod

This is another good rod for under $200 for Great Lakes steelhead and West Coast steelhead.

Check Alternative Price and Stock

This is the only rod I would recommend for both great lakes steelhead and west coast steelhead to anglers that are looking for a steelhead fly rod under $200.00. This rod is meant for bigger fish and has been a pleasure to use when fishing for steelhead.

This rod comes in sizes for big and small rivers and will fit your budget. It gets great reviews and the guys that use them really like them. The sizes of this fly rod range from 10 foot 7 weight, 10 foot 8 weight, and 10 foot 9 weight.

I would use the 10 foot 9 weight only on very large rivers and west coast rivers.

This single-hand rod is suitable for nymphing or casting streamers.


Guides Choice Steelhead Fly Rods

See the Jeff Blood Fly Rod in action
Click on the picture to see the Jeff Blood Fly Rod in action

Jeff Blood Premium Fly Rod

Designed by a long-time Great lakes Steelhead guide for the purpose of steelhead fishing.

The Jeff Blood Fly Rod was built for fly fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead and was really designed for nymphing. It is designed and made by a long-time great lakes steelhead river guide Jeff Blood. I would have no issues nymph fishing for steelhead on small to mid sizes west coast rivers with this rod.

This rod was made to be balancing flawlessly in your hand and handle all kinds of steelhead fishing which makes this one of my top choices for a great lakes steelhead fly rod.

This premium steelhead fly rod is great for casting and presenting the fly with or without an indicator. It has just the right flex and power for good hook sets and for fighting and landing steelhead of all sizes.

I like the extra 10’3 length in the 7-weight model, but the 8-weight is pretty nice for those anglers that might want to use it for some great lakes salmon fishing in the fall or when steelhead fishing on the west coast rivers.

This steelhead fly rod is made of all high-quality components and is a pleasure to fish with.


St Croix Imperial steelhead Fly Rod
Click on the picture to see the St Croix Imperial steelhead Fly Rod review

St. Croix Imperial Fly Rod

I used to sell this rod in my tackle store and I used to guide with one. 10 foot 7 weight Fly Rod

Check Alternative Price and Stock

The 10 foot 7 weight St Croix Imperial fly rod is a good mid-priced fly rod for fishing for great lakes steelhead. The 10 foot 8 weight should handle west coast steelhead and also great lakes salmon and is a good choice of rod in this price range.

I found this rod to be a bit softer than some other rods which protects light tippets and can help when flipping over indicator rigs. The 7-weight fly rod that I guided with for a couple of years handled the hundreds of steelhead that my clients hooked with it.

This is one of the best steelhead fly rods in this price range.

St Croix Imperial Switch Rod

Another great steelhead rod in the St Croix Imperial rod lineup and one that I guided with a really enjoyed fishing is the St. Croix Imperial USA Switch Fly Rod. This is what I would consider a light switch rod that was fun to nymph with and fun to swing flies with.

The 11 foot 7 weight was a great rod on all the great lakes and rivers that I guide and fish on and would be suitable on just about every great lakes steelhead river. The added length and power in this rod made casting big indicator rigs, weight, and multiple flies easy and it also made mending super easy.

This is a great choice for anglers that like the extra length and size for the bigger rivers and bigger fish.

The only downside to this rod is the extra weight on the arms and shoulders at the end of the day which is to be expected from a switch rod.


St Croix Imperial steelhead Fly Rod
See the St Croix Imperial steelhead Fly Rod review

Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod

A great high-end steelhead fly rod for great lakes and west coast steelhead.

Another great rod from the well-known fly fishing company Orvis. I have had a dozen clients or more come out and fish with this rod and it is an excellent high-end rod for anglers that want one of the best steelhead fly rods available.

This rod in the 10 foot 7 weight or 8 weight would be great on any great lakes steelhead river and the 8 weight would be suitable for west coast steelhead.

It comes with all high-end components and is a pleasure to fish with. It makes indicator fish, mending, and fighting big steelhead so much better.

Other great steelhead fly rods are:

Got A Question About The Best Steelhead Fly Rods

There you have it, 6 great options to get you fly fishing for great lakes and west coast steelhead. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for steelhead fly rods let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines

Graham

Cool River Fishing Accessories

Simms Taco Bag

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

SIMMS 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

Waterworks-Lamson Ketchum 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.

Clip-on Magnifiers

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.

3 Comments

  1. Curious what guides recommended the rods you mention for west coast steelhead? The rods you suggest are not being used by anyone I’m aware of here on the west coast.

    1. Hey Rob,

      River guides will use different rods in different regions depending on availability as well as what their local stores sell or recommend.

      Guides will also use different rods depending on where they can get the best prices. If a company like Sage or Scott or Orvis is targeting guides in your area and those brands are providing good guide discounts, chances are that’s what the guides you see or you use are all going to be using. That doesn’t necessarily mean those fly rods are better or worse rods.

      Different areas and different guides will use and recommend different rods so if your guide recommends a fly rod to you, go with it.

      Keep this in mind. I can think of 4 local guides that I know and they all use different steelhead rod brands. Two of those brands I wouldn’t use even if the company gave them to me for free. But those guides use those rods and recommend them simply because they did get them for free from those companies. I think this happens a lot. I am not affiliated with any company (by my choice) so I recommend what I know works.

      Good luck,

      Graham

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.