The best spinning reels for Steelhead fishing offers smooth drag, excellent line lay, and built around a rigid solid frame. They must be built 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.
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.
So lets get into a little more details 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, it makes for a much smoother, more predictable reel when fighting fish.
What size reel for steelhead fishing
I always prefer to use a reel that can hold around 140 yards of 10lb line, that is because a large steelhead can go on runs over 250 feet, so this gives plenty of capacity to fight fish even if some line gets lost during break offs. This is normally around a 3000 size reel, but there is no uniform reel size between brands (and sometimes even within brands).
If you also plan on targeting Salmon, consider stepping up one reel size to around 4000.
Consider reels in this size range.
- Shimano 3000
- Daiwa 3000 (Although the Daiwa BG has larger capacity so consider the 2500)
- Penn 2500
- Pflueger 35
- Abu Garcia 30
- Okuma 30
The best spinning reels for steelhead fishing?
Steelheads fight harder and grow bigger than resident trout. So to target them we need more powerful tackle.
The team here at Troutresources have fished with, owned and reviewed many spinning reels over the years. Over on our best spinning reel for trout fishing buyers guide we have shared our experiences on what are the best trout reels. Out of these, we are going to list what we consider to be the best spinning reels for Steelheads.
We break our recommendations down into four price categories.
Shimano Stradic FL 3000
We have reviewed the Stradic 2500 on our buyer’s guide, and the Stradic 3000 is just as good. Just with slightly increased capacity. In our 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.
Check our Shimano Stradic FL review here
Daiwa BG 3000
If you are looking to spend around $100, look no further. The Daiwa BG is an upgrade of Daiwa’s iconic Black Gold series of reels. At around $100 the Daiwa BG represents durability, dependability at a low price.
The BG features an oversize gears, for increased durability. The frame offers good stiffness and is constructed with a blend of graphite and aluminum. This achieves the best compromise between weight, performance and cost.
While we have not reviewed the BG because it is a bit too heavy for most forms of trout fishing, and anyone looking for a trout reel would be much better off with the lighter Daiwa Regal LT . Now, Steelheads are bigger and stronger than most trout meaning the BG is well suited for targeting them. I have fished the older Daiwa Black Gold reels in the surf for years, and they certainly are strong and I have no reason to expect anything different from the BG.
The BG is slightly heavier than most reels we suggest, but if weight is not an issue we suggest checking out the 2500 or 3000 sizes for targeting powerful fish such as steelhead and even salmon.
We love Pflueger President reels, they offer a lot of value for where they set in the market. The Pflueger President 35 is an ideal size for a steelhead reel. In our review, we considered it the best value trout spinning reel for under $100.
Factors that rate the Pflueger president above the rest include very low weight, smooth performance, and a long history of proven durability.
Check our Pflueger President review here
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
For a dedicated steelhead reel, the C-30 size is our recommendation.
Check our Okuma Ceymar review here
Frequently Asked Questions
How much line capacity on 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 slightly stronger line.
Can you fish braid on a Steelhead reel?
Yes. Braid works well for steelhead fishing. I favour 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 even line lay.
When fishing braid, you can go for a slightly smaller reel or spool size. Using a heavier braid than necessary simple 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 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 trends to over test so it is usually safe to use a slightly lighter breaking strain.
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