20 years experience

Best Steelhead Rods For Great Lakes And Ontario

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Best Steelhead Rods For Great Lakes And Ontario

I have been a fishing guide for 20 years and I get asked all the time what are the best steelhead rods or what steelhead rods do I use and real answer is, “it depends”. It depends on the rivers you want to fish and it depends on the preferred methods that you want to use.

Best Steelhead Rods For Great Lakes Rivers

An Ontario Steelhead river called the Saugeen River

The Rivers: Many steelhead rivers in Ontario are fairly small compared to west coast steelhead rivers so the rods I use here might be very different from the rods that are being used out west.

Many of our rivers average only 20 or 30 feet wide but there are a few that may be much bigger like the Saugeen river in the picture show here, with the biggest rivers being the Niagara river which could be over 1ooo feet wide.

You should consider where you will be fishing most and that includes knowing if you will be stomping up and down heavily bushed creeks that are 15 feet wide or hanging out on the Maitland River when it’s flowing high and 0ver 100 feet wide.

The lower sections of some rivers like the Grand River, the Nottawasaga River and the lower Saugeen River may require bigger rods.

You also have to consider what type of steelheading you want to do. In other words, you could be float fishing or fly fishing and on top of that there are four or five different methods of fly fishing for steelhead that you need to consider before buying your rods.

Centerpin rods are great for medium to large size rivers like the river in this picture. A 13 foot centerpin rod with a 4 to 8 lb rating should do the job just fine.

The longer reach from a 13 foot rod will allow you to keep the line off the water longer and get a better drift. The longer rods also act like a giant shock absorber so you can use lighter leaders and not break off.

Rods rated in the 4 to 6 or 8lb range also allow you to fight fish better on lighter leaders.

For much larger river like the Niagara where sometimes the guys will use 12 to 20gram floats that need to be casted long distances a rod in the 13 to 15 foot range with a line class rating of 8 to 12lb test may be a better option.

For detailed information and for all the centerpin gear I use go HERE . . . . . .

The Nottawasaga River

Best Centerpin Rods For Great Lakes Rivers

Fishing the Mad River

Best All Around Centerpin Rod

One of my favorite rods for small to medium sized rivers and a rod that many of my friends use and love is the 13 foot St.Croix Centerpin Float Rod. This rod also comes in a 15 foot version for larger rivers like the Niagara River. I highly recommend this rod for beginner and advanced anglers.

The Shimano Clarus Centerpin Rod – I have used this rod before and for a rod as inexpensive as this it wasn’t bad. It the best rod in this price range and it gets good reviews. This rod is great for beginners and intermediate anglers. It is also a suitable backup rod for the seasoned angler. I recommend the 13 footer for most rivers.

 The Raven Helix HLX float rod 12’9

I have owned and used the Raven Helix HLX float rod and it’s a decent rod for beginner anglers. It offers great value for it’s easy handling and a punchy action. These rods deliver good line control and plenty of power when needed. I recommend the 12’9 rod with the sliding rings.

Raven IM8 Float Rod

I have used this rod for guided trips for years when I want a longer 14 foot rod on the bigger river and I have had no problems and I consider it one of the best and most durable rods on the market for steelhead. At one point owned 4 of them which I used for guiding. I highly recommend it. 

St. Croix Avid Salmon & Steelhead Centerpin Rod I have friends that own rods that cost twice as much as this and they tell me they still prefer this rod. It gets great reviews and I have sold a bunch of these in my tackle store. It fishes great with just the right firmness for hook-sets and playing the fish. The 13 foot model is perfect for most small to medium sized rivers around the great lakes.

The 13 foot G. Loomis IMX Centerpin Rod

I used to own two of these before I got on the Raven pro staff. This are an excellent high end rod. This G. Loomis fishing rod is long, lightweight, well-balanced, responsive, and especially designed for the unique style of centerpin fishing. It has sliding rings that allow you to position the reel where you want it.

Okuma Aventa Centerpin Reel

I have used this reel many times myself and during guide trips and it’ never let me down. I used to sell this in my tackle store and is the cheapest reel that I would recommend. I have used cheaper reels and they were crap. This is a great entry level reel at a great price.  This 4.5” reel is built from solid aluminum bar stock and features two stainless steel ball bearings. Easy-turning handles and center-pin design make getting into the action effortless. Plus, an easily removable spool ensures that maintenance after a muddy run won’t turn into a headache.

Okuma RAW-1002 Centerpin reel

I have also used this reel many times and have friends and clients that use it and like it. For a reel under $200 US you can’t go wrong. Use it as an entry level reel or you main reel it’s good for both.  The Okuma RAW-1002 Center Pin Float Reel utilizes a fully ported design that reduces overall weight. Spool diameter is 4.5″. Includes a neoprene reel case.

MATRIX™ Fully Ported Centerpin Float Reel

I have guided with this reel for the last 4 years with no problems and consider it one of the best reels on the market in this price rage. This reel has a sleek, ergonomic design, with a large 5 1/8″ diameter and will spin when the wind blows. This is a reel I’d recommend to anyone and any skill level.

If you want to shop local you can try FishHeads Canada or Drift Outfitters in Toronto.

Best Steelhead Rods

Best Fly Rod For Steelhead

Nymphing / Indicator : Although some guys will disagree with me I personally think nymphing for steelhead will produce the most fish most of the time and on most rivers, so if you plan on doing a lot of nymphing on small to medium sized rivers a steelhead rod of 10 feet in the 7 weight size is ideal. Two good steelhead rods that I have used for Indicator fishing are:


With that being said I have also used a 10 foot, six weight rod for almost 20 years and loved it and I have used 10 foot 8 weights which worked. The lighter rods are easier on the arms and shoulders after long days on the water and although the shops like to recommend eight weight rods I believe that on many of our smaller clear and shallow rivers where you need to use lighter tippet you cant use and don’t need all that backbone of an eight weight rod anyways. 8 weight rods are more suited to our biggest rivers.

So in a nutshell, if you plan on nymphing on most Ontario rivers that are less than 50 feet wide then the best all around rod is a 10 foot , 7 weight rod.

Get the best Euro Nymphing rod for faster water like this

Euro Nymphing Rods For Steelhead

Euro Nymphing for steelhead – You could Euro nymph on small to medium sized rivers that have good flow and are not to deep. Euro Nymphing excels in the faster shallow water, in pockets and in rapid areas.  A slightly longer rod in the 11 foot length is my preferred rod for this style of fishing but a single hand 11 foot fly rod is difficult to find. I’ve used this 10 – 6 weight rod a lot for Euro Nymphing for steelhead and it’s one of the best single hand 10 foot rods for this style of fishing. For this style of nymphing I prefer to use a lighter rod in the 6 foot range because it’s easier on the arms and can still handle most steelhead under 10lbs. A ten foot or eleven foot 7 weight rod would also work too. I have guided many days with this 10 foot 7 weight rod which is a good rod for both Euro Nymphing and Indicator Nymphing.

Fly Fishing on the Nottawasaga River

A longer 11 foot 6 or 7 weight rod is also easier on those lighter tippets meaning less break offs. However, once you start getting onto bigger rivers that are more open, windier, and wider that require longer casts, then yes, an eight weight may be more ideal.

Streamer Fishing Rods For Steelhead

For streamer fishing using your single hand seven to nine weight , ten foot nymphing rod will work just fine but many guys would agree that casting streamers all day for steelhead works better on a nine foot, eight or nine weight rod.

Swinging Flies: Probably the least effect method but still a ton of fun and very challenging is swinging flies for steelhead. If you’re an angler that wants to do it all, nymph, through streamers, spey cast and swing flies then consider a six to eight weight switch rod. The bigger the river, the bigger the rod weight. Personally I use this 6 weight switch rod when I’m multi tasking these different methods. Most switch rods come eleven to 13 feet, the wider the river, the longer the rod is my suggestion when considering a switch rod. Just make sure that if you plan on spey casting with it, do your research and use the manufactures recommended lines.

Spey Rods: If you want to start getting into Spey fishing and swinging flies, for most rivers of 30 to 50 feet you can get away with a Spey rod in the 11 to 13 foot size in the 6 weight or 7 weight range, I use this 5/6 weight Spey rod for smaller steelhead rivers. For much bigger rivers you may want to bump up to an 8 or 9 weight. I use this 13 foot 7 weight Spey rod on larger rivers like the Maitland or lower Saugeen river all the time with no real issues getting my fly to the fish.

An Ontario steelhead

What Brands: That’s a question I wont give you a straight answer on. I’m not going to name brands, all I will say is use what ever brand of rod that you can find in your price range that is in the suitable weight and length for your needs. Just spend a bit of time searching for reviews on the rod you want to buy to see what the majority of anglers have to say about it or visit your local fly shop like Drift Outfitters because these guys not only know what the best rods are to sell, but they use them to, and if they’re good enough for them, they will be good enough for you.

Summary: I use a 10 foot, 7 weight single hand rod 90 percent of the time for most steelhead situations. For Spey fishing I use a 13 foot, 7 or a 6 weight rod most of the time.

Learn More

Best Fly Fishing for SteelheadBooks

Guide extraordinaire Karl Weixlmann provides a thorough compendium of information, tips, and techniques for any angler chasing the elusive salmon, trout, and steelhead of the Great Lakes. Includes recipes for 86 flies.

Tactics for Great Lakes steelhead, including new two-handed and switch rod techniques and Spey and tube flies -Specifics on key rivers and streams in each of the Great Lakes states and provinces.

Ontario river fishing lessons


New to Fly Fishing and Centerpin fishing? That’s Ok, you’re not alone.

Brand new anglers ask me all the time about what rods and reels and other gear that I recommend, or they ask me about my best flies, best methods or even which rivers are good to fish. I simply got to the point where I couldn’t keep up with the questions anymore, there just wasn’t enough time in the day, so I build a website that cover’s all of that. You should checkout our sister site where we tell you exactly what gear you need and tips and tricks to help you get started. Check out www.ontariotroutandsteelhead.com


Head Guide / Owner

Streamer fishing in Ontario

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Head guide/Owner