Without a doubt once of my favorite fish to go after is Steelhead. The Steelhead is regularly rated in the top 5 for sport fish in North America and for good reason. They are hard fighters and what makes the battle more fun is hooking up with one of them in a swift flowing, rocky river in the dead of winter.
So, is it a Steelhead salmon or Steelhead trout?
Let me clarify a few things. A Steelhead is a type of rainbow trout that makes the journey from its spawning river into the ocean, or the Great Lakes, depending on location. Once there, they grow large by gobbling up their favorite prey, smaller fish. After several years of growth, Steelheads return to their home river to spawn and it is there where they usually die. The journey and subsequent spawning process takes a lot out of them.
I think the confusion lies in the fact that they behave much like salmon throughout their lifecycle. Most people know that salmon return to the rivers to spawn once they are sexually mature. I think it’s the image of bears grabbing fish out of a fast flowing, shallow stream that people remember. Consider Steelhead as a confused trout or a salmon wannabe.
Since most of the Steelhead die during the run, I don’t have any issues catching and keeping them. As of now, the species is nowhere near being endangered and well thought out conservation practices are in place to ensure that is never the case. Steelhead are very tasty and are packed with about 60% of Omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon. I much prefer them to salmon, especially when cooked as part of a shore lunch during a break in the action.
Steelhead can reach up to 45 inches in length and 55 lbs in weight, although most are much smaller. They have a lifespan of up to 11 years and reach sexual maturity around 2 to 3 years of age. The interesting thing is that development is dependent on their environment. All Oncorhynchus mykiss hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast flowing rivers and streams and some stay there, while others leave for open water. Those fish that stay become rainbow trout and are identified by their characteristic reddish strip along the lateral line. Steelhead that migrates to the oceans or Great Lakes has a slimmer profile, are much larger in size, and have more of a silver color.
Regardless of whether you are angling for rainbow trout or Steelhead, they are an amazing fish and provide a great experience for everyone.
I can’t wait to get out on the water and get after them again!