Salmon, and other big game fish such as steelhead and stripers, make their runs with power and aggressiveness. While different species vary in size and strength, let’s just say it’s not a job for your trout rod. Unless of course you’re in the market for a new one! Here are the best fly rods for salmon and big game you can count on.
Updated September 16, 2020
Can your fly rod handle 20-30 minutes of this kind of power and torque, from a 20-40 pound salmon, or even larger?
Put another way, what’s wrong in this photo?
This angler is making a classic mistake that often breaks a sub-par fishing rod, and loses the salmon to boot. Without a 2nd upper cork grip, and / or a cork butt section below the reel, to use 2 hands he is forced to place his own hand directly on the fly rod. That focal point of stress will break the rod, because the load is no longer spread out. Bye bye rod, and salmon too.
We want you to enjoy releasing a hard fought, large salmon just like this one. That’s why!
While many mass produced fly rods are flooding the market, very few are up to the task of landing a powerful salmon. Or steelhead, striper, or muskie for that matter. So, we’ve waded through the many choices to recommend only the best rods, in several value categories, to setup well for your next salmon trip. Here are our picks.
Name Image Summary Price
1a. Redington Predator – 9′ 8 Wt Rod
A fast-action rod, stiff and robust to quickly tire salmon. Perfect for longer casting, windy conditions. Versatile with over 6 designs to choose from.
1b. Redington Predator – 9′ 8 Wt Combo
2a. Echo EPR Saltwater – 9′ 8 Wt Rod
Fast action but smooth at the same time, a wind tamer. Short stroke to load the tip, accurate casting. Distinctive black sleek look. Larges guides shoot line easily. Durable cork.
2b. Echo EPR Saltwater – 9′ 8 Wt Combo
Same as above, with reel, Rio backing, fly line, and tapered leader.
3a. Orvis Helios 3D – 9’ 8 or 9 Wt Rod
3b. Orvis Helios 3D – 9’ 8 or 9 Wt Rod
4a Sage Salt HD – 9’ 9 or 10 Wt Rod
4b Sage Salt HD – 9’ 9 or 10 Wt Rod
Losing a trout is one thing, but losing a trophy fish is another (described by one angler as “worse than being fired from your dream job, or dropped by your girlfriend in front of your friends!”). You just don’t want to be short handed right when the great moment arrives.
Read on for our detailed reviews and recommendations. Note that most of these rods can be purchased either as a rod only, or also in combos with reel, backing, and line so you have a read-to-go outfit.
Tired of reading gear ratings that have arbitrary ratings in pretty tables, with lots of links to primarily the expensive models, without enough information to tell if the gear is really right for you? Or that were obviously written by someone in another country who’s never actually seen or used the equipment, much less been an outdoors enthusiast?
In contrast, we are always on the lookout for best value products for you, and we evaluate in detail before presenting anything to you. Yes, even if it’s not expensive and doesn’t benefit us, we cover it. Here’s how we deliver our proprietary ValueMeterTM ratings to you.
First, we use well defined, meaningful rating categories that focus on what you’re getting for your money:
CHEAP – Not up to the task, prone to breakage (we don’t report on these)
PRACTICAL – fewer features for lower cost, entry level, yet still quality
BEST VALUE – More features and higher quality but for a reasonable cost, excellent all-around and versatile
HIGH END – Best in class, highly specialized, usually more expensive
OUTRAGEOUS – Custom, scarce, unique, collectors, antique, etc.
Second, how do we arrive at our ratings? Through detailed comparison of features and performance, relative to cost, with a carefully weighted scoring system.
Note, our ValueMeterTM ratings are complimentary to the common 5-star rating system used by most retailers, and does not replace them. Those tend to be a measure of satisfaction of individuals not only with the product itself, but star-ratings get easily clouded by other issues such as shipping, retailer level of customer service, return policies, etc. And, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish one reviewer’s view of value versus another.
Our ratings measure directly how much you are getting for your money, factoring out all other variables (such as which retailer sells it, what the shipping experience is, etc.) so you can make a smart choice about exactly what gear best meets both your needs and your budget. Once you’ve discerned a smart choice for your needs, then the next decision is how and where to buy it!
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The Predator deserves our “Best Value” rating, because price relative to features and performance is right in the strike zone.
The first thing you’ll notice are the number of varieties of this brand and model. What’s great is you can tailor by preference, e.g. double vs. single grip, length of butt section, etc. That can make a big difference during a 20-30 minute fight, if you are totally
As a fast-action rod, the Redington Predator’s stiff and robust qualities allow you to quickly capture salmon and other big game fish. You can even flexibly straighten up its loop to create more energy to win battles with the fish.
The Predator works well for longer casting. What’s more, it handles windy conditions well, performing even in longer distances in the wind.
Redington rods have been known for versatility and that quality is evident in the Predator. It is protected from scratches and dings, thanks to its anodized composition.
You can even use it for both saltwater and freshwater fly fishing. It is true that it is intended for catching predatory fish like salmon, walleye, and pike, among many others. However, you can adjust it for capturing smaller fish.
Another notable quality of the Redington Predator is it can endure forceful stripping when you’re fishing on or below the surface. So, when you’re stripping large flies, you won’t have to wade as much through the water to manage your casting.
First of all, what you’ll love about the Echo EPR Saltwater fly rod is its fast action. You can consider it a wind tamer that offers smooth action.
With a short stroke, you can load the tip easily, allowing you to make an accurate cast even between 20 to 30 feet. You don’t have to force it just to let it generate plenty of line speed. A true tip action rod, the Echo EPR responds quickly even with a short stroke.
Second, if looks matter to you, then you’ll definitely like the distinctive snake guides, rod and reel seat which are all black. The black wraps even have a sleek look, thanks to the fine copper tipping. The only area that needs improvement is the rod tube.
You won’t be disappointed with the quality of the Echo EPR saltwater fly rod. The large guides shoot the line freely. For a mid-priced rod, it has an above-average reel seat.
Hint – for pricing on the rod only, click on the picture above. For the combo, click on the picture below.
You will also like the comfortable profile of the cork grip. Many saltwater grips start to give out when the front begins to crack, which can be a problem. However, you can trust that the Echo EPR’s cork grip will hold up very well.
We like this intro to how to play and release salmon, by Greys Fishing. Good discussion with tips as they play fish, on how to not horse the fish too much early on, see what it wants to do. How to keep tension on, deal with a turn upstream, know when you can start reeling in, and even when tired out how they will make another turn and run as they get close to the net.
The third generation of the Helios series has received rave reviews in the fly fishing community. While it is not yet flawless, you can tell that the company has improved it to near perfection.
It has an excellent bend and a fast action core. Indeed, when you take the Helios 3D in the backcountry for large fish, you can have confidence the rod will perform when you need it, well away from a fly shop.
You will find most Helios rods in 9-foot lengths. You will also occasionally find 10-foot rods in 7-weight. Most sizes will work for salmon fly fishing. However, if you’re venturing on bigger water with longer casts, it’s better to choose the 10-footer.
Regardless of what you buy, you will get a rod specifically designed for distance. Orvis also re-engineered the line guides and reduced rod vibration to give you a crisp release.
Whether casting on a river thrashing in salmon or out on the salt flats, you often don’t have time to negotiate with the rod you’re casting. It’s important that you have the confidence to deliver a perfect cast in one shot.
What you’ll like about the Sage Salt HD fly rod, is the wide variety of weights, up to even an 11-weight version if you truly want horsepower.
Despite being a fast action rod, it can be deadly in close encounters. Of course, you’ll likely take most of your casts closer in, especially when you’re wading.
Another notable quality about the Sage Salt HD fly rod is how it feels in your hands. It has a noticeably softer tip. So, there is an improvement in the energy transfer from the mid-section through to the rod’s entire upper third.
However, when you start casting further out, some anglers notice that the rod may not have as much casting distance as some other brands, and may have slightly less lifting power as well. So, to consider purchasing one weight above what you are accustomed to is a simple way to adjust for this factor.
There you have it… our top fly fishing rods for catching salmon! See you in the water and get ready to score your trophy salmon with these rods!
What is the best fly rod for Salmon?
Our top 4 picks provide high performance (fast action, strong materials, salt water resistance) in 3 value / price point categories, with the option for rod only or combined package with reel, backing, and line:
For most salmon fly fishing, we recommend fly rod weights, 8, 9, or 10. Depending on conditions (casting distance, depth) and size of the fish, consider weights 7 or 11. Use tapers WF, DT, or ST.
You’ll want 200 yards of 20-30 lb backing. Off your 8-10 weight fly line (usually WF or ST depending on conditions/depth), you can usually use a straight (non-tapered) mono leader of 20-30 pounds depending on the size fish. There are many ways to rig your fly.
Use a 9-10 foot rod for trophy or big game fish such as salmon, steelhead, striped bass, northern pike, and muskie. The longer rods help make longer casts, with a heavy fly line (8-10 weight), especially in the wind.
Based on our Best Value review, the best fly rod for the money is the Echo EPR Saltwater. Depending on your budget and fishing needs, we also recommend the Redington Predator, Orvis Helios 3D, and Sage Salt HD.
We rate fly rods according to “value,” that is features and performance relative to price. For trout and panfish, you can expect to spend $100-300 for a quality rod. For big game fish, you’re looking at $400-900 to do the job right.
The fly rod you buy depends on the type of fish you are after, and fishing conditions. For trout and panfish, get a 7-8 foot fly rod, matched to 3-6 weight line. For big game fish, get a 9-10 foot rod, with 8-10 weight line –even longer and larger depending on conditions!
Selecting the best fly fishing rods for salmon is like picking out the ideal shoes for a particular purpose. You can’t use training shoes for running. They can lower your performance and even put you at risk for injuries! The same is true when you are fly fishing for salmon. Without the proper rod, you won’t be able to catch those elusive trophies you’ve been dreaming about. Of course, it’s no fun when can’t cast comfortably
When choosing the ideal fishing rod, the size of the fish is among the biggest variable. However, you will need to consider other factors before you invest in any fly fishing gear. For instance, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
Other technical aspects come into play in selecting fishing rods that will improve the chances of landing salmon. Here they are:
In general, finding the ideal salmon rod will depend on the method of fishing you will do. Salmon anglers commonly use rod lengths ranging from 8’ to 10’. These are perfect for big-game fishing. Of course, you shouldn’t forget the butt sections. As a rule of thumb, it should be anywhere from 6 to 12 inches.
Usually, the rod but will rest into your torso while playing salmon. So, if you get something that’s too long, you might end up stretching out your arms while fighting the fish. Consequently, you can get tired easily. Meanwhile, if you choose something too short, it may not sit in your rod mounts properly, especially when you’re trolling. Compared to a trout fly rod, salmon fly rods are more efficient in handling bigger fish. Typically, fly rods for salmon fishing are within the 9’ to 10’ range.
Of course, it is better if you can get away with a lighter rod. Ideally, you should get an 8-weight rod, but a 9-weight may be a bit overkill. On the other hand, a 7-weight may be too small. After all, it may not have adequate backbone to help you snag hefty 25 pounders.
Do not forget about balance because it is also a key factor. You should be able to balance the rod comfortably in your hand when holding it near or at the reel seat. In turn, you wouldn’t have to struggle and deal with greater stress and fatigue. So, you can get the best fun and comfort while fly fishing for salmon!
You will find most salmon fishing rod blanks with graphite or fiberglass. Meanwhile, some products have a combination of both materials for added flexibility and strength. Remember that you’re battling fish, so it is important to find a rod primary designed with superior durability and strength. This quality should be chosen over the product’s casting capabilities. Ideally, you should choose a rod with adequate strength for securing a solid hook set right into the bony jaws of salmon. It should also be able to handle the long, intense battles that the fish is known for.
When you’re looking for fishing rods for sale, you should always consider the size of the fish you’re after. Remember that salmon tend to fight with a vengeance. So, it is always better to go with a heavier weight rod. As we’ve mentioned, an 8-weight rod is an ideal size to get. That said, when you’re considering quality, the better it is, the higher the price will be. Here are our tips when you’re looking at price and quality:
All the big rod manufacturers offer great warranties even for their bass fishing rods. If you look around, you may find brands with programs that allow you to get a new rod even within a few days after a break.
If you’re fly fishing for salmon in saltwater, you must ensure that you are choosing a ‘fast action’ rod. Basically, you can expect the rod to be quite stiff, allowing it to deliver optimum power. At the end of the day, you may nurse a tired shoulder. That said, there are still plenty of reasons to choose fast action rods, including the following:
Expect to battle with the wind when you’re fishing for salmon in saltwater. Well, fast action salmon fly rods are designed specifically for that purpose!
Covering Greater Distance
Since fast action rods can deliver optimum power to the line, they can deliver further cast compared to softer rods.
Ideal for Heavier Flies
You wouldn’t cast small bugs to rising salmon when you’re fly fishing in saltwater, right? In most cases, you will use wind-catching, heavy bait fish imitations. And oh boy, they can be tough to cast! That is where you’ll find a stiff, fast action fly rod useful. It will help you pull that fly out of the water, even casting it out further. In contrast, with a soft rod, you will struggle to get the fly out of the water while avoiding to strip a bunch of line.
We know you’d want all the qualities we just mentioned for salmon fly fishing in freshwater. Indeed, when you’re chasing after big fish, most saltwater rods make excellent rods for freshwater. However, you must know that most freshwater fly rods are not ideal for the conditions in the saltwater. So, if you need something that will perform excellently in both salt and freshwater, then you should opt for a fast action rod or one that is intended for saltwater fishing.