Skip to Content

Best Spinning Reels for Steelhead (For All Budgets)

Best Spinning Reels for Steelhead (For All Budgets)

Steelhead are big and hard-fighting fish, and to be able to land them, you’ll need strong and durable gear. 

Using the right type of spinning reel is essential for a successful steelhead fight, but with so many choices, how do you know what reel to pick?

A size 3000 (30) or 4000 (40) spinning reel is ideal for steelhead fishing. You will want a durable reel with a strong and easily adjustable drag and enough line capacity to better control the fish during the fight. A steelhead reel should also be lightweight, as you often hold your rod and reel for many hours.  

If you want more tips on choosing the perfect spinning reel for steelhead, all you have to do is keep reading!

QUICK SUMMARY: In this article, I’m reviewing three high-quality, reliable, and affordable steelhead spinning reels that you can find on Amazon. These are the Shimano Vanford, the Penn Battle III, and the Pflueger President XT.

What Is the Best Spinning Reel for Steelhead Fishing?

a happy trout angler on a river holding a giant steelhead
Courtesy of Chris Blackburn

Steelhead are fantastic fish, fierce fighters, and make excellent table fare, which is why they are such a popular game fish!

Of course, you’ll first have to reel them in before you can enjoy them on the dinner table. Especially on bigger and fast-flowing rivers, that’s sometimes easier said than done.

That’s why using a strong and durable reel is so very important when it comes to steelies!

Strong and durable spinning reels are essential when float fishing, spinning, or side drifting for steelhead, and using the right size reel can make all the difference.

Those fish know the river’s current a lot better than you do, and they’ll use it against you in the fight.

They’ll also hit you with ultra-fast and long runs, jumps, and head shakes, anything to get away from you and pull that hook!

So, what makes a good steelhead spinning reel, then? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important features.


Size matters for steelhead spinning reels! Many trout anglers use small reels and then scratch their heads when they get in trouble on the water.

The fact of the matter is that a size 1000 (10) or 2000 (20) reel is typically too small for most steelhead waters!

Such sizes simply do not hold enough line or have a strong enough drag to fend off the fish’s insane escape runs.

All too often, the result is a lost fish, which is very unfortunate!

To prevent such tragedy, use a size 3000 (30) or even 4000 (40) spinning reel!

The size of the steelhead you’re targeting and the type of water you’re fishing in play a significant role in the size of your reel.

Line Capacity

The line capacity goes hand in hand with the size of your spinning reel. The bigger the size, the more line capacity the spool has.

Most steelhead anglers use mono lines with a 10 to 14-lb test or braided lines with a 15 to 25-lb test.

To cast far and let the fish run, you will want enough line on your reel (at least 120 to 150 yards), so checking the line capacity of your reel is crucial!

Size 3000 (30) or 4000 (40) spinning reels usually have a sufficient line capacity for steelhead fishing.


The size of the river you’re targeting is significant for the size of your spinning reel.

A size 3000 (30) reel is generally enough for smaller rivers with a moderately fast current.

The drag system will manage the current just fine, and the fish usually don’t run as far as in bigger river systems.

For big rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, a size 4000 (40) reel is recommended.

Here, the fish have a lot of space, which they usually use to their advantage by making extraordinarily long and challenging runs.

In big rivers with a fast and hard current, such a reel size makes even more sense, as qualitative 4000 reels have a strong and reliable drag system, which you’ll need to control and steer the fish in the fast-flowing water.

Fish Size

Naturally, the size of the steelhead in any given water body also plays a role.

I would say that you can catch fish up to about 15 lbs with a size 3000 reel. Maybe you can even get away with a size 2500, but why risk it, right?

For fish beyond the 15-pound mark, I would always go with a size 4000 spinning reel. Those are strong fish, and you must use appropriate gear to best them!


While location, fish size, and reel size are the most critical aspects of steelhead spinning reels, a reel’s drag, weight, and overall durability are also essential features!

A strong, smooth, and reliable drag system is crucial when fishing for steelhead, as you need to be able to quickly adapt it to the fish’s movements and pulls.

A smooth, qualitative drag system allows you to efficiently tire out the fish, which is essential if you want to land it.

It’s a tool that often makes a lot of difference when fighting big steelies.


Naturally, you’ll want to use a reel of good quality and durability. I’ve seen budget reels literally shatter into pieces during big-fish fights. They’re just not up to the job!

Trust me, a strong and angry steelhead can destroy a low-quality budget reel in no time at all!

You can buy cheap, but you’ll often have to buy twice or thrice! Additionally, you might lose the fish of a lifetime.


We should also talk about the weight of your spinning reel. When spin or float fishing for steelhead, you generally hold your rod and reel for many hours, and a heavy reel can be quite demanding for your wrists and muscles.

It doesn’t seem like much, but a few ounces can make a massive difference for your arm and hand!

Using a lightweight reel adds comfort to your fishing trip and prevents your hands and arms from getting tired.

Trust me, you’ll need your strength for those trophy steelies!

Now, let’s move over to some of the best steelhead spinning reels on the market!

Top Pick: Shimano Vanford

a close up of the Shimano Vanford
My trusted Shimano Vanford 4000

Shimano makes some of the world’s finest fishing reels, and, to many anglers, the Shimano Vanford is the crème de la crème of spinning reels!

This highly advanced piece of gear will give you the perfect fishing experience, whether you’re float fishing, spinning, or side drifting.

I speak from experience, as I own a Vanford 1000 and 4000 myself.

These reels run as smooth as butter, cast amazingly, have the world’s most silky drag system, and are incredibly well-made and durable overall.

I’d go as far as to say that the Vanford is the finest spinning reel I’ve ever fished with!

It casts both mono and braid very far and has an easy and even retrieve.

Additionally, the Shimano Vanford is a very lightweight reel model, making it even more perfect for spin and float fishing for steelhead.

You cannot go wrong with this outstanding Shimano reel! The Vanford is well worth its money and a spinning reel that will last you a lifetime!

You’ll be fishing with a top-performance reel that will make fighting and landing trophy steelhead an easy and enjoyable experience.

You can check out Shimano’s Awesome Vanford Spinning Reel on Amazon right here

Runner-Up: Penn Battle III

an image of a rod and a Penn Battle III spinning reel
Courtesy of Erik Crowley

The Penn Battle III is a trusted and popular spinning reel that thousands of steelhead and salmon anglers like and use.

This solid mid-range reel of excellent quality and modern design sells for a little over $100.

It’s most suited for float fishing and side drifting but can also be used for spinning.

One of the Battle’s biggest strengths is that you can fish in fresh and saltwater with it, meaning that fishing for coastal steelies in the Pacific Northwest will be fine with this reel.

Penn uses state-of-the-art components for this reel, making it super strong, smooth, and durable.

As the name suggests, the Penn Battle is a real heavy hitter and heavy artillery!

It can handle really big and strong fish effortlessly, no matter how deep the water or how fast and strong the current might be.

If you’re not into finesse fishing and looking for a robust and compact spinning reel with a ton of backbone, the Penn Battle III is a solid pick for you!

You can find out more about the Penn Battle III Spinning Reel on Amazon here

Budget Pick: Pflueger President XT

a bunch of female anglers fishing with pflueger president spinning reels
Courtesy of Melissa Lebeau

The Pflueger President is yet another popular choice among America’s steelhead anglers and an excellent budget spinning reel. Both the size 30 and 40 models sell for around 80 bucks, which is a very decent price for a good spinning reel.

If you’re mainly float fishing for steelhead and don’t need a high-performance fishing reel, the President would probably be your best choice!

This is a beautiful piece of gear made of high-quality components.

The Pflueger President XT has a smooth action, a super strong drag system, and is surprisingly lightweight for such a large-sized spinning reel.

It’s also very durable and can manage freshwater very well. You will keep this reel for many years, and it won’t lose any of its amazing action or smoothness.

That said, the size 4000 model can feel a little chunky and probably isn’t the best choice for a lighter spinning setup, which is something to keep in mind.

On the contrary, this is a great pick for heavier float rigs in big rivers with strong currents!

All in all, a solid performer that will allow you to reel in lots of monster steelhead!

You can take a closer look at the Pflueger President XT Spinning Reel on Amazon here

Related Articles