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Steelhead 101

  • AKA: steelhead trout, metalhead, steelie, chromer
  • A steelhead and a rainbow trout are the same species
  • Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead don't die after spawning
steelhead leaping

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead often survive spawning and may spawn multiple times throughout their lives.
  • Steelhead runs are typically classified as either summer or winter run based upon when they return to freshwater.
  • There is a rich history of angling for steelhead in the Pacific Northwest dating back more than 100 years.
 

Revered by anglers and considered by many to be the finest freshwater game fish on earth

Wild Steelhead Status Diagram

The status of wild steelhead today. Click image to view a larger version.

Steelhead are native to the Pacific Rim from Southern California to the Aleutian Peninsula in the Eastern Pacific, and to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Western Pacific. These anadromous rainbow trout migrate to sea for one to four years, growing to substantial size before returning to spawn in their natal rivers. Unlike the Pacific salmon species with which they share the genus Oncorhynchus, steelhead often survive spawning and may spawn multiple times throughout their lives.

Steelhead runs are typically classified as either summer or winter run based upon when they return to freshwater. However, historically fresh steelhead entered many rivers in every month of the year. Given this fact, the greatest distinction between summer and winter races is that summer fish are common in inland river systems and in coastal rivers where steep canyons or falls preclude passage during the winter and spring months. To accommodate these lengthy, challenging migrations, summer steelhead enter freshwater as sexually immature fish, waiting as many as 10 months in freshwater prior to spawning. Winter steelhead predominate in coastal watersheds and return to freshwater any time from November to May, spawning shortly after their arrival in the river.

There is a rich history of angling for steelhead in the Pacific Northwest dating back more than 100 years. Unfortunately, throughout much of their range steelhead populations have declined significantly during the last century, prompting concern for the future of our sport. That is why the Wild Steelhead Coalition is working hard on behalf of wild steelhead throughout the region, advocating for scientifically robust management that protects wild steelhead now and for future generations.

Check out these six books we recommend to help you get started understanding wild steelhead management in the Pacific Northwest.