Top 5 Best Steelhead Fly Rods Reviewed (2021 Buyer’s Guide)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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Fly fishing for steelhead is a game of patience – This is why steel heads are known as the fish of a thousand casts. 

You can spend hours steelhead fly fishing with minimal rewards but when the rewards come, they are certainly worth it. 

The pull of a steelhead is like a rainbow trout on steroids.

They jump and run you around. Your heart will be in your mouth because you’ve waited so long for one to eat. 

You can fly fish steelhead in a number of ways, styles, and with different rods, so working out which steelhead fly rod is for you isn’t so easy.

This article will give you the details you need to make an informed decision. Read on to find what the ideal steelhead fly rod is for you.

Before we proceed with the entire lineup, here is a quick look at the top three steelhead fly rods…

The Best From The Review

Top Pick

Orvis Clearwater Switch

A really versatile steelhead fly rod that performs well, is affordable, and comes with a 25-year guarantee.

Orvis Clearwater Switch

The best steelhead fly rod overall is the Clearwater Switch line of rods. 

It is affordable and has high performing castability and build. I love its versatility. 

This one rod allows you to fish every kind of steelhead water in every season, from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes, with any technique you like whether it’s overhead casting, nymphing, or swinging flies.

Best Value

Redington VICE

A versatile rod that can be used for multiple species. It’s the ideal weight and length to use for bass, bonefish, pike, stripers, and more.

Redington VICE

The best value rod is the Redington Vice. 

It’s durable, affordable, and versatile.

It’s a fly rod that can be used for multiple species in multiple environments, including steelhead in small to medium-sized rivers like the Delaware River, bass in Lake Okeechobee, and bonefish on the Bahama’s flats.

Editor’s Choice

G. Loomis Asquith

Light, durable, and incredibly well made. It loads efficiently and lets you throw a fly line large distances with minimal effort.

G. Loomis Asquith

I love to use Spey casts and I love swinging flies and the best rod for that is the Asquith. 

It might burn a hole in your wallet but it’s the best performing rod of the bunch. 90% of the time while steelhead fishing all your doing is casting and I want to enjoy that bit as much as possible – catching a steelhead is just a bonus. 

Our Best Steelhead Fly Rods

Editor’s Choice

G. Loomis Asquith

Light, durable, and incredibly well made. It loads efficiently and lets you throw a fly line large distances with minimal effort.

G. Loomis Asquith

Model

The first steelhead fly rod is the Asquith.

It comes in a range of lengths and weights.

The longer rod I have chosen below is a 13ft 7 weight which is the ideal setup for an all-round pole that’ll work on big and medium-sized rivers where swinging steelhead flies is your preferred fishing style.

Build

These fly rods are light, durable, and incredibly well made. It loads efficiently and lets you throw a line large distances with minimal effort which is key when you might have to make 1000 casts to hook a steelhead.

It’s made from a high-quality graphite blank with Spiral-X technology that increases power transfer from your hands to the tip while also making the fly rod lighter and more sensitive than ever.

Other Features

It comes with an aluminum reel seat and Fuji SiC Stripping Guides with a Titanium Frame.

The titanium guides are incredibly strong and also help to reduce the overall weight of the fly rod, and the diamond polished Silicon Carbide inserts reduce drag for a better casting distance.

Specs

  • Model: ASQ 7130-4
  • Type: Spey
  • Weight: 7
  • Length: 13 ft
  • Line: 7 Wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Pros

  • Casts long and accurately while being forgiving
  • Loads easily and efficiently for long days of casting
  • Excellent energy transfer and sensitivity
  • Light, durable, and salt-water safe
  • Comes with top quality guides and reel seat
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Extremely expensive

Redington Chromer

This fly rod is a quarter of the price of the Asquith above while still being made of high-quality components that’ll give you great performance.

Redington Chromer

If you like fly fishing for steelhead but aren’t an addict, you might like to spend a little less money on your gear and fly rods than others.

If that’s the case then one of the fly rods you’ll like is the Redington Chromer Spey kit.

Affordable

This fly rod cuts down on the additional cost of the Asquith above while still being made of high-quality components that’ll give you great performance.

It’s an ideal steelhead fishing rod if you only plan to use it around 10-20 days a year.

Build

These rods use a high-modulus graphite blank that is light and provides effortless casting for those long days on the river where you keep going through the motions.

You can push great distances for around 90 ft with ease, especially if you use a Spey line, giving you the distances you need for big waters.

This fly rod comes with thoughtful features that I really like.

Features

There are polymer pinch grips at either end of the handle that reflects your body heat and you can use them to keep your hands warm when you need to.

The tips of each section of the fly rod are also designed for the cold and come with an epoxy coating to prevent them from sticking.

Model

The model of fly rod I chose below is a 13’6” 7wt which is the ideal middle ground for fly fishing big and medium-sized rivers effectively where swinging flies is your preferred fishing style.

The only negative of this fly rod is that it’s not as high-performing as more expensive models, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you’re not going to use it that often.

Specs

  • Model: 7136-4
  • Type: Spey
  • Weight: 7
  • Length: 13’6”
  • Line: 7 wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Polymer pinch grip for cold conditions
  • Great performance and power
  • Long effortless accurate casts
  • Top of the line reel seat and guides
  • Lightweight for 1000 cast days
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Not as high performing as more expensive rods

Best Value

Redington VICE

A versatile rod that can be used for multiple species. It’s the ideal weight and length to use for bass, bonefish, pike, stripers, and more.

Redington VICE

This fly rod is a traditional fly fishing rod with just one handle.

It’s the best fly rod for steelhead fishing in small rivers where nymphing is your preferred fishing style.

Model

The model chosen below is a 10 foot 8 weight fly that is perfect for shooting a long line, handling larger winter fish, and giving you excellent reach and line control.

The one thing it’s not great for is swinging a fly all day long and if that is something you like to do, you’re better off with a switch or Spey rod.

Build

The Vice is made from a solid, durable, graphite blank that is light and loads well for easy accurate casting.

When fishing with it you can really feel everything which makes feeling subtle bites from fish while nymphing a lot easier.

It comes ready with saltwater guides and an aluminum reel seat for longevity. You can take this rod anywhere and it’s going to survive just fine.

Versatile

One thing I like about this rod is that you don’t just have to use it for steelhead, you can use it for multiple fish species making it one versatile piece of gear.

It’s the ideal weight and length to use for bass, bonefish, pike, stripers, and more fish species.

The VICE is also a very affordable fly rod, you can buy two or five of these for less than the cost of some of the other rods in the review, and it still comes with a lifetime warranty.

Specs

  • Model: 8100-4
  • Type: Single-handed
  • Weight: 8 wt
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Line: 8 wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Pros

  • Model: 8100-4
  • Type: Single-handed
  • Weight: 8 wt
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Line: 8 wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Cons

  • Quality blank loaded with salt-water components for durability
  • Great for fishing smaller water
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Good feel and action for easy, accurate casting
  • Affordable
  • Versatile for other species

Top Pick

Orvis Clearwater Switch

A really versatile steelhead fly fishing rod that performs well, is affordable, and comes with a 25-year guarantee.

Orvis Clearwater Switch

The Clearwater Switch is the first and only switch rod in this review.

The awesome thing about switch fly rods is that you don’t have to pick one fly fishing style to use, you can do them all.

Model

The model below is an 11ft 8 wt fly fishing switch set that you can use to Spey or overhead cast with, and use it to swing flies, large streamers, or drift nymphs.

Every fly fishing style for steelhead is covered.

Build

The blank is made from high-quality, light, durable graphite and comes with chrome snake and stripping guides with a ceramic insert plus an aluminum reel seat.

The result of all this gear combined is one of the most long-lasting high-performance rods that you can use for years to come.

These rods load with ease and the lightweight makes for effortless and longer casts, something you’ll love when you have been slapping the water all day with no result and the only thing to do is keep on going.

Learning Curve

The one drawback to this rod and any switch pole for that matter is that it’ll be hard to use for beginners learning to Spey cast, as it’s a little light and short for someone who doesn’t already know how.

Overall the Clearwater Switch is a really versatile steelhead fly rod that performs well, is affordable, and comes with a 25-year guarantee.

Specs

  • Model: Clearwater 118-4
  • Type: Switch
  • Weight: 8wt
  • Length: 11 ft
  • Line: 8 wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Pros

  • Great guides and reel seat
  • 25-year guarantee
  • Strong graphite blank
  • Light for easy all-day casting
  • Good for overhead & Spey casts
  • Loads and casts with ease

Cons

  • Harder to cast for beginner Spey casters

Orvis Helios 3F Rod

A good piece of gear for fishing for steelhead on small rivers where nymphing is the main fishing style.

Orvis Helios 3F Rod

The Helios 3F is a traditional fly rod with one handle that like the Redington Vice is a good piece of gear for fishing for steelhead on small rivers where nymphing is the main fishing style.

These rods are made from an excellent graphite blank that has been molded to absorb casting variables so that your line goes where you intend more consistently than ever.

It also comes with saltwater ready guides and an aluminum reel seat to be able to survive in any environment.

Casting

When casting the rod you can feel the energy transfer as it loads on the backcast and effortlessly shoots 70 ft distances accurately on the forward cast.

Combine this with it’s lightweight and you have one effortless casting machine.

The model below is a 10 foot 8 weight fly rod. The weight is an ideal match for the size of large steelhead and will give you extra distance on larger rivers like say if you were fishing on the Great Lakes.

Length

The extra length helps with line control and reach to make sure you can fish nymphs effectively.

The one drawback to this rod is how expensive it is, but you are getting exceptional performance and a 25-year guarantee.

Specs

  • Model: 3F810-4
  • Weight: 8 wt
  • Length: 10 ft
  • Line: 8/9 wt
  • Action: Fast
  • Pieces: 4
  • Rod Tube: Yes

Pros

  • Great for mending and turning over long lines
  • Absorbs variables for increased casting consistency
  • High-quality build with salt-water ready guides and reel seat
  • Good feel and solid energy transfer for casting long distances
  • Light for long casting days
  • Strong, tough rod for handling larger steelhead
  • 25-year warranty

Cons

  • Expensive

Below I’ll break down everything you need to know in order to pick the right fly rod for you. 

What Is A Steelhead?

What Are Steelhead Trout?

A steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout.

Instead of staying in a river, steelhead migrate to feed in the ocean and return to the same river each year to reproduce.

Steelhead grow to much larger sizes than rainbow trout because of their protein-rich ocean diet and reach over 20 lbs.

However, around 7lbs is the average.

FUN FACT

Steelhead are found in North America – everywhere from the great lakes to Oregon, Washington, Alaska, British Colombia, California, and more.

Is There Such Thing As A Steelhead Fly Rod? 

Fisherman Holding a Steelhead Trout
Fisherman Holding a Steelhead Trout

Technically no, there isn’t one fly rod type for steelhead but there are some types of fly rods that are ideal for fishing for them. 

Picking the type of fly rod for you depends on a few factors that we’ll discuss below. 

What’s A Steelhead Fly Rod? 

A steelhead fly rod can be many things but when it comes down to it. 

It’s either a Spey, Single Handed, or a Switch Rod that suits your preferred fishing style, the geography you’re fishing in, fly choice, and the size of the steelhead you’re going after. 

How To Choose The Best Steelhead Fly Rod?

Types Of Steelhead Fly Rods

Spey Rods

G Loomis Asquith Spey Rod
G Loomis Asquith Spey Rod

These rods are a two-handed rod used for Spey casts. 

This casting technique is an evolution of a roll cast guided by local anglers into many different forms that allows you to cast great distances on water effortlessly without the need for any back-casting room. 

You’ll cover a lot more water in a shorter amount of time without any worry about getting caught on the bank behind you.

What Weight Spey Rod Is Best For Steelhead

The ideal all-round weight for a steelhead rod is a 7 weight.

It’s heavy and strong enough to land species around 10lbs and it can handle the heavier lines you may need to go fishing at deeper rivers where sink tips are required to get the fly in front of the fish.

TIP

One thing to remember is that you can go up or down in the weight of the fly rod depending on where you’ll trawl most often.

Use a 6 weight if you know you’re fishing for small steelheads in a smallish river. Go up to an 8 weight if you’re going to have to cast 90-120ft across a deep big river with a heavy sink tip. 

Spey rods are also made for swinging a fly and not for nymphing, so if you know you’ll nymph most of the time, go for a single-handed or a switch.

What Length Spey Rod Is Best For Steelhead

The length of your rod should correspond to the size of the river you’re fly fishing and thus, how far you need to cast.

If you’re fishing big waters where every cast has to hit 90-120 feet, then you’ll need a rod that’s 14-15 feet long to do it.

If you’re on a smaller river, like most of the west coast rivers, then an 11-12 foot steelhead rod is ideal. 

The ideal middle ground is a 13-13 foot 6 inch Spey pole.

It’ll work well on both small and larger water, giving you all the options with just one fly rod.

Single-Handed Rods

Redington Vice Rod
Redington Vice Rod

Single-hand fly rods are your traditional fly rods.

They are great for fly fishing steelhead in small rivers across the Great Lakes where distance isn’t as important as subtle accuracy.

A single-hand fly rod is especially useful in the tributaries around the great lakes and is better suited to nymphing and swinging small flies.

What Weight Single-Handed Rod Is Best For Steelhead? 

The ideal weight of a single-hand fly rod is a 7 weight.

It’s not too heavy like an 8 weight for those 1000 cast days and it has enough lifting power to control 10 pounders and large fish like largemouth bass when you need to.

What Length Single-Handed Rod Is Best For Steelhead? 

The one-length you want on a single-handed steelhead fly rod is 10-foot.

The added length of a 10-foot steelhead fly rod gives you more reach for nymphing and it allows you better line control for mending in order to get the perfect drift.

Switch Rods 

Orvis Clearwater Switch Rod
Orvis Clearwater Switch

Switch rods are the best of both worlds when steelhead fishing fly.

They’re a morph between a single-handed rod and a Spey kit and come with two handles.

NOTE

You can Spey and overhead cast with a switch pole, and they are ideal for any angler who wants or needs to switch between nymphing and swinging flies, as they do both.

What Weight Switch Rod Is Best For Steelhead? 

The ideal weight for a switch is an 8 weight.

While it’s heavier than a 7 weight kit, you need the extra power for when you’re Spey casting to load the line and rod properly. 

An 8 weight is also ideal for handling larger winter steelhead over the 10lb mark.

What Length Switch Rod Is Best For Steelhead? 

The ideal length switch pole is around 11ft.

This gives you enough length to shoot a Spey cast a solid distance on water while being short enough to overhead cast too.

The one great thing that I like about a switch is it’s versatility. 

Geography & Fishing Style

Man Fly Fishing in the River
Man Fly Fishing in the River

Geography and fishing style are the two things you need to consider the most to understand which is the best fly rod type for your steelhead needs.

Large Rivers 

Where you live and the rivers you frequent will point to the rod you need. Steelhead rivers range in size and depth greatly.

If you’re fishing large rivers, like in the west of North America, a 7wt single hand rod isn’t going to give you the distance you need.

Bringing rods that limit your casting is a big no-no.

RECOMMENDATION

For large rivers, either take an 11ft 8wt switch rod for nymphing and swinging flies or take a 13ft 7/8wt Spey if all you want to do is swing flies all day. 

Small Rivers 

If you’re fishing smaller rivers like the great lake tributaries or the river of the Eastern US, then a single-handed 10ft 6/7wt rod is often your best bet. They are ideal for nymphing and swinging flies on small waters.

You can also use an 11ft 7wt switch if you enjoy the Spey technique.

If you’re having second thoughts on fly rods. Feel free to take a look at this best trout fishing rod review for more trout rod options.

Winter Vs. Summer Steelhead

Trout Caught on a Line
Trout Caught on a Line

Choosing the right weight rod is also affected by the season you’re fishing in.

Summer steelhead tend to be smaller because they enter the river having not reached sexual maturity and wait in the river to spawn in the spring.

Thus they have spent less time feeding in the protein-rich ocean, making them smaller. 

When fly fishing for steelhead in the summer you can use a 6/7wt. 

Winter steelhead stay in the ocean until they are sexually mature and therefore spend a lot more time feeding in a food-rich environment and arrive in the cold water of rivers a lot bigger than their summer counterparts.

For these larger steelhead, you’ll want a 7/8wt

Winding Up

Finding the best steelhead fly rod isn’t so easy is it? 

There are so many different factors to consider that lead to a choice of three different types of rod that you then have to decide the right length and weight of. It’s about as confusing as picking a rod can be. If you’re struggling to make a choice, here is what I think.

Top Pick

If you love steelhead fishing and want to do it everywhere with one rod, you have to pick the Orvis Clearwater Switch.

It covers every angle of steelhead fishing from the different casts, flies, styles, size of the rivers, and size of your potential catch.

You can go cross-country with this one rod and be able to handle most situations well. 

Best Value

Where budget is a concern or if you don’t go for steelhead that often but like other species too, the Redington Vice is a solid choice. 

It’s affordable, durable, casts well, and can handle any environment. You can cast for steelhead one day, stripers the next, and then go catch a bass on the weekend. 

Editor’s Choice

For any Spey swinging steelhead junkies out there like me, the Asquith is the rod for you.

It is incredibly expensive but, with the additional cost, it’s a rod for life and if you’re going to spend 80 days a year casting with a rod, it had better be one you’ll love. 

The performance and design of the Asquith surpasses all the others and it might just be the best Spey pole in the world right now.

Casting Out

Thanks for reading my article about the best steelhead fly rod on the market today. I hope you found it useful. 

Please share it amongst your fishing buddies if you enjoyed it. Good luck steelhead fishing and remember to enjoy the casting as much as the catching, then every day is a winner.

Please check out some of my other articles like “Best 2-weight Fly Rod” or “Best Fly Rod For Bass” if you enjoyed this one. I think you’ll find them useful and interesting.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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