The Best Lures For Steelhead: Top Spinners, Spoons, Cranks & Jigs

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The Best Lures For Steelhead: Top Spinners, Spoons, Cranks & Jigs

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:
best steelhead lures feature image

Steelhead fishing is a blast, and in many regions, they can be fished year-round. There are a few lures that excel at catching wild steelhead, and in this post, we will look at some of the best lures to use to catch steelhead.

The Best Steelhead Lures By Category: Quick Picks

Best Spinner for Steelhead fishing: Mepps Aglia

The pick for the best steelhead spinner was simple. The Mepps Aglia has a considerable track record as being one of the best steelhead lures out there.

The lures feature a simple yet effective construction and can take a serious beating, couple this with the huge amount of options in terms of sizes and colors and it becomes obvious why so many anglers have tons of them in their tackle lineup.

Best Spoon for Steelhead: Little Cleo Spoons

Due to personal experiences with little Cleo spoons, I might be slightly biased, but I am only biased because they have worked for me on countless occasions, and not just for steelhead, but for brown trout as well.

The lure has excellent action, can be cast a mile and is easy to work in and around fast water current. During a sunny day, it looks like a strobe light under the surface and makes its presence known.

Best Crankbait for Steelhead: Rapala Tail Dancer

The banana-shaped tail dancer is just a great crankbait all around for a wide variety of species, and this includes steelhead. When working deeper pools in a river, the Rapala Tail Dancer can be an efficient steelhead catching machine.

Best Jig for Steelhead: Aerojig Twitching Jig

Just look at this jig, it looks amazing, and you know it’s going to come alive the second it gets submerged.

The breathing of the marabou coupled with the rippling swimming action of the bunny fur strips will scream “Eat me!” to any steelhead that sees it.

Fishing with this jig under a float or without one in a river will definitely help you hook into some big steelhead trout. 

The Best Steelhead Lures: Full Reviews by Category

The Best Spinners for Steelhead Fishing

Spinners work great for catching steelhead, and they come in a wide variety of designs. Many anglers use naked spinners for steelhead trout over skirted spinners, but both designs can be incredibly effective.

lue Fox Vibrax Spinners
lue Fox Vibrax Spinners
lue Fox Vibrax Spinners
Our Score

The Vibrax lures by Blue Fox feature a two-part design that was designed to emit low-frequency vibrations that imitate the vibrations that baitfish make when swimming, thus calling in and triggering steelhead to bite.

The Blue Fox spinners are either silver or copper plated and can feature both metallic and metal finishes along with painted bodies and blades.

The body of the Blue Fox Vibrax is actually a bell and it functions like one as well. As water flows over and around the bell it causes it to clack against the lure shaft causing noise and vibration and literally rings the dinner bell for hungry steelhead as you retrieve it.

Last but not least, the Blue Fox Vibrax comes in both non-skirted and skirted versions, with the skirted version being known as the foxtail.

  • Skirted and non-skirted options
  • Bell body design
  • Metallic and colored versions
Panther Martin Spinner
Panther Martin Spinner
Panther Martin Spinner
Our Score

The classic Panther Martin spinner is another one of those lures that have been incredibly popular among steelhead anglers for 50 years, and the Panther Martin also has some interesting design choices when compared to a classic spinner.

The Panther Martin rooster tail features a shaft-through blade design. This blade design keeps the blade close to the shaft of the rooster tail and allows for increasingly less drag.

The interesting blade alternation between convex and concave features creates a unique vibration in the water that calls out to the fish in a way that sets it apart from standard willow blades.

  • Unique shaft-through design
  • Convex/Concave hybrid blade
  • Time-tested favorite
Mepps Aglia Spinners
Mepps Aglia Spinners
Mepps Aglia Spinners
Our Score

The Mepps Aglia is the original French-style spinner and was first made in the late 1940s. The Aglia has been a staple lure for most trout and salmon anglers ever since. Mepps offers the Aglia series in a wide variety of sizes and design types, including both naked spinners (spinners without a skirt) and skirted rooster tails.

If you wish to try the non-skirted versions of the spinner, which are very popular among steelhead anglers, the Aglia lures feature a bright attractor sleeve on them which helps give off some color to accompany the excellent flash and vibration from the blade.

The shaft of the Aglia is stainless steel to protect against corrosion, and the blade comes in multiple finishes and colors including, gold, brass, copper, or silver finishes, and they even come with painted blades. 

  • Tons of metal finishes and colors
  • Naked or skirted designs
  • Stainless steel shaft

The Best Spoons For Steelhead

Spoons are always a great way to catch steelhead, and over the years many trophy class fish have fallen for the wobbling and wiggling action of a spoon coupled with a tremendous amount of flash.

They do a great job at imitating a bait fish and yet have such a simple design. Let’s take at some of the most proven spoons on the market.

Little Cleo Spoons
Little Cleo Spoons
Little Cleo Spoons
Our Score

The Little Cleo has been a very popular spoon for a wide variety of gamefish for 30 years, and once the steelhead anglers in the Great Lakes region started hammering big steelhead on them, the popularity of the lure skyrocketed.

The Little Cleo spoon has a unique humpback shape that gives the lure a very seductive wiggling action that drives fish wild as it simulates a fat little baitfish swimming in an erratic nature similar to a wounded fish.

The Little Cleo comes in a variety of sizes and features an awesome metallic finish, and some have painted/metallic combination finishes, and glow finishes. 

  • Unique spoon design
  • Erratic wiggling action
  • Great metallic finishes
Krocodile Spoons
Krocodile Spoons
Krocodile Spoons
Our Score

The Krocodile spoon is made by Luhr-Jensen, a company that is now a division of Rapala.

The Krocodile works great for steelhead fishing along with a ton of other species and can be used by casting, trolling, or vertical jigging.

The spoon has a slender shape that imitates a minnow and comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and some of the color schemes feature holographic tape for great attraction, metallic finishes, and painted finishes.

  • Great color patterns
  • Slender body
  • Can be fished in a variety of ways.
Eppinger Original Dardevle
Eppinger Original Dardevle
Eppinger Original Dardevle
Our Score

The original Dardevle is one of the oldest lures to still be produced today, with the first one being created almost 120 years ago in 1906, and it has become one of the most iconic lures of all time and almost every angler has owned and fished one at some point in their lives.

 The Dardevle has a great action and is now available in many sizes and pretty much any color you could want. The lure also has several different variations that branch off from the original Dardevle design, like the trolling version, Rok’t version, and the copycat imp.

 You can straight retrieve, jig, and troll this lure, and there aren’t too many ways to fish it wrong.

  • Time-tested classic
  • Many sizes and colors
  • Can be fished in many different ways

The Best Crankbaits for Steelhead

Crankbaits aren’t very high on the list of lures to use for some steelhead anglers, but in the right hands at the right time they can be incredibly effective, and there are many diehard steelhead anglers that can attest to the effectiveness of a crankbait.

KVD Jerkbait 200 2 Hook/The Shizzle
KVD Jerkbait 200 2 Hook/The Shizzle
KVD Jerkbait 200 2 Hook/The Shizzle
Our Score

While technically being a jerkbait, and thus having an action that is slightly different compared to other crankbait styles, the KVD 200 fits the list due to its versatility and action.

The KVD 200 looks great, but not only does it have a great aesthetic, but it also has a great combination of roll, wiggle, and flash.

To accompany the great action characteristics of the KVD 200 it also has a weight transfer system built into the lure, which aids in castability and allows for long-distance casting.

To round the KVD 200 jerkbait off, it comes with realistic 3-D molded eyes and super strong black nickel treble hooks.

  • Great action
  • Weight transfer system
  • Great Aesthetic/color schemes
Rapala Tail Dancer 07 Fishing lure, Silver
Rapala Tail Dancer 07 Fishing lure, Silver
Rapala Tail Dancer 07 Fishing lure, Silver
Our Score

The tail dancer made by Rapala is a great crankbait and is a favorite among anglers of many different species, and has become one of the more popular crankbait lures for steelhead fishing.

The Tail dancer features a unique “banana-shaped” body and is made of balsa wood which is typical of many of the classic Rapala lures.

Using a crank and pause retrieve, the lure will swim with an enticing action, and on the pause it will back away in the opposite direction while rising, giving it a great triggering characteristic when you are steelhead fishing.

The Tail Dancer comes with razor-sharp VMC black nickel treble hooks, and all lures are hand-tuned at the factory. Along with being perfectly tuned and having great hooks, they come in a huge number of Rapalas’ color patterns that many of us anglers love, as well as different sizes.

  • Banana body
  • High-quality VMC hooks
  • Great Action
Luhr Jensen Kwikfish
Luhr Jensen Kwikfish
Luhr Jensen Kwikfish
Our Score

The Kwikfish is a killer crankbait when trolling around transition areas where steelhead stage before migrating into the rivers on bodies of water like the great lakes. The lure will also work great when casting in rivers as well.

The crankbait has a simple but very effective design and has an action that is characterized by wide swinging and wobbling.

The eye is easy to manipulate for tuning purposes, allowing the angler to make it track perfectly, or let it wander and walk from one side to the other.

The Kwikfish comes in a wide variety of very unique color patterns that you will be hard-pressed to find on lures of other brands.

Kwikfish crankbaits are also really good lures for fishing other species like salmon and lake trout as well, so they will get plenty of use if you are a multi-species angler.

  • Unique color patterns
  • Great wide swimming action
  • A great option for trolling

Best Steelhead Jigs

Jigs are a staple of steelhead fishing and they work exceptionally well when used with a float in river currents, keeping the jig just above the bottom as it drifts past the mouths of hungry steelhead.

Kalins Marabou Jigs
Kalins Marabou Jigs
Kalins Marabou Jigs
Our Score

Marabou is awesome, it breathes, flutters, and flows great in the water. The Kalin marabou jig is great for steelhead, and they use an ample amount of marabou to make sure that it really comes to life in the water while still having enough bulk to ensure it has a body and doesn’t lose shape.

Kalins’ give the jig a double coating of chip-resistant finish to help the paint last longer and use premium eagle claw hooks to ensure you get solid hook-ups.

  • Generous amount of marabou
  • Eagle claw hooks
  • Double coated jig head
Aerojig Twitching Jig
Aerojig Twitching Jig
Aerojig Twitching Jig
Our Score

The twitching jig by Aerojig combines marabou feathers with rubber legs and rabbit fur strips to produce a jig boy with considerable action with excellent pulsation and breathing underwater.

The rabbit fur stripe extends rearward and coils and swims in current simulating the movement of a swimming baitfish.

The Twitching jig comes with 2x strong hooks to ensure strong hook-ups and overall hook bend strength. This jig is up there for being one of the best lures for steelhead.

  • Marabou, rubber, and bunny hair strip combo
  • 2x strong hook
  • Great pulsating action
Vmc Bucktail Jig
Vmc Bucktail Jig
Vmc Bucktail Jig
Our Score

Using bucktail hair, the VMC jig is great at holding its shape when submerged, whereas other materials may shrink the overall profile of the jig underwater.

The full-body appearance coupled with tinsel fibers and 3D holographic eyes makes for a great baitfish presentation that works well for steelhead fishing.

Being manufactured by VMC means you will always get a lure with high-quality hooks, and the bucktail jig features a premium VMC high carbon steel needlepoint hook.

  • Great hook
  • Bucktail hair
  • Holographic eyes

Best rod and reel type for steelhead fishing

In most cases, if you are not steelhead fishing with a fly rod, a spinning rod setup is going to be your best option when casting or fishing with lures for steelhead. If you are trolling open water like the Great Lakes you will obviously want to be using trolling rod setups with line counters, but that is the only real exception where a spinning rod will have a disadvantage.

The most common method of steelhead fishing is float fishing, and for this, you will want a long rod that is capable of accurately casting into pools, current seams, and riffles. A rod that is 8’6″ to 10′ is a great option. Additionally, you will want a rod that has a moderate, fast, or extra-fast action for quick line pick-up when setting the hook.

For fishing lures like crankbaits, you can get away with shorter rods in the 7’6″ range, and you can also use spinning rods that will work for other species like bass or walleye, though using a fiberglass rod (click here to get a good one) will be a thing you may want to consider.

Winter Steelhead vs Summer Steelhead

There are two distinct “runs” of steelhead – winter steelhead and summer steelhead. The winter steelhead are the type that most of us think of that enter the river in winter and travel up the lower sections of rivers until they find a spawning location. These fish are sexually mature when they enter the river and are the larger steelhead of the two types.

Summer steelhead, on the other hand, enter the river in summer or fall and are sexually immature when they arrive. They tend to travel hundreds of miles upriver to spawn and take much longer to complete the journey and reproduce.

The same lures mentioned here will work for both winter steelhead and summer steelhead, although obviously the areas a steelhead angler will target for both fish will be different.

Final Thoughts

Steelhead fishing is an absolute blast, and they can be fished year-round in many regions like the tributary rivers of the Great Lakes. Although they can be finicky steelhead put up a great fight and they are a very powerful fish, and the lures mentioned in this article will get you hooked up with these silver-sided fighters whether it is summer steelhead or winter steelhead that you are chasing.

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AUTHOR
Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species.