Choosing Steelhead Gear
Like many things in fly fishing you can ask 10 different fly anglers a single question and you'll get 10 different answers. Asking what steelhead rod one should use for fly fishing is no different. Every circumstance is different. And the answer varies with each situation. However let's try to get a generic answer so everyone can at least get started in this rewarding aspect of fly fishing.
Most steelheaders use at least a seven weight rod. And in fact that is my recommendation. There that would be the end of it, except for one thing. We, fly fishermen have a perpetual habit of complicating things. Choosing rods is no different. A seven weight, in my opinion is an ideal all around steelhead rod, that will work for any steelhead conditions. However if one is fishing out west in big water, under windy conditions, fighting bigger than average fish, then you will be cursing your seven weight rod in no time, as being too light. Therefore before you buy, think about the fishing you most plan to do. If your favorite river is large and the fish are big and the current is strong then seven weight will not be big enough, if the stream is smaller and the fish are in the six pound range than seven weight will be plenty. And some thrill seeking fly fisher's will use six.
As for length, the absolute shortest rod I would use is 9 foot. With 9 and a half recommended, especially for weights over 7. Again think of the conditions and the same rules for weight, more or less work for length. Longer rods provide longer casts, and more control. Out west two-handed spey rods are becoming more and more popular for steelhead fishing. With roll casting often required. Two handed rods allow the longest casting and can lengthen the fishing season, when high waters would force one off the river, when using a single handed rod.
When playing a steelhead, the reel becomes much more than just a place to store your fly line. The reel needs to be reliable as steelhead switch directions instantly peeling off line. They need to be large enough to hold your fly line and 150 yards of backing. Large arbor reels are becoming popular as they pick line up in a hurry, when your prized steelie decides to run at you.
Erie steelheaders tend to use floating line as the rivers are smaller, they are perfect. If you would like a little boost in casting then get a weight forward line, marked by WF on the package. On big rivers one should carry a floating line and a sinking tip line, as the conditions change during the season. Getting the fly down to the fish is vital.
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