First Salmon/Steelhead River Rod & Reel

Everyone has an opinion, here’s another

If you’re just starting with river fishing (gear fishing, not fly fishing), I would recommend starting with a Baitcaster Reel and Casting Rod. There are so many great options with the Centerpin, Spinning combo, etc. However, for a beginner on the river I’d recommend a drift rod and reel setup. This setup provides an easy way to use the float fishing technique. And float fishing is an incredibly effective way to get into fish!

This tip only discusses the Rod, Reel & Mainline recommendations for float fishing. If you want more details on float fishing setup, see tip: The Float Fishing Rig. Additionally, this recommended setup is geared toward Salmon & Steelhead. This is not recommended if you’re targeting fish smaller than 3 lbs.

Starter Rod

I would recommend a rod around 10-11 feet long with a 12# to 20# weight rating and medium to medium heavy action. If you don’t want to break the bank, I would recommend a 10’6 Shimano Convergence Salmon rod. It typically runs around $100-$120 (CAD).

Starter Reel

I would recommend a drift (or bait casting) reel from Shimano or Abu Garcia. For me, I started (and still use) a Abu Garcia C3 6500 Ambassadeur reel. This reel generally runs around $150 (CAD). If you want to spend a little more money, I’d recommend the Shimano Calcutta bait caster reel. These generally start around $200 (CAD) and depending on the model can jump up significantly.

If you’d prefer low profile or other round profile reels, see the article best baitcasting reels for the money. This article outlines the unique features and differences between a low profile and round baitcasters. Lastly, it outlines my recommended reels in each of these categories (including the ones mentioned above).

Mainline & Leader

First things first, the mainline should always have a heavier weight than the leader line. There are situations where this may not be the case, but for a beginners tip take this one to the bank. The main reason for this rule is if you ever break your line, it’ll likely be the leader and won’t loose the rest of your setup/gear on the mainline.

My go to mainline is Maxima Ultragreen monofilament (see 2nd image), and often spool up 15#. I’ve used this line for all sizes of Salmon and Steelhead, including 20+ lb Chinook and Chum Salmon. Additionally, a green/darker colored Braid in the 20# to 30# weight can work as well. If you want more information on braid see my article best braided fishing lines.

My go to leader line is Seaguar fluorocarbon line (see 3rd image), and usually use the 8# to 12#. It’s expensive and worth every penny! I can’t stress enough, fishing line and leader is not something you want to cheap out on.

Additionally, if you’re using bait hooks my favorite are Gamakatsu & Owner (see 3rd image). I most commonly use the “Octopus”
hook type. If you want more information on hook sizes and styles see the Bead to Hook Tip page.

If you want more information on lines to water conditions see tip: River Conditions vs. Presentations.

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