The best spinning reels for Steelhead reels start with a rigid frame, smooth drag, and excellent line lay. They are built solid, with no flex under pressure. They must be tough, and perform like new even after 10,000 casts.
If I had to pick just one spinning reel for Steelhead fishing, it would be the Shimano Stradic FL 3000.
So let’s get into a little more detail on what makes a good steelhead spinning reel.
What makes some spinning reels better than the rest?
Most reels are now very smooth, with more than enough ball bearings. What separates the best reels from the rest is becoming less obvious. The three features I consider are the most important, but often overlooked in budget reels are.
- Smooth Drag: having a smooth drag is more important than a powerful drag. It allows for predictable pressure to be applied while the steelhead tries to escape. There is not much need to apply more than 8lb of drag when fighting steelheads.
- Excellent Line lay: The line must lay evenly on the reel, across the entire length of the spool, without empty slots forming at either the end of the spool. Poor line lay results in decreased casting distance and increases the risk of memory which can result in wind knots.
- Minimal Flex: A reel with a structurally sound rigid frame not only reduces wear and tear, but it also makes for a much smoother, more predictable reel when fighting fish.
How do steelhead reels differ from trout reels?
Other than size, steelhead reels do not differ significantly from trout reels. In saying that, because steelheads are larger fish, the reel frame needs to be strong enough not to flex under a greater amount of pressure.
What size reel for steelhead fishing
For steelhead consider reels in this size range.
- Shimano 3000
- Daiwa 3000 (The Daiwa BG has a larger capacity so consider the 2500 size)
- Penn 2500
- Pflueger 35
- Abu Garcia 30
- Okuma 30
When targeting steelhead, I prefer to use a reel that can hold around 140 yards of 10lb line, that is because a large steelhead, if not fought properly can go on long runs over 250 feet. Good luck stopping a steelhead running with the rapids on an ultralight size reel.
This is normally around a 3000-size reel, but reel size is not uniform between brands (and sometimes even within brands).
If you also plan on targeting Salmon, maybe consider stepping up one reel size to around 4000. Although I have landed them on my 2500 size Shimano. It really comes down to how skillfully you can fight and control the fish.
The best spinning reels for steelhead fishing?
Steelheads fight harder and grow bigger than resident trout. So to target them more powerful tackle is generally used.
Over on our best spinning reel for trout fishing buyers guide I have shared my experiences on what I consider to be the best trout reels. Out of this selection, I am going to list what I consider to be the best spinning reels for Steelheads.
Steelheads are turbo-charged rainbow trout which have grown powerful living at sea. As they reach sexual maturity, the urge to spawn grows inside them they start to head upstream. Rainbow trout are naturally feisty, powerful fighters liking to go on long runs with plenty of aerobatics.
Steelheads take the fight to the next level. They can pull a serious amount of string and can test fishing equipment, unlike any trout. This is not the time to be using 4lb monofilament on an ultralight setup. You want gear with some stopping power.
We break our recommendations down into three price categories.
Best $200 Steelhead: Shimano Stradic FL
I have previously reviewed the Stradic 2500 and the Stradic 3000 is just as good. Just with slightly increased capacity. Both sizes are okay for steelhead fishing.
In my opinion, the Stradic is one of the best Steelhead reels around and it ticks all the boxes. It offers excellent durability, performance, and general line management.
Why spend $200 on a reel? Will for the money you are getting high-quality gearing with better tolerances. Because everything is so refined, the amount of wear and tear even when under load is a lot less than cheaper reels.
Despite having a metal frame, the Stradic is also an extremely lightweight reel. With the Stradic you gain the dependability of a metal frame, all in a package that weighs less than some carbon frame reels.
Check our Shimano Stradic FL review here
Best Sub $100 – Shimano Sahara FJ
Last year Daiwa held the title for the best $100 reel, this year Shimano retook the lead when they refreshed the Sahara line-up of reels and released the FJ.
It is an improved reel over the older Sahara FI and its cheaper variation the Sedona FI. Shimano always makes good reels, but the old Sahara was just a little on the heavy side and lacked anything special to differentiate it from the crowd.
In this price category, the Sahara FJ reel basically competes for the top spot with the Daiwa Legalis family of reels. While the Legalis is cheaper and slightly lighter, the Sahara is simply a more durable reel with a much more rigid frame and higher-quality gears.
So at its price point, there is a lot to like about the Sahara FJ.
Best Sub $50: Okuma Ceymar
If you are on a very tight budget, the Okuma Ceymar is our recommendation. The Okuma Ceymar offers good performance and some of the lightest weights for a reel in its price bracket.
The Ceymar took the lead spot over the competition thanks to its higher tolerances and higher-quality gears.
For a dedicated steelhead reel, the C-30 size is my recommendation.
Check our Okuma Ceymar review here
Runner ups – still great but not the best
Best budget metal frame: Daiwa BG 3000
The BG is slightly heavier than most reels we suggest, but if weight is not an issue the 2500 or 3000 sizes makes for a great reel for targeting powerful fish such as steelhead and even salmon.
The BG features an oversize main gear, and a rigid frame constructed from a blend of carbon and aluminum. This achieves the best compromise between weight, performance, and cost.
Like all Daiwa’s the BG does an excellent job with line management. The spool is also oversized which helps with casting distance.
The main reason why the BG falls short of getting recommended is that the reel has been plagued with issues regarding the anti-reverse mechanism.
I have fished with Pflueger President reels for years, they offer a lot of value and a very iconic reel. The Pflueger President 35 is an ideal size for a steelhead reel.
Factors where the president rates highly include very low weight and, smooth performance for the money.
While the President is a great reel, it is not quite as refined as many of the reels higher on this list and does not quite have the durability to deserve a top spot.
Check our Pflueger President review here
Frequently Asked Questions
How much line capacity for a Steelhead Reel?
Fishermen targeting Steelhead typically want 140 yards of 10lb line. This gives plenty of capacity to allow the steelhead to go on long runs.
What Breaking Strain of Line to Catch Steelheads.
The breaking strain of the line really depends on where you are fishing. The Steelhead on the west coast rivers are typically larger, and more powerful than the lake run fish around the great lakes.
Out west, I will use 10 or 12lb mainline, while when fishing the tributaries of the great lakes I will fish 8lb or 10lb line. If the river is fast and boisterous, might want to consider a slightly stronger line.
Can you fish braid on a Steelhead reel?
Yes. Braid works well for steelhead fishing. I favor braid due to its high sensitivity, and its low diameter allows for extra casting distance. When fishing braid, it is even more important to have a reel with an even line lay.
When fishing braid, you can go for a slightly smaller reel or spool size. Using a heavier braid than necessary simply reduces casting distance. My favorite braid to use for Steelhead fishing is Berkely Fireline. (Check my Fireline review here)
When fishing braid, you will also need to use a leader. Steelhead can be line shy, so use a thinner leader of around 8lb in clear water, in murky water 12lb leaders can be fished. I fish around 9-12ft of leader, allowing for the leader to be around the spool while netting the fish.
What is the best monofilament line to use on a Steelhead reel?
I have written an overall of my eight favorite trout fishing lines here. There is no need to spend a lot of money to get good quality line. I personally like Stren Original, it is a very strong line that tends to over-test so it is usually safe to use a slightly lighter breaking strain.
How about a reel for both trout and steelhead?
If you want to use just one reel for both trout and steelhead, I suggest getting a Shimano 2500 size with a spare spool.
This size reel can hold 200 yards of 6lb, or 120yds of 10lb. So while maybe not be ideal, it is good enough to handle both river-dwelling and sea-run forms of rainbow trout.
On one spool, I suggest running 4lb to 6lb line and fill the other spool with 8-10lb line. The exact breaking strain of line really depends on local conditions.