Best Spinning Reels for Steelhead: Steelhead is a very tricky fish and the right gear can make the difference between success and failure. So we have hands-on reviewed some of the top reels on the market to find you the Best Spinning Reel for Steelhead.
If you are in a hurry: Penn Spinfisher VI is the Best Steelhead Spinning Reel.
- IPX5 sealed body and spool design
- CNC gear technology
- Ht-100 carbon fiber drag washers
Last update on 2023-05-27 / Paid links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Here is our pick of the top 10 steelhead fishing reels…
Top 10 Best Spinning Reels for Steelhead
- Penn Spinfisher VI Spinning Reel
- Pflueger President Spinning Reel
- KastKing Sharky III Fishing Reel
- Penn Battle II Spinning Reel
- Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel
- Okuma Ceymar Spinning Fishing Reel
- Valiant Eagle Spinning Fishing Reel
- Okuma Avenger Spinning Reel
- Cadence CS5 Spinning Fishing Reel
- KastKing Centron Spinning Reel
Best Spinning Reel for Steelhead Reviews
Now, let us look at our detailed reviews of these reels.
1. Penn Spinfisher VI Spinning Reel
Penn Spinfisher VI is the best spinning reel for steelhead as per our reviews. The 3500 series is the perfect reel for catching steelheads. It comes with the HT-100 drag system that offers 15 lbs max drag. So this reel’s power…is its strength. You can catch a big steelhead off a kayak if you want.
Even adjusting the drag is much easier than most other reels. You can adjust the rear drag using the simple 4-click system. No more having to reset and adjust.
The reel comes with a 6.2:1 gear ratio and 5+1 stainless steel ball bearings to match the power. The fluid 5-ball bearing system does most of the heavy lifting for you. The 6th bearing is the anti-reverse.
The 3500 series reel is a great match for 8’6” to 9’6” steelhead rods. I paired it with my 9′ rod and spooled it with a 20# braided line. The reel performed great on my fishing trip to Hawaii and helped me land even bigger fish with ease.
It held up well in the saltwater with waves splashing all over us. It is still performing smoothly even after days of fishing in this harsh environment. There are lighter options on the market but this one is well-built and sturdy. The full metal body and side plates keep the reel working even when reeling in heavy fish.
Penn gets an A on customer service as well. I have not had to use them myself. But, people have gotten brand-new reels when they have sent reels in for repairs.
2. Pflueger President Spinning Reel
One of my friends is a fishing guide and all he uses is the Pflueger President. It is a very durable reel that can handle even severe fishing conditions. So I must recommend you try one out.
You can pick the size 30 reel for steelhead fishing in a river. It comes with 10 bearings and a 5.2:1 gear ratio. It can hold up to 130 yards of 12 lb line. So if you plan to cast longer, then pick a size 35 or size 40 reel.
I paired it with an 8’6” medium-heavy rod and spooled it with a 15 lb braid and 12 lb leader to bring in steelhead, salmon, and river trout. The reel was powerful enough to handle all these fish. Ten is the most number of bearings I have seen on a spinning reel and they make this reel very smooth.
The reel also seems quite resistant. I couldn’t see any wear or tear after our trip. Usually, bails are the first things that break. But the bails on this one seem strong. In other reels, the drag gets stuck when dust or water gets into the gears. But the Pflueger President comes with a sealed drag system that is a lot harder to break.
3. KastKing Sharky III Fishing Reel
KastKing Sharky III is one of the best steelhead reels on the market. You can pick the Sharky III 4000 reel as it is a good all-around size for salmon and steelhead fishing. It comes with a 5.2:1 gear ratio, and 10+1 ball bearings, and delivers a max drag of 39 lb.
I paired the reel with a 9 ft. Fenwick Steelhead/Salmon rod and spooled it with 20 lb KastKing braid to test it out. This is a very flexible setup for fishing under different conditions.
You will get surprised by the engineering of the reel. The casting is so smooth you can cast 60-70 yards out. It lets you target the areas where the fish hang out. I don’t think I have recently tested a spinning reel smoother than this one.
Every part of this reel is well-designed. Instant lock anti-reverse prevents fish from escaping at critical moments. The aluminum handle is durable. High-density EVA grips offer a solid grip even in wet conditions. The spool design removes the need for backing and prevents the line from slipping.
I can recommend this reel with confidence knowing you will not find another reel in its class. For the price that this reel goes for on the market, there isn’t any real competition.
4. Penn Battle II Spinning Reel
Penn Battle II is one of the best spinning reels for Steelhead. The 4000 series is the perfect size for steelhead fishing. It comes with a 6.2:1 gear ratio, five stainless steel ball bearings, and an instant anti-reverse bearing.
It seems a very versatile reel with a great drag and a high line capacity. You can use it to catch any fish from 10 to 30 lbs. But if you need to throw very long casts then maybe you can go for a 5000 series reel.
I paired the reel with an 8’6″ medium-fast Okuma SST rod for salmon and steelhead fishing. The combination performed very well for casting as well as drifting. It helped land around 14 fish of 4 different species over a weekend.
The reel is very easy to use thanks to the powerful HT-100 front drag System. Yet you never experience any pullback due to the instant anti-reverse bearing. The spool is fitted with a rubber gasket to prevent the line from slipping.
The Penn Battle II reel is easy to integrate into your fishing kit. It is so versatile that you can use it with a variety of rods and lines.
5. Shimano Sedona FI Spinning Reel
Shimano has a reputation for putting out heavy reels. But, many of their reels over the last few years use new technology and materials to cut weight while remaining durable.
Shimano Sedona FI is a good example of this. It is an affordable fishing reel that comes with Hagane gears and improved drag power but weighs only 3oz. The low weight allows you to fish all day without hurting your back. Or you may go up a reel size for extra line and power in case you happen to catch a bigger fish.
The 3000HG model is ideal for steelhead fishing. It comes with a 6.2:1 gear ratio and delivers a max drag of 20 lbs. You can load up to 140 yards of 20 lb braid for chasing big or small steelheads.
I tested the Sedona FI 3000HG paired with a medium-heavy steelhead rod on my recent Hawaii trip. I caught quite a few 1-5 lbs Bluefin trevally and 3-9 lbs bonefish using the 20 lb braided line. The reel was able to handle all these fish with ease. Although it was a bit challenging to throw bigger lures such as poppers.
The Shimano Sedona FI series is ideal for catching steelhead, salmon, and trout. You can use it to catch even a 20-pound king salmon with ease. The Shimano name and quality behind your reel will give you the confidence to use it over and over again.
6. Okuma Ceymar Spinning Fishing Reel
Okuma Ceymar is one of the best steelhead spinning reels for the money. It is a heavy-duty reel that features a precision elliptical gearing system with a machine-cut brass pinion gear. Yet it is very affordable.
You can pick the C-40 size as it offers plenty of drag and line capacity for steelhead fishing. It comes with a 4.8: 1 gear ratio and 7 ball bearings + 1 roller bearing. The anti-reverse roller bearing provides stability even under extreme conditions. The multi-disc drag system delivers a max drag of 16 lb.
The machined aluminum spool offers high line capacity. You can spool it with a 40 lb braid for chasing steelhead. I paired the reel with a 9’6 Okuma rod and caught a couple of steelheads, 12 lb, and 15 lb on Lake Michigan. The C-40 reel handled both fish with ease.
The corrosion-resistant graphite body protects your reel from wear and tear. I have around 100 hours on this reel and it still feels like new.
When you buy the Okuma Ceymar, it comes wrapped in protective packaging. The packaging is very neat and organized which provides a sense of confidence in the product. You will also get a set of in-depth instructions and a warranty manual.
7. Valiant Eagle Spinning Fishing Reel
Most KastKing products offer much higher quality for a low price. The Valiant Eagle series is also comparable to reels that cost much more.
I suggest you pick the Valiant Eagle 4000 model for steelhead fishing. It offers high drag capacity and a fast gear ratio needed for salmon fishing in rivers or bigger water. Yet it weighs only 10.1 oz making it comfortable to use even for longer periods.
The carbon drag system provides a max drag of 22 lb. The reel comes with a 6.2:1 gear ratio and 7+1 MaxiDur shielded stainless steel ball bearings for a fast retrieve rate. The retrieve is so fast that you’ll be able to get the line back out quicker for more casts.
The spool is braid-ready so you don’t need a mono backing before filling the spool with braid. It makes the spooling fast and easy as you will not experience any line slippages.
It seems you can use this reel for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. I’ve only used it for freshwater so far. I took it to the Conneaut River for our annual fall steelhead fishing trip. Spooled it a KastKing 10# braided line and landed 12 steelheads on the first day! It is one of the most powerful reels we have tested for steelhead fishing.
8. Okuma Avenger Spinning Reel
My wife used an Okuma Avenger size 40 reel and she loved it. It is big enough for catching steelhead and salmon yet it is so lightweight that it won’t tire you out. You can use it with an 8-12 lbs line.
I paired it with a 7’ Ugly Stick Tiger Elite rod and took it to our local lake for steelhead fishing. The reel comes with a baitfeeder system so that you put the rod down while waiting. It’s so comfortable that you can even have two rods in the water at a time.
The baitfeeder technology is simply amazing. You will love how it makes a crisp clicking sound when the fish takes the bait. Then it disengages the front drag till the fish completely eats the bait. You can reengage the drag with a turn of the reel to hook the fish.
I caught quite a few salmon over the 3-day trip including one weighing almost 20 lb. The multi-disc drag system is incredibly smooth and powerful. It lets you land the fish with full control.
9. Cadence CS5 Spinning Fishing Reel
The Cadence CS5 spinning reel is a great choice for steelhead fishing. It has a smooth drag and fast line retrieval so that you can quickly pull in the fish. The pricing is so great that it is one of the best reels for steelhead fishing. You can upgrade to the size 4000 reel as the price difference isn’t a lot.
The CS5-4000 comes with 8 stainless steel anti-corrosive ball bearings and a 5.2:1 gear ratio. The carbon fiber drag is smooth and powerful and delivers a max drag of 36 lbs.
I paired it with the Cadence CR5 spinning rod to test it out for our reviews. The entire setup put together feels very well-balanced and lightweight. The cast is very smooth and steady.
The reel is corrosion-resistant so you don’t need to clean it every day you come back from fishing. It does seem very resistant and sturdy. So far this reel hasn’t had any problems with water, sand, or dust getting locked up in the gears.
Overall I am so happy with this reel. It is easy to use, lightweight, and powerful enough to reel in even big steelhead with ease.
10. KastKing Centron Spinning Reel
KastKing Centron offers a large number of features at a low price point. It is a lightweight, and powerful reel that can handle a variety of fish such as steelhead, salmon, and trout. The compact design makes it easy to use even for beginners.
The 5000-size reel comes with a 4.5:1 gear ratio and a 9+1 ball bearing system that provides a max drag of 17.5 lbs. The instant anti-reverse and a collapsible crank handle make casting and reeling great.
The KastKing Centrol looks great too. The two-color anodized aluminum has a sleek design and stands up to wear so it always looks brand new.
Buying KastKing Centron 5000 is one of the easiest decisions you can make. A lightweight graphite frame and powerful drag make it ideal for steelhead fishing. Finally, the customer service is great. If anything about your reel doesn’t work, they are quick and happy to help.
How to Choose the Best Spinning Reel for Steelhead
All the reels that we have reviewed are great for steelhead fishing. Any one of them will get the job done. But the right one for you will depend on your specific requirements.
Here are a few things you need to consider before choosing the best steelhead spinning reel for you.
Size of Steelhead
You need to know the reel size for picking a spinning reel. The reel size depends on how much line capacity you need and what size fish you will target.
So the first thing you must consider is the size of the steelhead you plan on catching. It will help you determine the line capacity, line rating, drag, and gear ratio you need.
If you are going after smaller steelheads then even a smaller size reel will be fine. But if you plan on catching bigger steelheads then you will need a bigger size reel.
The reel size is usually listed as a number. For example, size 10, 20, 30, 1000, 2000, 3000, etc. A smaller size reel will have a lesser line capacity but it will work fine for catching small fish in shallow rivers or streams.
Medium-size reels usually run up to 3000-4000 sizes. You can get some of the best spinning reels for steelhead fishing in this range. You can use a medium-sized reel to catch fish such as salmon, steelhead, or trout.
A reel’s size determines its line rating and capacity. So you need to know what fishing line you be using before buying a reel. If you’re a beginner, it’s important to know these specs to help you pick the right reel.
A larger size reel will have a higher capacity than a smaller one. You need a bigger reel if your line is heavy or long. But if you are using a lightweight line then a smaller reel will work fine.
Line capacity is how much line you can load on the spool. It’s usually measured in lb/ yards. The line capacity of a reel depends on the thickness and weight of the fishing line. The same reel can store more of a lightweight line than a heavier line.
Gear Ratio and Retrieval Rate
A lot of factors go into determining what gear ratio is ideal for a certain type of fishing. But it all boils down to line retrieval speed and casting distance.
The gear ratio is the number of turns that the spool makes for one turn of the crank handle.
The higher ratio means that the spool turns more times per turn of the crank so the line gets retrieved faster. A lower gear ratio means fewer turns by the spool per handle rotation so the line gets retrieved a bit slower.
A higher ratio is better for long casting distances so that you can retrieve all that line faster. But if you are fishing in closer range or throwing shorter casts then even a reel with a lower gear ratio will work fine.
The drag rating refers to the maximum amount of pressure you can apply when fighting a fish. Steelhead can be quite fast and strong, so you want a reel that delivers around 20 lb of drag. It will give you enough power to stop the fish and reel it in without breaking your gear.
The drag system is a key factor that affects the overall performance of any reel. Most of the best steelhead reels on our list come with a high-quality drag system.
Type of Water
Your fishing location plays a role in helping you pick a steelhead reel. If plan to fish in fast-moving water, like a river, then you want a reel with more drag and a high gear ratio. The drag will allow you to control the fish while the high gear ratio will allow you to retrieve your line faster.
But if you plan to fish in calmer waters, like a pond, a reel with lesser drag and a lower gear ratio will also work fine.
If you plan to fish in saltwater, then you will need a corrosion-resistant reel. Such reels are usually better built and more expensive.
Construction and Durability
Steelhead fishing can be tough on your gear, so pick a well-built and sturdy reel. Reels with full metal bodies and side plates can better withstand the rigors of fishing.
Check for features like the IP rating and a sealed drag system that will protect your reel from water and dust.
Frequently Asked Questions
In this section, we have answered some of the common questions that we get from our readers.
Why do I need a Spinning Reel for Steelheads?
There are many benefits of using spinning reels for catching steelheads.
The first is that they are lighter than other types of reels so you can use them for longer periods without getting fatigued. A spinning reel typically weighs between 5-8 oz as compared to other types of reels that usually weigh between 10-25 oz.
Spinning reels are also easier to use and give anglers more control over the fish they are trying to land. This is why they are more popular with beginners.
They also have a smaller profile so that you can store them in your backpack or carry-on luggage. Spinning reels are perfect for anglers who want to travel light, yet want the performance of a conventional reel.
A spinning reel will make a day of steelhead fishing a lot easier for you and your arm – it’s worth it. If your needs are simple but versatile, having a spinning reel is perfect!
What Size Spinning Reel is Best for Steelhead?
You need to consider the below two factors when determining the size of your spinning reel.
- The size of the fish you plan to catch.
- The size of the rod you will be using.
Let me give you a rule of thumb to help you decide. If you are buying your first steelhead reel, then pick an all-around size.
- If your rod size is 8 to 8’6″ then pick a size 2000 or 2500 spinning reel.
- If you plan on using a 9′ or 9’6″ rod, then pick a size 3000 or 3500 reel.
You can use this setup for catching small to medium-sized steelheads in small rivers, lakes, or streams. Although larger reels offer more line capacity, they add weight to your setup. So if you are a beginner, a smaller or medium size reel will also be easier for you to manage.
What Gear Ratio is Best for Steelhead?
The best gear ratio for steelhead depends on your fishing style. But if you are looking for help, I will suggest you pick a reel with a medium gear ratio, such as 6.2:1.
A higher gear ratio allows you to retrieve the line faster and reel in a fish quickly. But a lower gear ratio gives you more power to control larger steelhead.
A medium gear ratio, such as 6.2:1 offers a balance between faster line retrieval and control. Once you have more experience catching steelheads, you can move to a faster or slower gear ratio as per your fishing style.
What Gear do I need for Steelhead Fishing?
Besides the best steelhead spinning reel, you will also need a rod, some line, lures or bait, a landing net, pliers, and a fishing knife. A tackle box can really help you in keeping your fishing gear organized.
The rest of the gear depends on your fishing location and weather.
If you are fishing in hot weather, then a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellent can help make your trip comfortable.
If you plan to fish in a wet climate or rain, then you must carry a rain jacket and some spare clothes.
If you are planning to fish in cold weather, then you must bring some warm clothes, gloves, and a windcheater.
You can read our Best Trout Fishing Rods guide if you need help picking a rod for your new reel.
What Pound Line is Good for Steelhead?
When picking a fishing line, you need to consider the size of the steelhead you plan to catch. The line must be strong enough to handle the fish but also flexible enough to allow you to cast with ease.
Here is another rule of thumb to help you out.
- Smaller Steelheads – Pick a 10-pound line.
- Larger Steelhead – Pick a 20-pound line.
- Clear Water – Pick a fluorocarbon line.
- Murky Water – Pick a braided line.
A fluorocarbon line is less visible underwater to the fish. A braid is more durable than a fluorocarbon line and offers better abrasion resistance.
Penn Spinfisher VI is the Best Spinning Reel for Steelhead Fishing as per our reviews. The corrosion-resistant body makes the reel work well in all conditions. With the HT-100 drag system, this reel is a superior option.
All the spinning reels that we have reviewed are excellent for steelhead fishing. They have been reviewed and field tested by real anglers so that you can trust the reel you pick. Each of them is durable and reliable and can help you catch steelhead successfully.
If you are on a tight budget, you can check out our pick of the Best Spinning Reel Under 100.
It is our goal to help you choose the right reel. Let us know if you have any questions about our reviews or testing methodology. We are always happy to answer any queries that we get.
We hope you like our pick of the Best Spinning Reels for Steelhead Fishing. You can reach out to us if you need more help picking a reel. We have been reviewing fishing equipment for years and can help you choose a reel that meets your specific needs.