What do you look for in a steelhead rod?


Lucky if I get out anymore!
Hi all,

I will be wrapping a flyrod for summer/winter steelhead action and wanted to know what ya'll look for in a steelhead rod. I am a long time trout angler, but a steelheading newbie. Before I buy the blank I thought I would inquire here in hopes to get some input on your tastes and preferences. I will be fishing mostly SW Washington rivers and tribs with an occasional trip to the Deschutes. I'll also be fishing it with a new BBSV Battenkill. So, if you were to build a rod for fishing steelhead in my neck of the woods, what would you go with and why? Here are some things I am trying to decide on:

1) Weight?
2) Length?
3) Action?
4) Number of sections?
5) Size of handle/butt?
6) Type of reel seat?
7) Type of guides?
8) If you prefer a name brand - make and model?

I know there are some very experienced steelheaders out there so please chime in. I would really appreciate it. And if you are a newbie like me, go ahead and share with me what works for you. Thanks.
There's a lot of room for individual preference here. The summer steelhead rod I'm looking forward to using this year is a 15' Bruce & Walker and a DT7F line. That's right - spey tackle. But that's probably not what you're thinking of.
You said a rod for summer and winter steelhead. To me, that means two different rods, several line sizes apart. I like a 7-weight for summer fish, a 10-weight for winter. That has a little to do with the difference in the size of the fish, but more to do with the difference in the size of the flies used.
I like 9 1/2' rods for steelhead. If you're young and strong, you may be comfortable with a ten-foot or even longer rod. A medium or medium-fast action is fine; you're often lobbing big iron, and seldom fishing little floating flies. A 1.5-2" inch permanent butt, a full-wells grip, TiCh guides (they're dark and rustproof, so you can use that rod in saltwater). Choice of sections has to do with your usual vehicle and travel style.

Scott Behn

Active Member
I'm with Mac on this one...I use a 9' 7wt for summer-runs and coastal cuttys and a 9' 10wt for winter-runs. I hoping that sometime this summer I will have the money to get a 10'6" 9wt Meiser switch rod to be my main winter rod with the current rod as the back-up.
I like the multi-piece set up, but with that being said if you primarily fish from a boat then a 2 piece rod really won't be a hinderance.
I reckon if you could only pick one rod for both seasons I would go with an 8 wt. You'll be slightly heavy for summer, but you'll be fine for the fall salmon and winter steelhead. You just have to decide for yourself what is best for you and whether you want to go single or double handed.



Active Member
If you are set on only having one rod to use for both summer and winter steelhead, a 9-11'6" single-hand for an 8 line or a 13'-15' 2-hand for a 9 line would be the way to go. Keep in mind though that either of these will be a bit heavy for summer steelheading and a bit light for winter steelheading, although they are considered the "all-around rods" if you must stick with just one rod.

However, as Mac and Scott have already mentioned, different line weights for summer and winter is really the way to go.

As far as brand goes, that depends on your pocketbook, the type of action you like, the blank color, and availability of a blank in the size you are looking at. One of the best values currently on the market are the Pac Bay 2-hand blanks or rod building kits. The 2-hand rod building kits (blank, guides, cork, reel seat- not sure if it includes thread, but thread is cheap) run around $100.00. At that price, you could probably afford to get a lighter, shorter (13') rod for summer, and a longer (14' or 15'), heavier rod for winter. Pac Bay has similar high value single-hand rod blanks and rod building kits too.

Are the Pac Bays as good as the top end stuff from T&T, G. Loomis, Meiser, Sage, etc. nope; but they aren't bad either and offer excellent value and make into a very nice casting rod with all the performance that most people will ever use.
1) Weight? An 8 weight is a good all around steelhead / silver rod for SW Washington.

2) Length? 9'

3) Action? Fast or medium fast. Distance counts on the Deschutes. Not so much in SW Washington.

4) Number of sections?
4 is more convenient but more expensive. 2 is fine.

5) Size of handle/butt?[/B] For 7 weights and above, a full wells grip of standard length and a 3" fighting butt is a appropriate.

6) Type of reel seat? Any that fits your reel. If the rod might end up in the salt some day, most guys prefer metal.

7) Type of guides? Good quality guides last longer but the cheap ones work just as well. My personal preference is single foot guides because they are easier to wrap. I buy the best guides I can afford at the time.

8) If you prefer a name brand - make and model? Now there is a question for camp fire debates! Buy action first, consider the warranty, and brand last.

In Vancouver, components are available at Ordella Rods in Hazel Dale and Anglers Workshop in Woodland. Ordella has better prices but limited selection and quality. Anglers Workshop is first class all the way but they aren't afraid to charge for it. Both have knowledgeable people that can help you decide.

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