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
- Best Spinning Rod: KastKing Krome Salmon/Steelhead Rod
- Budget Pick: OKUMA Celilo Graphite Salmon/Steelhead Spinning Rods
- Best Value: X-11 Cork – Salmon & Steelhead Fishing Rod
- Best Trolling Rod: Okuma Classic Pro GLT
- Rod and Reel Combo: UglyStik Big Water Trolling Conventional Fishing Combo
Top 6 Salmon & Steelhead Rods
How to pick the best salmon fishing rod?
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.
Your desired fishing technique will largely dictate the type of rod you’ll need.
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 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, and larger Steelhead.
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.
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.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.