6 Best Rods for Salmon Fishing: Steelhead Poles Reviewed

by John Laconsay

6 Best Rods for Salmon Fishing: Steelhead Poles Reviewed

by John Laconsay

by John Laconsay

Salmon is a popular sport fishing target because the techniques are great fun, and salmon taste great. They live in freshwater streams but travel long distances to spawn.

Catching them takes the right method and the right salmon fishing rod. If you need a quality salmon fishing rod, read through this review to find the best ones.

Preview

Product

Rod Length

Action

Line Weight

Check Price

TICA HLHB86MH2S Hlhb Alaska Series Salmon...

ica HLHB

Alaska

8’6”

Moderate-fast

8 - 12 Lbs.

Okuma Celilo Graphite Salmon/Steelhead...

Okuma Celilo Graphite

9’6”

Medium

6 - 12 Lbs.

KastKing Krome Salmon and Steelhead Fishing...

KastKing

Krome

9’0”

Fast

8 - 12 Lbs.

Fenwick HMX Salmon/Steelhead Spinning Fishing...

Fenwick HMX

9’6”

Moderate-fast

8 - 15 Lbs.

G. Loomis IMX Steelhead Side Drift Spinning...

G. Loomis IMX Steelhead

9’2”

Moderate

6 - 10 Lbs.

Lamiglas LX79MS / 7'9' / Fast / 8-15, Multi

Lamiglas

X-11 Cork

7’9”

Fast

6 - 15 Lbs.

Why Salmon Fishing Requires a Special Rod?

Salmon are social fish that have a powerful sense of smell. They are born in freshwater and mature in saltwater. When they spawn, they go back to freshwater or estuaries.

Steelhead and salmon aren’t the same things. They can generally be fished with the same salmon fishing rod because they feed on invertebrates when they’re small and insects, shrimp, or other fish as adults. It requires a mix of sensitivity to feel salmon and steelhead attack a lure and enough power to get them out of the water, which is why tailored salmon fishing rods are necessary.


What Makes a Good Salmon Fishing Rod?

Fishing Technique

Salmon anglers employ different methods such as drift-fishing, plunking, and float fishing. Unless you’re fishing in a huge river, casting super-long distances won’t be necessary. Accuracy will be more critical. If you’re trolling or floating a lure in the water, then giving the bait a lifelike presentation will be vital to getting a fish on. That takes a rod blank with a parabolic bend, but it should still be sensitive enough to feel attacks.

Rod Type & Material

Salmon fishing rods can be either casting rods or spinning rods. Casting rods have line guides on the top of the blank while spinning rods have the opposite arrangement. Spinning rods are easier to use, but baitcasters are more accurate and better for larger targets like chinook.

Salmon fishing rod blanks can be graphite or composite materials like carbon fiber. They used to be fiberglass, but the other materials are more flexible and lightweight.

Rod Length

Longer salmon fishing rods will cast further while shorter ones are generally more accurate. The size of the body of water and the presence of other anglers will also affect which size is best. Lighter rigs may require a steelhead fly rod, which is going to be longer. The best rod length for salmon fishing will be between 7’6” and 9’6”, although plenty of anglers prefer even longer lengths for further casting.

Rod Action & Power

While many anglers fixate on having fast-tipped rods, the best rod for salmon fishing should have some parabolic bend to it. Floating and drifting lures through the water will take a softer blank so the salmon can take the lure without realizing it’s fake. The rod should still have a fast enough action to set the hook, and it should also have enough power to turn the fish toward the boat and get it out of the water. 

Rod Handles

It’s critical to have a rod that will remain comfortable during long days of fishing and tons of casts. Rod materials are usually either cork or EVA foam. Whichever type you have, it should stay graspable even when it gets covered with water.

The handle also functions as a wench in a fight with a strong fish. Longer handles give more room to grip and lift salmon up out of the water after you bring them in close enough.

Line & Lure Weight

Always match your line and lure weight with the size of your target. Larger salmon like chinook will require lures up to 1 oz and line up to 25 pounds. Medium-sized salmon could be caught with line half that size. Manufacturers rate their salmon fishing rods with these weight ratings, and you might be able to go slightly higher than the rating, but don't overdo it, or you could damage the rod.

Fishing Environment & Water Clarity

Salmon migrate to saltwater to mature and return to estuaries or freshwater to spawn. So you can catch them in a variety of different environments. Make sure your gear can handle saltwater corrosion before you try salmon fishing in the ocean and remember that they may be more feisty since they're typically younger. Salmon fishing in saltwater is similar to regular surf fishing, while fishing for them in rivers is a method all its own.

Price & Warranty

You can generally find a salmon fishing rod for very little money compared to other types of fishing rods. Some cost a few hundred, but budget options also exist. Even $40 rods have proven effective at catching steelhead and salmon. More expensive models tend to be protected by longer and better warranties, but cheaper ones are easier to replace if they break.


6 Best Salmon & Steelhead Rods Reviewed

1. Tica HLHB Alaska Salmon Steelhead

Our Top Pick

Rod Length

8’6”

Action

Moderate-fast

Line Weight

8 - 12 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium

Material

Graphite

The Tica HLHB Salmon Steelhead fishing rod series is a lightweight and flexible rod that casts fantastically and rests comfortably in hand even after several hours of fishing. The action is fast enough in the tip to get a clean hook set but flexes further down the blank, which allows it to handle heavier lures and makes fighting salmon on the end of the line that much more fun.

A Tica proprietary graphite reel seat holds a spinning reel in place snugly. There’s a trigger near the handle for better grip when you’re fighting fish, and the cork in the handle doesn’t slip when it gets wet. In terms of line handling, it doesn’t get much better than the Tica HLHB Salmon Steelhead fishing rod series. Reliable line guides from Fuji paired with the moderate-fast action and modular graphite construction of this rod mean it can handle a lot of weight without buckling or breaking.

If you prefer to use a baitcasting reel, there’s a casting version of this salmon steelhead rod, too. The spinning version breaks down into two pieces to make it more portable. The blank is sensitive enough to feel what’s happening on the end of the line, and even though the handles are quite long, you can feel the rod's sensitivity no matter where your grip on the rod is.

A minority of anglers might prefer a faster tip action than this one, but moderate-fast action is more suitable for salmon. The lightweight portability and excellent flex make this the best rod for salmon fishing in the widest variety of conditions.

Pros
  • Lightweight & portable
  • Great rod sensitivity
  • Large cork handle
  • Superior line control
  • Durable blank & hardware
Cons
  • Slower action

2. Okuma Celilo Graphite

Best Fishing Rod for Trout and Salmon

Rod Length

9’6”

Action

Medium

Line Weight

6 - 12 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium-light

Material

Graphite

The graphite blank Okuma has constructed for their Celilo graphite series is unparalleled for feeling the subtle bite of steelhead, trout, and salmon. Many salmon steelhead spinning rods don’t offer the right mixture of balance, sensitivity, and power that this Okuma steelhead rod does. It’s also deadly accurate. Anglers who know the proper casting technique will be able to land their lures wherever they want on a river and still have the backbone needed to rip through weeds and rocks or best a strong fish.

Using finesse fishing techniques is one of the best ways to make fishing for trout and salmon even more fun. These Okuma Steelhead rods are perfect for casting lighter lures and giving them a more lifelike presentation once they’re in the water. The slower action makes it flexible enough to handle more delicate baits, but it can still handle drop-shots and set the hook just right. Power tackle will destroy salmon and trout if you can even manage to get them to bite with it.

With aluminum oxide inserts and a split cork grip, the Okuma Steelhead rod's hardware is pretty standard. It does do a good job handling line and turning fish, though. The line rating is high enough to use some medium-weight tackle if you want to try and chase the largest salmon.

A warranty covers these Okuma steelhead rods, but they’re so inexpensive that you could easily buy a brand new one for a little bit more than the warranty fee. Overall, this is not only one of the best rods for salmon fishing, but it’s also versatile enough to earn the title of best fishing rod for trout and salmon both.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Great flexibility
  • Sensitive rod blank
  • Accurate casting
Cons
  • Standard hardware
  • Not great for large targets

3. KastKing Krome

Best Salmon Steelhead Rod Under $150

Rod Length

9’0”

Action

Fast

Line Weight

8 - 12 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium-light

Material

Carbon fiber

For anglers looking for a salmon fishing rod that still has the fast action needed for a clean hook set, the KastKing Krome is the perfect option. It has a competitive price, but the hardware and the blank construction are leagues ahead of most models on the market.

The blank is super lightweight thanks to its IM8 carbon fiber construction, and it has a reinforced kevlar lower section to help haul fish out of the water. It is stiffer than typical salmon fishing rods, which makes for excellent sensitivity. Still, inexperienced anglers could easily rip the hook out of a fish’s mouth if they put too much power into the hook set.

Fuji reel seats give these award-winning salmon steelhead spinning rods dependable strength for casting and reeling in fish. They seem to handle any sort of line material well, and they’re rated to handle up to 12-pound test, plenty for salmon spinning rod fishing. At nine feet long, the KastKing Krome is just the right rod length for salmon fishing in wider rivers.

It might be too long if you’re fishing in a crowd, but if you’re careful, you can still use this rod to send a lure flying a great distance. The handle is longer and seemingly bigger than on a standard salmon fishing rod, which helps anglers keep a good grip, although if you have smaller hands, it could lead to fatigue after a few hours.

Pros
  • Perfect rod length for salmon fishing
  • Fast action
  • Long-distance casting
  • Handles any type of line
Cons
  • Stiffer blank
  • May cause hand fatigue

4. Fenwick HMX

Best Salmon Spinning Rod for Fishing

Rod Length

9’6”

Action

Moderate-fast

Line Weight

8 - 15 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium

Material

Carbon fiber

Beginners to salmon fishing will love the Fenwick HMX salmon fishing rod because it’s easy to cast and is optimized for use with a spinning rod, which is a much simpler way to start learning. With that kind of salmon fishing rod reel setup, drift fishing will be easy and effective.

The rod blank is more flexible than a typical salmon fishing rod, making it more forgiving. This rod has a fast-action tip but also flexes a bit lower down in the rod, which will help novice anglers get a clean hook set and pull salmon and steelhead out of the water.

Anglers with plenty of experience can still have lots of fun with this rod. Its carbon fiber construction makes it lightweight, and it breaks down into two sections so that it’s more portable. Even though it isn’t as stiff as a salmon fishing rod geared toward the biggest salmon and steelhead targets, it still has plenty of backbone for hauling small- to medium-sized fish up. There are plenty of line guides running the rod's length, and their zirconium inserts keep the line running smoothly and prevent line snaps.

Fenwick also backs up this salmon fishing rod with a top-of-the-line limited warranty. It’s good for five years after the date of purchase, so if there are some residual defects from the manufacturing process, you can rest assured that you won’t be without a salmon fishing rod again.

Pros
  • 5-year limited warranty
  • Ideal for beginners
  • Plenty of fighting power
  • Lightweight & portable
  • Increased line weight
Cons
  • Better for medium targets

5. G. Loomis IMX Steelhead

Top of the Range Steelhead Rod

Rod Length

9’2”

Action

Moderate

Line Weight

6 - 10 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium

Material

IMX carbon

The IMX material used in the blank of this series of G. Loomis steelhead rods gives them a great parabolic action for setting the hook in steelhead. It also has just the right sensitivity for the angler to feel when the target takes the bait and an excellent moderate action so you can still set the hook before the fish drops the lure. If you like side-drifting off a slow boat with a trolling motor in the wintertime, these G. Loomis steelhead rods are the best option.

When you side-drift, your lures must have the most lifelike presentation to entice the more lethargic steelhead and salmon. This rod has the perfect flexing and a strong enough backbone to animate the lure, feel the strike, set the hook, turn the fish, and get it into the boat. That tricky turn might rip a lesser rod out of an angler’s hands, but the G. Loomis IMX steelhead rod can handle it.

When it comes to casting, this rod has the right flex, but the blank itself could be a bit stiffer for more casting distance. However, for short, accurate casts, the 9'2" salmon fishing rod performs well. It feels more tuned for short casts and floating in the current, optimal for steelhead and salmon fishing.  

Pros
  • Parabolic action
  • Strong backbone
  • Perfect for side-drifting
  • Good sensitivity
Cons
  • Better for medium targets

6. Lamiglas X-11 Cork

Best Salmon Fishing Rod Under $100

Rod Length

7’9”

Action

Fast

Line Weight

6 - 15 Lbs.

Rod Power

Medium

Material

Graphite

One of the nicest things about this salmon fishing rod is the exposed-blank construction in the reel seat. It transfers movement on the end of the line to the reel seat, giving the angler unmatched awareness of what’s happening with the lure. The backbone is also built to transfer energy the other way, which means anglers can give their lures a lifelike presentation in various salmon fishing techniques. Casting spinners, side-drifting, and trolling are all a cinch with this salmon fishing rod.

The balance of this Lamiglass is on par with salmon fishing rods that cost much more. That helps it feel comfortable and reduces hand staring throughout long days of casting, not to mention it allows anglers to cast more accurately. It still has enough power in the backbone to counter fish resistance and get them onto the boat.

All in all, the Lamiglas X-11 Cork is the best budget steelhead fishing rod that punches high about its weight. The line guides have ceramic inserts which are by far the best for smooth line dispersal and retrieval. There’s also a built-in hook saver to make carrying it around more manageable and avoid accidental jabs with a sharp barb. It’s just the right rod length for salmon fishing because it’s not too long but not so short that it can’t cast a fair distance.

Pros
  • Higher line weight
  • Exposed-blank build
  • Ceramic line guides
  • Cork handle
  • One-year limited warranty
Cons
  • Less backbone

How to Properly Set Up a Salmon Fishing Rod

The most effective reel for salmon fishing is a low-profile baitcasting reel. They’re the most accurate and least obtrusive. Pair it with a lightweight salmon fishing rod about 9 feet long. 15-20 pound mono line will work for large chinook targets, 5 or 6 pounds for smaller ones.

One common method is to tie two stoppers to the end of the line and use a floater. Use scented targets that mimic salmon food sources and create enticing movements in the water. If float fishing, make sure to choose a lure that won’t sink too fast.


Salmon Fishing Tips for Beginners

Salmon fishing is tons of fun because they put up a fight, but you should be aware of some basic safety tips. Never cast in a crowd, wear gloves to avoid hook injuries, and wear waders if you’re going to walk into the water. Here are a few more helpful tips:

  • Basics of Salmon Fishing
    Salmon fishing is most fun in May through September in the northern tributaries of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, although it’s possible to catch them as late as November if you’re in the right place. You can use these methods to catch salmon with a spinning reel from shore.
  • Salmon Fishing Techniques
    Drift fishing is when you cast into the current of a river and let the lure float downstream. Float fishing with a float will require a longer rod, at least 10’6”, while spoon fishing allows you to cover tons of water by casting far across a running river.
  • Type of Baits & Lures for Salmon Fishing
    Flashers that mimic the side-to-side motion of salmon feeding are very effective at attracting them to your hook. Others include skirts, hoochie rigs, spoons, and live bait like herring.
  • Other Salmon Fishing Essential Gear
    Besides a low-profile baitcasting reel, you can also use gloves and pliers to handle the fish and a cooler with ice if you plan on keeping them. Bait sac floaters enable your bait to stay off the bottom and in front of salmon for longer.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What are the differences between salmon and steelhead?

Steelhead trout and salmon are both anadromous, but they don’t look exactly the same. Steelhead can be caught later in the year and are usually able to spawn more than once, unlike salmon. Steelhead are rainbow trout that have migrated to saltwater at some point, so they behave fairly similarly.

What is the best type of bait for salmon fishing?

Salmon smell very well, so they like smelly baits. They also like baits that mimic their food or lures like flashers that mimic other fish's movement when they move. Anything that will entice them to come closer to investigate will provoke an attack on your line.

Are there any care and maintenance steps needed for salmon & steelhead fishing rods?

If you’re fishing in estuaries or saltwater, you should always spray down your salmon fishing rod after each use. Use a soft cloth or rag to dry it before storage. Once a season, apply a sealant or anti-corrosive treatment to the rod to keep it in good working order.

What is the best time to fish for salmon & steelhead?

May through September is the best time to catch salmon in North America, especially in Alaska. Steelhead are most active in mid-fall and until early spring, which means you can fish them when salmon aren’t biting. Occasionally, salmon can still be caught as late as November.

Where is the best place to find quality salmon fishing rods?

To find the best deals on salmon fishing rods and make the easiest comparisons, there’s no beating Amazon. All the same prices and warranties apply at authorized retailers, and you can even buy direct from the manufacturer on Amazon when the company's website is out of stock. There are also periodic and seasonal sales on Amazon to keep an eye out for.


Conclusion

Graphite rods that have a parabolic bend and allow anglers to feel what’s happening on the line are the best salmon fishing rods. The Tica HLHB Alaska Salmon Steelhead has all that plus an industry-leading backbone that can both lead the line for great casting and rip salmon right out of the water, which is why it’s our top pick.

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