A true prize among game fish, the steelhead is the turbo-charged anadromous form of the rainbow trout.
Essentially, the steelhead is a rainbow trout that migrates into saltwater as a juvenile and returns to freshwater to spawn. Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead do not always die after spawning and may return to freshwater to spawn more than once. Steelhead tend to be more elongated and streamlined than rainbow trout, with a silver color dominating the flanks when they’re fresh from the ocean. As the spawning cycle progresses, steelhead acquire more vivid coloration—the flanks transition to deep green, with a bright copper stripe down the side.
Steelhead have traditionally been found throughout the coastal rivers of the Pacific Northwest but stocks have radically declined over the past decades. Strong populations of steelhead can still be found in southeast Alaska and throughout the upper Midwest Great Lakes tributaries. In freshwater rivers and streams, steelhead prefer fast, deep water and often hold in deep holes or behind rocks in swift moving whitewater stretches.
Being anadromous, steelhead begin their lives in freshwater rivers and streams and migrate each spring to saltwater, where they’ll spend the majority of their lives feeding and growing. Most populations of steelhead return to rivers for spawning in the fall.
Steelhead are native to the Pacific coasts of North America and Asia, but have been successfully transplanted to other locations, such as the Pacific coast of South America and to freshwater environments, such as the Great Lakes.