Written by: Dan R
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More often than I would care to admit, I find myself stuck in the middle of the debate over which fish is stronger: salmon or steelhead. The answer, in my opinion, is an easy one, but one I get a lot of hate for. Salmon are the harder fighting of the two by far. Steelheaders can cast hate all they want, but salmon are some of the strongest fish in any freshwater river. 

The question then arises about what gear is best for salmon, and, more specifically, which rod. It’s a question that doesn’t have a cut and dry answer. As with any other fishing, the rod you use is going to depend on the technique. That’s why many salmon anglers have multiple rods rigged up for a day on the water.

Sure, it’s not practical for bank anglers to be carrying a bunch of different set ups with them each and every day, but if you narrow down how you’re going to be chasing these fish, you can then determine what rod you want to use.

To help with that, we've created a buying guide for the best salmon rods to cover any technique.

Related:

Best Salmon Rods Reviewed

St. Croix Triumph Salmon And Steelhead Rod - Best Spinning Rod for Salmon

Bass Pro

Recommended Length: 8’6

Recommended Power: Medium Heavy

Recommended Action: Fast

A spinning rod is one of the most versatile rods when it comes to river salmon. Veteran salmon anglers all have at least one, and for someone new to salmon fishing, a spinning rod is the best place to start. With the right length, power, and action, a single spinning rod can cover multiple techniques from float fishing to chucking big spoons, spinners and crankbaits. A good spinning rod means not having to carry multiple rods when walking the bank.

Having been handcrafting rods for over 70 years, St.Croix is no stranger to manufacturing high quality rods at a great price. St. Croix’s Triumph Salmon and Steelhead line up of rods is no exception with a blend of high quality components at a fraction of the price of higher end rods.

For an all-around salmon rod that will cover multiple techniques, we recommend going with the 8’6, light action medium heavy, fast action model. This rod has the length needed to properly present a float while being able to handle the weight of casting lures. With a line rate of 8-17 pound test, it’s a rod that can handle big, strong chinook but is versatile enough that you can downsize for smaller sockeye. Where some rods - even the ‘higher-end’ ones - feel limp, as if they don’t have the power to handle a big angry salmon, the Triumph Salmon and Steelhead rod is strong enough to turn a big fish without ever feeling like it's going to let you down.

Pros

  • Every rod is handcrafted in the U.S.
  • Premium SCII carbon construction
  • HIgh-quality aluminum-oxide guides
  • Premium comfortable and durable cork handle

Cons

  • Heavier than some higher-priced steelhead spinning rods

G-Loomis E6X Steelhead Casting Rod - Best Casting Rod for Salmon

FishUSA

Recommended Length: 8’6 or 9’

Recommended Power: Medium Heavy

Recommended Action: Fast

Casting rods are possibly the single most popular rod to use when chasing salmon and are another rod that can be used to run multiple presentations. The major difference between casting rods and spinning rods is that casting rods are much better with heavier gear, and big salmon mean heavier gear.

Whether you’re float fishing, drift fishing, or casting lures, casting rods have the power to handle strong salmon in big water, which is why salmon anglers from the west coast to the Great Lakes often turn to them. If you’re looking for a big water rod, a casting rod is the way to go.

Since the early eighties, G-Loomis has been handcrafting high-quality graphite fishing rods for any situation. Having a hand in taking graphite from the lightweight but fragile rod material it was back then, to strong sensitive rods we know today, G-Loomis is one of the most well known brands in fishing.

Every rod in the G-Loomis lineup is handcrafted with the utmost care, using their multi-tapered design to reduce weight while reinforcing possible weak spots of break points. Strong, yet sensitive and lightweight, the E6X casting rods feature the qualities G-Loomis is famous for at a reasonable price.

With eleven different models, there is an E6X casting rod for any situation. Most are best-suited for steelhead, but they can also be great for salmon. We recommend going with the 8’6 medium heavy, fast action model. With the length and sensitivity, it’s a rod that’s perfect for float or drift fishing but can still properly present spoons and spinners, while also having the power to handle a big, angry chinook salmon.

Pros

  • Multi-taper design reinforces stress points while reducing weight
  • Handcrafted in the U.S.
  • Light and comfortable cork handle
  • Unmatched performance and durability
  • Limited lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Expensive

G-Loomis GLX Centerpin Rod - Best Centerpin Rod for Salmon

FishUSA

Recommended Length: 15’

Recommended Power: Medium Light

Recommended Action: Moderate

While centerpin fishing has exploded in popularity over the years, it's something that is geared toward steelhead and not salmon, which is why there are very few options available in the way of typically heavier salmon rods. But not only is centerpin fishing for salmon extremely effective, it's also one of the most exhilarating ways to do it.

With the use of light lines and dragless reels, a centerpin rod takes the brunt of all punishment, acting as a shock absorber to keep those light lines from snapping under the weight of a big salmon. The longer rods also aid in float control, making it easy to mend and control the line above the float and prevent that line from dragging the float and creating an unnatural presentation.

The price of the G-Loomis GLX could be enough to scare anyone, but hold one of these rods, and you’ll quickly understand the care and craftsmanship that go into each and every one. The GLX is lightweight, even for a long rod, perfectly balanced, and incredibly strong. It's also backed by a limited, lifetime warranty. There may be less expensive options out there, but if you're looking for the ultimate centerpin rod for salmon, the GLX is hard to beat.

Most centerpin rods are made to fish with much lighter set-ups than normally used for salmon, and because of that, we recommend the 15’ medium light, moderate action GLX. While not rated for heavy line, the length counteracts this and protects the line, meaning even with big chinook salmon you can get away with a lighter setup. With the right terminal tackle, this rod has more than enough strength and power to handle big salmon, and as an added bonus can double as a big water steelhead rod.

Pros

  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • Lightweight and perfectly balanced for less fatigue when fishing with a long rod
  • High-quality components from the cork to the guides and reel seat
  • Strength and durability unmatched by other factory centerpin rods

Cons

  • Expensive

Reddington Claymore Spey Rod - Best Spey Rod for Salmon

Bass Pro

Recommended Length: 13’6

Line Weight: 8wt

Spey fishing is another effective and heart pounding way to catch salmon of all kinds. From smaller sockeye to giant kings, if you haven’t tried catching them on a spey rod, then you don’t know what you’re missing. 

Typically reserved for the big rivers of the west coast or for Atlantic salmon in the east, spey fishing has also gained steam in Great Lakes tributaries. The downside here is that there are few rivers large enough to effectively fish a spey rod or for it to be necessary, for that matter.

There is no shortage of spey rods on the market these days. From the high-quality and expensive to bare bones entry level rods, fly anglers have a lot to choose from. The Reddington Claymore Spey Rod falls right in that sweet spot, where it doesn’t price you right out of fishing but is also high-quality, lightweight, and easy to fish with - qualities usually reserved for high end rods. A great rod for both beginner and advanced spey fisherman, the Claymore has a smooth and powerful blank that is perfectly balanced to reduce the fatigue that can come with a day of two-handed casting.

The 13’6 8wt model is ideal for salmon, both Pacific and Atlantic, and while it may seem a little on the long side when fishing in Great Lake tributaries, you’re going to love the extra length and power when trying to stop a big salmon. 

Pros

  • Anodized aluminum down-locking reel seat improves rod balance
  • Fast action for easy casting and efficient hooksets
  • Premium cork handle
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Does not have a hook keeper

Echo SR Switch Rod - Best Switch Rod for Salmon

Echo SR 8101 Switch Fly Rod : 8wt 10'10'

Amazon 

Recommended Length: 10’10

Line Weight: 8wt

Simply put, a switch rod is a hybrid rod that combines the casting distance of a two-handed spey rod with the accessibility of a conventional, single-handed fly rod. The result is a rod that can be used to fish multiple techniques, from swinging flies to indicator fishing and everything in between. Fishing a switch rod for salmon is an underutilized but effective way to cover rivers using multiple techniques in a single day without having to carry several different rods.

The Echo SR Switch Rod does an excellent job of achieving the right balance to properly present multiple techniques, optimizing two-handed casting while combining it with the ability to single hand cast in tight quarters. No matter what technique you’re using, this rod loads up well and is easy to make long, accurate casts with, even in confined areas.

As with a spey rod, we recommend using the longer 10’10 8wt model, as it provides the power needed to battle big salmon without being so long that it’s hard to cast in close quarters.

Pros

  • Removable and interchangeable fighting butt
  • Perfect load awareness to easily cast any type of fly line
  • Large stripping guides for heavier line weights
  • Durable and comfortable composite cork handle

Cons

  • Heavier than comparable switch rods

Sage Salt R8 - Best Single Handed Fly Rod for Salmon

Bass Pro

Length: 9’

Line Weight: 10wt

Since the inception of two fly rods and switch rods, single-handed fly rods for salmon are rarely seen on the water anymore. Single-handed fly rods just don’t get the love they deserve. But they shouldn’t be ignored, especially when it comes to fishing for salmon in the Great Lakes region where single-handed rods might be the best option for big fish in tight spaces.

The Sage Salt R8 is a big fish rod, plain and simple. Designed to handle large, open water ocean fish like tarpon and permit, this rod is just as good at taking control of big river kings. Not only does this rod have the power to control big fish, but it can cast the heavy, awkward flies used to catch those salmon with ease. Sage uses the best of the best in materials and technology with this rod, and the price shows it, but so does the quality. As far as single-handed fly rods for salmon fishing go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one.

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Strength and durability to handle the biggest salmon
  • Heavy duty reel seat
  • Original owner lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Not great for long distance casting

Selecting The Right Salmon Rod

Choosing the right salmon rod is a matter of personal preference based on the technique you decide to use. What’s best for one angler may not be for another. With that being said, however, there are a few things to take into consideration when selecting the best salmon rod for you.

Technique

Determining what technique you’re going to be using is the first and most important step in figuring out which salmon rod is best for you. While the right spinning rod or casting rod can cover multiple techniques, many salmon rods are single-technique. You’re only going to use a centerpin rod for float fishing or a spey rod for casting big streamers. Deciding how you want to target these fish will greatly narrow down your rod choices.

River Size

Once you’ve determined your preferred technique, you’re going to want to consider the rivers you will be fishing. For example, a spey rod isn’t going to be the most ideal choice when you’re fishing small rivers that offer little in the way of casting room. On the contrary, a single-handed fly rod isn’t going to offer the casting ability needed to get your fly out to the fish holding in big water.

Target Species

From the multiple different species of Pacific salmon to hard-fighting Atlantic salmon, your target species is going to determine the specifics of the rod you choose. For smaller sized salmon, you may be able to get away with something lighter, a rod more comparable to what you might use for steelhead or resident trout. On the other hand, chasing big kings is going to mean you’ll need something much heavier and more powerful.

Final Thoughts

There's no disputing the fact that salmon are strong - stronger than most freshwater fish, and more and more people are targeting them in the rivers they migrate to. As angler interest grows, so too does the amount of gear available, most notably fishing rods.

Choosing the right rod for salmon fishing can be more than a little overwhelming at times. No matter how experienced with salmon fishing we are, innovation in not just the rods themselves but the techniques used continue to make that decision a tougher one.

We hope we were able to shed a little light on the process with our picks for the best salmon rods. Leave us a comment and let us know if we were!

About The Author
Dan R
Review Editor
Dan was practically born with a fishing rod in his hand. Growing up in the Great Lakes Region fishing has been a major part of his life from a very young age. When not on the water you can find Dan enjoying time with his family.
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