Best Salmon (& Steelhead) Rods: Trolling, Spinning, Casting, and More

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Whether you’re after the mighty Chinook, the prized Sockeye, or the wily Atlantic salmon, you’ll need the right gear to increase your chances of success. Salmon aren’t the easiest fish to catch, which is why investing in one of the best salmon rods makes sense.

Salmon can put up one hell of a fight – especially trophy-sized fish – which is why salmon rods need to be tough and durable. Most of these rods are longer than average, allowing for long, accurate casts into shallow pools and streams.

Despite being large, predatory fish, most salmon species have a remarkably soft bite, which necessitates a sensitive and flexible rod tip.

The combination of sensitivity and power needed in a good salmon rod makes these rods fairly specialized. I’ll break down some of the best rods for spinning, casting, and trolling – plus how to pick the right one for your needs.

Quick Answer: 6 Best Salmon & Steelhead Rods

Best Overall: Lamiglas Kenai Kwik Heavy Action Cast Troll Rod

Lamiglas kenai kwik heavy action cast troll rod (xcc 934 gh, 9-feet/3-inch)

If you’re looking for the top of the line salmon/steelhead rod out there, look no further. Made by proven rod manufacturer Lamiglas, the Kenai Kwik rod is built for heavy action trolling and casting.

Built from only the highest quality components, including USA made blanks, Fuji stainless steel guides and reel seats, this 2-piece rod is both functional and attractive. At 10’6” long, it’s the ideal length for trolling or fishing with downriggers.

Made from a composite of fiberglass and graphite, the moderate action rod features a soft fiberglass tip section to allow fish to take your bait before feeling the rod. The powerful graphite bottom section provides the muscle needed for fighting trophy fish and allows for deep hook penetration.

Carbon fiber grips and a matte black finish on the blanks provide a lightweight and aesthetically pleasing design that really catches the eye.

Key Features

  • Made using the highest quality Fuji components
  • Composite 2-piece fiberglass and graphite construction
  • Rated for 15 – 30 pound test line and 1 – 8 ounce lures
  • Designed and built in the USA

Best Spinning Rod: KastKing Krome Salmon/Steelhead Rod

Durable, versatile, and surprisingly lightweight, the KastKing Krome rods are a cut above any other rods at this price point. The fit and finish are second to none, with high carbon and nano-silica blanks, Kevlar reinforces butts, and Fuji K-Frame guides/reel seats.

The design is visually striking, with the dark carbon fiber and Kevlar immediately catching the eye. The lightweight and sensitive design mean you’ll be able to feel every nibble, while the sturdy backbone means you’ll have the muscle needed to wrangle a big salmon in fast water.

The rod handles are made from carbon fiber, making them both durable and no-slip. No matter how wet and slippery the conditions get the grip won’t fail you.

Available in 15 different spinning and casting configurations – from back bouncers to free drifters to heavy-duty trollers – you can easily find the ideal model to match your fishing style.

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Key Features

  • Incredible fit and finish – carbon, Kevlar, and nano-silica rod materials
  • High-end Fuji guides and reel seats
  • Excellent value – you won’t a find better bang for your buck
  • 15 different technique-specific designs

Budget Pick: OKUMA Celilo Graphite Salmon/Steelhead Spinning Rods

Okuma celilo graphite salmon/steelhead spinning rods, ce-s-862ma

If you’re looking for a durable and versatile salmon and steelhead rod and don’t want to break the bank, the Okuma Celilo makes an excellent option. It was specifically developed with salmon and trout anglers in mind, with all the features you’d expect in a more expensive rod.

Graphite composite blanks provide excellent sensitivity, while aluminum oxide guides prevent line fraying and deterioration. The stainless steel hooded reel seats perform admirably, and the cork grips work well in a variety of situations.

The rod is priced cheaply enough that you can load up a boat with several of them, and if one does fail, you’re only out $50 or so.

Available in several different lengths and actions, you can easily find the ideal rod for your target fish and fishing technique.

Key Features

  • Incredible fit and finish – carbon, Kevlar, and nano-silica rod materials
  • High-end Fuji guides and reel seats
  • Excellent value – you won’t a find better bang for your buck
  • 15 different technique-specific designs

Best Value: Lamiglas X-11 Cork – Salmon & Steelhead Rod

Lamiglas x-11 salmon/steelhead spinning rod

The X-11 is an ideal rod for experienced anglers and newbies alike. Specifically designed for targeting salmon and steelhead, this rod casts and fishes as well as rods two and even three times the price.

The frame is constructed from tough and durable fiberglass composite, providing the backbone needed to fight serious sized salmon. It’s still remarkably sensitive though, allowing for long and accurate casts, as well as the deep hooksets needed when targeting these fish.

The reel seat placement is another strong point. It uses a traditional reel seal lock, which prevents the upper portion of the handle from spinning when you’re fighting with a big fish.

The tapered cork handle and glossy merlot finish make this rod an attractive choice for any angler. It’s available in a wide variety of lengths and actions, from 7’9” up to 10”6”, so there’s an ideal rod for every fishing style.

Key Features

  • Lightweight and durable 2-piece graphite composite
  • Excellent value – fishes like a far more expensive rod
  • Wide variety of lengths, actions, and lure weights available
  • Attractive yet serious high gloss merlot finish and tapered cork handles

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Best Trolling Rod: Okuma Classic Pro GLT

Okuma classic pro glt copper/lead core trolling rod (12- 27 lbs)

Looking to troll for salmon or steelhead? You’ll need a rod that’s tough, strong, and capable of withstanding some serious action – the Okuma Classic fits the bill nicely. It’s all fiberglass construction makes it tough-as-nails, while its reasonable price point makes it a great option for any skill level.

A triangular-shaped EVA foregrip provides excellent purchase on the rod, no matter how slippery and wet the conditions get. The bottom grip is coated in durable shrink tube, which improves grip and allows for easy removal from rod holders.

The stainless steel and titanium oxide guides utilize double foot construction, ensuring your line stays secure during intense action.

The trolling rod model comes in both 9-foot medium-heavy action and 8’6” medium action configurations.

Many anglers also find these rods work well for catfish and striper fishing.

Key Features

  • Available in 9’ and 8’6” lengths
  • All fiberglass construction is durable and affordable
  • Rubber shrink tube on butt improves rod holder removability
  • Double foot guides protect and secure your line

Rod and Reel Combo: UglyStik Big Water Trolling Conventional Fishing Combo

Ugly stik bigwater casting fishing rod & penn rival level wind conventional reel combo

If you’re looking for an all-in-one salmon and steelhead rig, then look no further than the 2-piece UglyStik Bigwater Combo. It bundles the well-known Ugly Stik Bigwater rod with a Shakespeare 30 size line counter baitcasting reel.

The rod utilizes composite graphite and fiberglass construction to create a strong, yet sensitive blank that’s capable of handling salmon, steelhead, lake trout, and other large species. It features Ugly Tuff one-piece stainless steel guides, which provide excellent durability and helps to prevent insert pop-outs.

The rod is available in two configurations – an 8’3” light rod and a 9’ light rod. Both come with durable EVA grips to provide a comfortable and non-slip grip.

While the rod/reel combo is ideal for trolling, it also works well for surf and pier fishing.

Key Features

  • Combo rod and reel is ideal for salmon, steelhead, stripers, and trout
  • Composite graphite and fiberglass rod construction are durable and sensitive
  • Available in 8’3” and 9’ rod lengths
  • Excellent value

How to pick the best salmon fishing rod

1 2022 08 best salmon and steelhead rods

Picking the best salmon rod that fits your needs, budget, and fishing style can seem like a daunting task. Not to worry – I’ll break down what you need to know to when buying a salmon and steelhead rod.

Fishing Technique

Your desired fishing technique will largely dictate the type of rod you’ll need.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing involves drifting a bottom-bouncing rig along the bottom of fast-moving shallow water in rivers, streams, and inlets. The goal is to present your bait or lure in a natural manner – by floating and bouncing it downstream at the same speed as the current.

Typical salmon and steelhead drift fishing rods are long and flexible, ranging from 8 ½ feet for smaller tributaries to 12 feet for more heavy-duty use. The added length helps with long, accurate casting – as well as giving you the extra torque needed for hooking and fighting the fish.

Drift rods can be paired with either spinning or baitcasting reels depending on your preference.

Float Fishing

Float fishing is utilized in slow-moving or static water like big eddys and tidewater at slack tide. The goal is to float the bait between one and two feet above the bottom, enticing salmon to swim up from the bottom and grab your bait.

A basic float setup uses a float (often a slip-bobber), several split shots to weigh down your bait presentation, a swivel, and a 12-24” leader. Salmon eggs are the most popular bait, but shrimp, herring, spinners, spoons, and flies can also work.

Float fishing rods are similar to drift fishing rods, but are slightly longer – typically in the 9 ½    to 12-foot range. Shorter and lighter rods work best for smaller Pink and Coho salmon, while longer, beefier rods are ideal for spring salmon, Chinook (King) salmon, larger Steelhead, and Arctic Char.

Trolling & Downriggers

Trolling can be an extremely productive way to catch salmon, especially if your targeting larger Chinook salmon, which tend to stay deeper in the water column.

These rods need to be durable enough to withstand the stress of being trolled at full bend for hours at a time. They’re typically made from either full-fiberglass or a graphite/fiberglass composite. All graphite rods don’t have the durability needed for trolling, and can even break under the stress.

Most trolling rods for salmon will fall in the 8’6” to 11’ length and feature a medium to heavy power rating. Longer rods will have more shock-absorption, while shorter rods make it easier to net your fish – especially when you’re fishing solo. Shorter rods are also preferable when you’re trolling from small boats or kayaks.

Downrigger specific rods are similar to trolling rods, and can often be used interchangeably. They’re often slightly shorter – in the 7’ to 8’6” range.

If your’e interested in learning more about downriggers check out my breakdowns of both electric and manual downriggers. 


The most common materials used in salmon rods are fiberglass, graphite, and composites.


Fiberglass is probably the most commonly used material in salmon and steelhead rods. It’s durable, flexible and can withstand the rough and tumble action needed to wrangle a trophy salmon up from the bottom.

The major downside to fiberglass is its weight. Fiberglass weighs significantly more than graphite or composite and tends to result in thicker diameter blanks.

All-fiberglass construction is commonly found in trolling/downrigger rods, where rod weight is not a major factor.


Graphite is ultra-light, highly sensitive, but lacks the durability of fiberglass or composites. It’s commonly found in lighter spinning and casting rods, and especially in budget-oriented options.

These rods are great for detecting subtle bites and strikes, and really feeling the fish’s behavior.

Graphite is fairly brittle though and can shear or shatter into pieces from ‘high-sticking’ or from damage during transport.


Composites combine the strength and durability of fiberglass with the weight and finesse of graphite. Some also utilize cutting-edge materials like carbon fiber or Kevlar.

Composites are found in all types of rods, from trolling to spinning and casting. These rods can vary widely, from sturdy fiberglass heavy trolling rods to graphite heavy drift rods. You’ll often find high-end composites in offshore rods for tuna, marlin and other large species, but they’ve also become more popular in lighter freshwater rods.

The only major downside to composite rods is their price. They’re significantly more expensive than all-fiberglass or all-graphite rods.


Price is always an important consideration when you’re considering fishing gear. You don’t want to buy the cheapest rod available, just for it to snap in half on the first fish you hook!

Luckily, a good salmon and steelhead rod can be had for a reasonable price. Rods like the KastKing Krome and the Lamiglas X-11 can be purchased for less than $150 – offering excellent value for your money.

Although salmon and steelhead rods are fairly specialized in terms of design, many can also double as pike, muskie or walleye rods.

Check out my review of fishing rod storage racks for a good way to organize and display your rods and reels.  

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