Fly fishing for salmon is what many anglers consider to be the peak fly fishing experience. The beauty of the areas they live in and the power they fight with is something that every fly angler must experience. They’re an unbelievable fish that offers anglers a sense of accomplishment every time they’re landed.
I still remember the first salmon I landed on a fly rod. Even though it was a small pink salmon in northern Minnesota off of Lake Superior, it started an addiction that I haven’t been able to stop. Throughout my time targeting salmon, one of the bigger challenges I’ve faced is choosing the proper gear.
Since salmon live in a variety of places, you never know what gear is going to be required to go after them. There’s an ideal setup for targeting salmon, but the conditions don’t always allow for the opportunity.
What Size Fly Rod is Best for Salmon
When you’re fishing for salmon, you need a rod that’s powerful and able to take control of the fish. Salmon are smart fighters and will dive towards wood laydowns in the water as well as rocky areas to try and break the line.
They’ll often run downstream, but are willing to make moves upstream depending on where they see the closest escape.
An ideal fly rod for salmon is a 9’ 9-weight fast action rod. Also, a lifetime or 25-year warranty is ideal as well. A 9 weight provides the backbone to turn a +25 pound salmon, but still has the flexibility to cast large streamers and heavily weighted flies.
Guide Tip: If you plan to hit the rivers a lot, it’s not uncommon to go through one rod per salmon season. They fight with everything they have. Have a back up rod available.
You can find salmon in a variety of waters, but that 9’ 9-weight will work for most bodies of water you find salmon!
A salmon fly rod needs to provide a balance between turning a fish, casting a larger fly and allowing support to break the leader if the salmon isn’t going to cooperate. A 9-weight rod has enough power to turn fish and tire them enough to land them.
Fly Rod Weight for Salmon
A 9-weight is also helpful when you’re casting heavier flies. Salmon are willing to hit size 0 flies with trailing hooks. If you’re casting in difficult weather conditions and fast water, you need a rod that’s going to work in your favor. Those streamers aren’t always easy to cast, but they’ll feel small on a 9-weight.
Also, a 9-weight is helpful when casting sink tip fly lines into fast moving water. You’re able to control it and also launch it quite a way. You need to be able to cover the majority of the water when salmon fishing so longer casts will be necessary. Use the power to your advantage and make those 50-to-60-foot casts.
Length of Salmon Rod
The 9-foot rod is the right length. Some may argue you could use an 8’ rod or an 8’ 6”, but a 9’ rod is necessary. Not only will you be able to make longer casts, but you can have a further reach out onto the water and extra torque when you’re fighting the fish.
Fly Rod Action and Sport
Also, a fast action rod is going to help you in your pursuit of these fish. It has less flex, will bring in the fish more quickly, make longer casts and fight through the wind. These rods are stiff so require precision timing for accurate casts, but you’ll find that they’re the best option for salmon.
How Important is a Reel for Salmon?
Many anglers would argue that reels aren’t as important as the rod in fly fishing. In certain cases, this may be true, but you do not want to skimp when it comes to your reel. Salmon are powerful, fast and will tear line from your reel.
Also, you’ll likely fight salmon on your reel so you need to be able to keep tension and bring the fish in on your reel. This doesn’t happen with many fish on a fly rod so your reel doesn’t often get tested. However, when it does happen, the last thing you want is for your reel to fail you.
Losing a big salmon because your reel gets stuck or retrieves well is devastating. When it does happen, you won’t make that mistake again!
Recommended Salmon Fly Rods
Purchasing a fly rod for salmon is no easy task. There are dozens of brands that claim to have the best salmon rods so it takes time and research to choose one that will work best. Salmon rods take quite a bit of abuse and can be put under a massive amount of strain. Do yourself a favor and make sure the rod you purchase is quality. Again, losing a salmon due to an equipment failure is beyond frustrating.
Examples of Quality Salmon Fly Rods
The Orvis Helios is one of Orvis’ top of the line rods. It’s just shy of $1000, but you will struggle to find a better feeling rod. It’s a fast action and is extremely smooth. Many argue that it is more of a moderate action feel, but it definitely is a fast action. The price is steep, but you do have a 25-year guarantee so don’t be afraid to fish it hard!
The G-Loomis NRX+ Fly rod is another beauty. This is one of the smoothest feeling rods on the market. You’ll make long casts, but still have the power to fight those temperamental fish. This rod is also quite versatile. You’d easily be able to fight for bass, pike and just about everything else. Short casts and long casts are also in your arsenal. It’s another rod that costs about $1000. So, the price may remove some customers, but the 25-year guarantee makes it a bit more worth it. You can see it as more of an investment!
A great more affordable option is the Echo EPR. (link to Amazon to read more) It’s around $450 and performs as well as a quality 9-weight. It’s quite stiff so it makes line pickup easy! This is an important feature when you’re picking line up out of the faster moving water. Some would argue the rod is an extra fast action. If you’re precise with your casting then this is a great option for you. You get the lifetime warranty and a wonderful rod.
The Sage Maverick (Link to reviews and current price on Amazon) is another nice affordable 9-weight option. The backbone on this rod is the real deal. You won’t struggle to fight those large fish and pull them away from any structure they dive towards! It’s a beast and affordable. Coming in at $575 you’ll get the lifetime warranty that Sage offers and a more affordable and versatile option.
If you’re an intermediate angler in pursuit of salmon, the TFO Axiom II-X is a great option. The fly rod weights are limited and often 9 weights aren’t available. Temple Fork Outfitters need no help in promoting their quality. These stabilize extremely quickly and can handle some faulty casts. It’s not easy to find a fast action fly rod that works well for an intermediate level angler! Plus, it’s only $375 and protected by the TFO warranty!
The Scott Sector is one more rod you should consider for Salmon fishing. If you know anything about the world of fly fishing, you understand the quality of a Scott Rod. They’re not as popular as Sage or Orvis, but the work and care put into these rods is second to none. Plus, they are similar in price to the Orvis Helios and G Loomis NRX+.
A long warranty on your rod is vital for salmon fishing. You’re going to put it through the ringer. Long casts, difficult weather and some of the strongest fighting fish you’ll find requires a high-performance rig. Do yourself a favor and make the investment!
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Fly Rod Setup for Salmon
Your setup for salmon fishing is vital! Since your line and fly will take so much strain, you need to make sure it’s set up for success! You also need to have a presentable looking setup! Salmon can be picky so do your best to have the proper lengths and fly choice.
When choosing your fly line, make sure you have something that’s going to fall in the water column. Salmon sit in slack water and having a fly that can drop into a pool is ideal. You need your streamer to meet the fish at the low point in the water.
A 12 foot 10-pound test leader will work well. Salmon are aggressive and have extremely sharp teeth. A heavy test will not only keep the line from snapping during strong runs, but it’ll also be difficult for salmon to bite through it.
3 Favorite Flies for Salmon
A variety of flies are going to work for salmon! Your decision should be based on what is currently working at that moment. Check with local fly shops to see what the fish are eating! However, there are a few flies that have been proven to work for the majority of salmon.
Guide Tip: I wrote a huge article about salmon flies. Check it out with this link – 15 Favorite Flies for Salmon Fishing
Egg Sucking Leech
The Egg Sucking Leech is a classic pattern in the world of salmon fishing. It gives off the appearance of a salmon egg with a leech attempting to eat it! You can fish this without a bead head, but be sure you do so with a sinking line.
Depending on the flow rate of the water, you may want to tie on a split shot to get it lower in the water column.
They’re colorful, obnoxious and easy to tie. Do yourself a favor and give these flies a shot. If you’re fishing a two-fly rig, they work great as a trailing fly. If you’re fishing them solo, you may need to tie on one or two split shots to get it low enough in the water.
The Spey Fly is one of the original salmon fishing flies. It’s versatile and got its name from the Spey River in Scotland. You can fish it in deep water with split shots or low clear water. Feel free to swing the flies through the current. A dead drift with these flies into pools also works extremely well.
This is a personal favorite pattern. It’s not anything special, but it does the job and it does it well every single time.
Looking for a Switch Rod or Two-Handed Fly Rod?
When fishing with a longer fly rod like a switch or spey, you can use a 7 or 8-weight. The longer rod length will help absorb strikes. Another benefit is you have more control over the line. It’s much easier to mend or guide the line with a longer fly rod.
Switch rods have become more and more popular as the years have progressed. Versatility is not easy to accomplish in fly fishing, but the switch rod is as versatile as it gets. You can single or double hand cast depending on how you need to rod to perform.
Last Cast – Heavy Rods and Big Nets
Salmon fishing is amazingly entertaining. Watching the fish streak through the water in search of food is exhilarating as well as frustrating. The battle of finding what fly is going to work well isn’t always easy, but it’s all a part of the game.
Don’t let your rod be of concern in your pursuit of these fish! Remember that a 9’ 9-weight rod is your best option and will perform best in a variety of situations. Do your research, but most importantly get out on the water! As soon as you land your first salmon, you’ll count down the days to the salmon run every single year.
Want to Learn More About Salmon Fishing?
- Get it all in this article – How to Fly Fish for Salmon
- Flies, Flies and More – 15 Best Flies for Salmon
- Everyone thinks big when it comes to salmon – What is the Biggest Salmon Ever Caught?
- Alaska and Salmon go hand in hand – Fly Fishing for Silver in Alaska
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels