7 Best Steelhead Fly Rods of 2023: Recommended By River Guides
As a river guide I have probably used dozens of different fly rods for steelhead around the great lakes region and on the west coast steelhead rivers. I will go over the 7 best steelhead fly rods from economy rods to high-end rods and explain which sizes are best for steelhead.
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.
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Best Steelhead Fly Rods For Great Lakes Steelhead
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 rivers 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. Match the rod with a good fly line and the right leader setup and you are good to go.
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,11 foot six weight fly rods, as well as switch rods from 5 weight to 8 weight. For many years and I have caught hundreds of steelhead with some 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 that 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 a 16-pound tippet on a 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.
You need to use the right size tippet to get a bite.
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 probably only using 70% of the power and backbone of an 8 weight fly rod so what’s 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 a 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, 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. Eight weight steelhead fly rods are better for casting further distances, and are better in wide open areas with stronger winds.
However, many anglers only do one method, which is usually nymphing, so often guy will use spey rods for spey fishing or they will use switch rods.
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 to be too short and believe that 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 their 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 if you 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
Redington Path Fly Rod
The Redington Path Fly Rod is the best 10-foot 7-weight “economy fly rod” that is suitable for great lakes and light west coast steelhead fishing.
Known as an all-purpose rod, the 10-footer gives you the length and the moderate fast action will help you flip indicators over as well as improve your mending.
I have seen this rod sell from $114.00 to $159.00
Echo Ion XL Fly Rod
I have recently tested out the Echo Ion XL fly rod. This is a highly rated rod targeted to beginner and intermediate anglers.
River guides will also love this rod because it’s easy to use and teach with. The 10 foot 7 weight and 8 weight are good choices for most steelhead rivers.
Check Alternative Price and Stock
The Echo Ion XL 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 used and tested plenty of Echo rods in the past and find they get better every year. The Echo rods 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 Echo rods when I owned my tackle store, so I know that their customer service and warranty are excellent.
For steelhead fishing around the great lakes, I recommend the 10 foot 7 weight or 8 weight for all methods typically used.
Douglas LRS Fly Rod
This is another good rod for under $200 for Great Lakes steelhead and West Coast steelhead.
The Douglas LRS Fly Rod is a good rod that I would recommend for both great lakes steelhead and west coast steelhead if you are an angler that is looking for a steelhead fly rod under $200.00 or if you fish large rivers.
The Douglas LRS fly Rod rod is meant for bigger fish and has been a pleasure to use when fishing for steelhead with methods like nymphing with indicators or single hand swinging flies and streamer use.
The Douglas LRS fly 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
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.
The Jeff Blood Fly 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.
The Jeff Blood steelhead fly rod is made of all high-quality components and is a pleasure to fish with.
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
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 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.
Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod
A great high-end steelhead fly rod for great lakes and west coast steelhead.
Check Alternative Sale Price and Stock
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:
- G. Loomis NRX+ Freshwater Fly Rod – 10 foot 7 weight and 8 weight – Check Price and Stock
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.
Currently looking for a steelhead fly rod and your article was very helpful Graham! Thanks.
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.
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.
Great series of articles! Since the TFO Pro II is discontinued and I don’t seem to be able to find a St Croix Imperial (my first choice) available, IS there another affordable solution other than the Douglas?
Yes, unfortunately, I’m still seeing manufacturing issues and delays so some rods are hard to get or are being discontinued. I’ve updated the page to include other great rods like the Echo Ion XL and the Redington Path Fly Rod. The Redington is a decent option if you are on a tight budget.
Hi I love the blog! Thank you for all you do. I try to buy through your links whenever I can so I can help support the site. I spoke to an old guy while fishing for steelhead in Rocky River , Ohio. He mentioned that he likes using a 10′ 5 wt rod because it’s the best “Swiss army knife” setup for versatility. Do you have any thoughts on that? I know first hand that a 9′ 5 wt is not really good for a steelhead’s health.
Thanks for all your support.
You make a good point about the 5-Weight not being good for the steelhead’s health, it’s generally better to get them in quickly. I think a 5-weight is a bit light for most steelhead, however with a 5 weight rod, you could still use the 6 to 8 pound tippets and horse them in by just applying a lot more bend in the rod. That is probably what he is doing. But, there’s a reason you don’t see steelhead guides using 5 weights for steelhead, and that’s simply because the heavier rods handle fish better and are better for fishing and line control.
For most great lake rivers, 6 to 8 weight rods are best, with the 7-weight being a good middle ground, and the 8-weight, well, save it for the bigger rivers.
Best Of Luck,