Best Fly Rod for Steelhead – Top 10 of 2022

// By Leonard Schoenberger

As an angler, we take pride in enjoying challenges and one of the best ways to truly experience the thrill of it is to go steelhead fishing.

Fishing for steelhead can be done in many ways, including float fishing, lure fishing, and bottom bouncing—but nothing beats the feeling of catching it on the fly.

Table of Contents:

Best Steelhead Fly Rods Quick Answer List

An Introduction to Steelhead Fishing

Types Of Fly Rods For Steelhead

Important Features in Choosing the Best Steelhead Fly Rod

Best Fly Rods For Steelhead Fishing: A Review

Best Steelhead Fly Rod Combo

Conclusion

Steelhead jumping a fall
A Steelhead jumping a fall

Best Steelhead Fly Rods Quick Answer List

1. DOUGLAS LRS

2. TFO PRO II SWITCH

3. THOMAS AND THOMAS DNA SPEY

4. WINSTON BORON III TH-MS

5. Redington Dually Fly Fishing Rod

6. ST. CROIX IMPERIAL USA FLY ROD

7. SAGE X FLY ROD

8. LOOMIS NRX+ FRESHWATER

9. Orvis Mission Two-Handed

10. LOOP Q SPEY RODS

An Introduction to Steelhead Fishing

Steelhead can sometimes be called a rainbow trout, one that migrates into the ocean and returns into its initial freshwater habitat once they spawn as an adult. This is one of the things that make steelhead species a lot more exciting than many other fish species, also making them the best targets for fly fishing. Unlike some of their cousin species, steelhead fish don’t just expire after they spawn; they can always just go back and forth stuffing themselves with food and growing to excellent sizes in the ocean and return back to freshwater to spawn multiple times. When they go back into the freshwater bodies, this is essentially the best time for anglers to look out for them.

There are definitely a lot of factors that you need to consider first before going out to fly fish for steelhead, but the end results would always be worth it. If you have ever caught a steelhead before, then there is a high chance that you would always dream for more of it—because that’s just how thrilling and challenging catching steelhead fish is.

Targeting steelhead needs a lot of mental focus and discipline, all without compromising the fun part of it. That being said, you would also need to invest in the right gear and equipment before basking in the glory of catching one. A great-quality fly rod is one of the most important things that you would need, so like any other thing for sportfishing, you have to thoroughly consider the factors before purchasing what you think is the best model for you.

Riverbed of a river in Oregon
A classic steelhead river in the Pacific Northwest

Types Of Fly Rods For Steelhead

Technically, there are no standard steelhead fly rods, only ones that are the best and ideal options for fishing them. There are three types that you can choose from: a Spey, single-handed, or a switch fly rod. Choosing between them mostly depends on certain factors like your location, fly choice, and the size of steelhead trout species that you will be targeting.

Spey Rods

This one is a two-handed rod that is used for spey casts. This is a technique for casting that allows anglers to cast at great distances effortlessly without needing room for back-casting. With this, you would get to cover more areas of water in just a short amount of time. Note that spey rods are mostly made for fly swinging, so if you prefer nymphing, choose either of the other two.

Single-Handed Rods

These are your traditional fly rods, great for fishing in small rivers where distance doesn’t really matter that much. These are great to use in small tributaries around large lakes, and ideal for swinging flies and nymphing.

Switch Rods

If you want the best of both worlds, then go for a switch rod. They are a combination of Spey and single-handed rods, all rolled into one. 

Steelhead Fish On
Hooked into a Steelhead – Photo by Dave Westburg

Important Features in Choosing the Best Steelhead Fly Rod 

It takes certain types of fly rods to help you handle steelheads a lot better. While baits and lures are essentially the most important things you need to settle first since they are the key to catching steelheads, finding the right fly rod also plays a significant part in your fishing performance. Here are some things you need to consider:

Action

The action of a fly fishing rod determines how it flexes and moves whenever you cast a line and catch fish with it. Anglers can choose three: light, medium, and heavy, but for fly fishing steelhead trout, the best and most ideal option would be the light action rod since it would make it easier for you to cast your fly, as well as absorb the shock of the hook set. A light action rod is also more flexible, a great feature you will appreciate when the trout you catch goes airborne.

Materials and construction

Fly fishing rods are usually made of fiberglass and graphite. While either of the two can work, it is better to choose graphite ones because they are generally lighter and a lot stronger, making it the suitable one for catching steelhead. 

Weight

Generally, the best weight for catching a steelhead is a 7 weight rod, especially if you opt to have a single-handed rod. However,  if you choose to have a Spey rod, a 6 weight rod would be good enough too if you are only chasing smaller steelheads. You can opt to have an 8 weight rod if you think you would be casting for about 90 to 120 feet across a river using a heavy sink tip.

On the other hand, an 8 weight is ideal if you want to have a switch rod since you need more power when you are Spey casting, in order to load the rod and the line properly. Compared to a 7 weight one, an 8 weight switch rod is better for catching and handling steelheads that are over 10lbs.

Length

The general rule that every angler should remember when figuring out the length of a rod is to take note of the water bodies you usually fish in. Longer fly rods are ideal if you fish on larger rivers, while shorter ones are preferable if you spend most of your time fishing in creeks and tributaries. 

Make sure that the one you choose would be able to satisfy your casting needs all throughout the day. For Spey rods, if you would be fishing in larger water bodies, then you will need a rod that’s generally over 9 feet for pleasurable casting and mending. An ideal length would be around 14-15 feet, and this alone can cast up to 90-120 feet. Moreover, an 11-12 feet Spey rod would be decent enough for smaller rivers. If you want to get the best of both worlds, though, opt for a 13 feet Spey rod.

For single-handed rods, the ideal length would be 10 feet, just enough for you to go nymphing. It will also provide you with better line control when it comes to mending, which will give you a great drift.

Switch rods, on the other hand, would be ideal at around 11 feet. This length would give you enough power to perform a Spey cast at a great distance, all while being short enough to go overhead. 

Steelhead fly fishing Swing Water
Swinging for Steelhead – Photo by Dave Westburg

Best Fly Rods For Steelhead Fishing: A Review

Choosing a steelhead fly rod does not make use of a one-size-fits-all method, but now that you know some of the most important factors that you need to consider before choosing one, check out some of the best rods on the market below!

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DOUGLAS LRS

The DOUGLAS LRS is a perfect choice for those who want a high-end performance at such a great and entry-level price. Whether you are a novice or a veteran, the LRS fly rods offer a finely tuned action that won’t leave anyone unsatisfied. It is designed with a deep blue finish and a stripping guide with a stainless nickel finish, as well as chrome snake guides, quality grips, and a carbon reel seat.

This medium-fast action rod is embedded with graphite technology and quality materials that will give you a smooth action, all while also giving you power and accuracy. The DOUGLAS LRS also comes with a premium Cordura tube that provides additional protection whether you are in or out of the water.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

TFO PRO II SWITCH

If you are looking for a rod that’s not heavy on the pocket, check out this Pro II Switch Fly Rod by TFO. Not only are they affordable, but they also give a great performance as well—just the perfect fit for beginner Spey anglers out there. 

The Pro II Switch Fly Rod by TFO‘s action is medium-fast and is lightweight enough to be easily controlled on the water. This is considered as one of the best-entry level rods in the market for Spey fishing, a great choice for those who don’t want to spend a lot without the compromise of quality, power, and performance.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

THOMAS AND THOMAS DNA SPEY FLY ROD

The Thomas and Thomas DNA Spey Fly Rod takes pride in its diversity and snappy nature. It has three different rod tapers that will let you enjoy different styles of Spey casting, which all include a progressive medium fly action that gives you a swift feel with a lot of feedback. Not only are they great for catching steelheads on the fly, but they are also best used on salmon species, too.

Its reel seat was designed to survive corrosion and weather. The Spey-style grip that it is built with will let you enjoy casting and fighting monster fish a lot more because of the comfort and convenience that it provides. The Thomas and Thomas DNA Spey Fly Rod even comes with an aluminum tube that’s blue powder-coated, offering enough protection when traveling and transporting.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT AT THOMAS & THOMAS

WINSTON BORON III TH-MS MICROSPEY

Best for steelhead and for trout, the WINSTON BORON III TH-MS MICROSPEY FLY ROD is truly worthy of every fly angler’s attention. The brand has added three light lines (3-5 weight), all of which can generate impressive high line speeds. Whether you tend to fish in big rivers or by the trees on the banks, you best expect that this one will give you excellent performance in any kind of weather. It’s fast action, embedded with an advanced Boron III technology that leaves no crumbs.

The WINSTON BORON III TH-MS MICROSPEY FLY ROD features an anodized aluminum reel seat, a TiCH-finished stripper guide, and a nano plasma ring. The rod also comes with a graphite rod tube that gives it premium protection no matter where you are planning to go.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT AT WYOMING FLY FISHING

Redington Dually Fly Fishing Rod

The Redington Dually Fly Fishing Rod got a huge improvement compared to the earlier models of this brand—it’s now more lightweight, more stable, and with an updated handle, all still for less than the price of $300. This rod has a moderate-fast action that provides a great balance of performance and versatility, as well as the right amount of flexibility to fight fish. The rod features an anodized machined aluminum reel seat that makes it ideal for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, without compromising durability.

The Redington Dually Fly Fishing Rod also has a soft-touch grip that gives any angler a better line control which equates to a smoother fishing experience. It comes in four pieces and a nylon tube for easier transport.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

ST. CROIX IMPERIAL USA FLY ROD

Also on the more affordable side, this fast-action ST. CROIX IMPERIAL USA FLY ROD provides a fairly great performance without needing you to sweat some bucks. These models are handcrafted in the U.S.A. exclusively and feature a combination of high-modulus/high-strain SCIV graphite and SCII graphite with premium quality. Its snake guides coated with black PVD provide extra hardness and a much smoother feel. 

The ST. CROIX IMPERIAL USA FLY ROD also features a machined-aluminum reel seat and a premium-grade cork handle to give you the most premium feel, for just more or less $300. 

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT AT BASS PRO SHOPS

SAGE X FLY ROD

Made by Jerry Siem, Sage’s chief rod designer, the all-new fast-action SAGE X provides an impressive blank recovery and a much swifter tip stop, allowing any angler to have more efficient loops no matter what casting technique they may use.

The SAGE X is embedded with the brand’s KonneticHD technology, as well as other advancements made, such as their high-density fiber positioning, laminate characteristics, and improved manufacturing techniques that all contribute to the rod’s premium durability. 

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

LOOMIS NRX+ FRESHWATER

Anglers who have tried the original NRX Series from G. Loomis would definitely marvel over this new LOOMIS NRX+ FRESHWATER — a new and improved makeover of their past models that were already a favorite of a lot of fishers. These rods were thoroughly designed with their Dynamic Recovery Technology, Mega Modulus+ graphite, as well as more technological advancements that make these models a couple of times better than the original NRX rods. 

Of course, the LOOMIS NRX+ FRESHWATER also comes with the brand’s aluminum rod tube and a cloth bag for optimum protection when traveling, whether you may be on a car, a boat, or even a plane.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT AT TROUTS FLY FISHING

Orvis Mission Two-Handed

These medium-action rods are greatly-designed Switch and Spey rods that are ideal for anglers who want optimum performance and versatility all at the same time. The Orvis Mission Two-Handed rods are designed and built with Helios 2 Technology that provides any angler ease for any casting technique they use.

The rods feature a composite cork in its high-wear areas, making it one of the most extremely durable models in the market today. No matter what level of experience you have as an angler, you best expect that these Orvis Mission Two-Handed rods won’t leave you disappointed.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

LOOP Q SPEY RODS

Another great choice for those who are on a budget, the LOOP Q SPEY RODS are a great choice for anglers who use heavy lines and big flies as this will provide a great casting performance. The Spey rods are loaded into the butt section for maximum distance capability and power, all without hurting your budget for the quality.

This is a great option for those who often target large Salmon and Steelhead in bigger rivers. Loop has garnered many fans around the world in recent years for their salmon rods which are easily some of the best on the market. Like we mentioned in other gear guides, it’s always a good idea to buy medium-priced products from brands that also produce premium rods. Their know-how tends to trickle down into these and often you get a great value for money. That’s the case with the LOOP Q SPEY RODS.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET THEM AT LOOP

Best Steelhead Fly Rod Combo

If you are new to the game of steelhead fishing or if you simply make 100% sure that your setup is perfectly balanced, a steelhead fly rod combo could be the right choice for you. Here are two

SAGE FOUNDATION OUTFIT

The SAGE FOUNDATION OUTFIT one is equipped with a high-performance Graphite blank, which gives it its fast-action casting power and incredible control. If you want something that is guaranteed to take your angling experience to a whole new level, then this set is one of the best choices there is.

The SAGE FOUNDATION OUTFIT also features a stealth black blank color, ceramic stripper guides, and hard chrome tip-top and snake guides, as well as an anodized aluminum uplocking reel seat in black. The 2019 Outfits have the Sage Spectrum C, RIO Gold fly line, and a rugged silver gray nylon rod and reel case.

GET IT AT TRIDENT

GET IT ON AMAZON

Orvis Helios™ 3D Fly Rod

The Orvis Helios™ 3D Fly Rod takes pride in its capability to cast at great distances, all without compromising its power, and it sure does not leave crumbs every single time. These models were built to have the energy focused behind every cast.

This also features an increased hoop strength that equates to lesser vibration for swift accuracy. The takeaway is that this particular rod is guaranteed power and accuracy all in one. Whether you may be in big freshwater rivers or in saltwater, this Orvis Helios™ 3D Fly Rod is sure to make you land fish on every trip you make.

GET IT AT ORVIS

GET IT AT REELFLYROD

Conclusion on the Best Fly Rod for Steelhead

Now that you have a sufficient idea of what you need to consider when choosing a great fly rod for steelhead, take this as a sign to thoroughly think of what rod you most need right now. Fishing for steelhead may be fun and challenging, but you would need to invest in a worthy fly fishing companion for you to greatly enjoy the experience—so choose well!

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