Steelhead, also fondly called steelie, is a special fish species that share an anadromous form with rainbow trout. That being said, many surmise that steelhead is a trout that acts biologically like Pacific salmon. Unlike rainbow trout who stay in freshwater their entire lives, steelheads spend a good portion of their lives out in the salty sea and return to their freshwater birthplace as adults to spawn.

Due to their athletic, fighting nature and relatively big size, anglers can agree that catching steelhead fish is a tricky yet enjoyable challenge. If you’re hoping to reel one in, let’s take a closer look at their distinguishing features, traits, and behaviors. Here’s what you need to know about steelhead trout.

Body Composition: Coloring and Scales

What you need to know about steelhead trout is how their genetic make-up and lifestyle differentiates them. Because of their migration habits, steelheads are large in size yet usually thinner in appearance than resident rainbow trout. Compared to other related species, they can weigh up to 50 pounds but are typically below 10 pounds on average.

Steelheads are diverse due to their coloring. Rainbow trout are rightfully named for their stunning, multi-colored hue. Their bodies are traditionally blue, yellow, or green. In contrast, steelheads derive their name from their silver or brassy coloring as adults. Similar to rings on a tree, their scales can also tell biologists or fisherman about their age.

Lifecycle: Versatility and Survival Rates

The continual success of steelhead survival over the years lies in adaptivity that’s beyond human comprehension. Unlike salmon who die after spawning, steelheads can spawn in freshwater, return to the ocean, and migrate back again to spawn several times over. However, steelheads have a difficult life, with only a small percentage returning from both ways of their migration. This means their population differs greatly in age.

Migration Patterns: Summer Run and Winter Run

Avid anglers in the fishing world are aware of two distinguishable steelhead variants: winter steelhead and summer steelhead. Each variant has a schedule based on its chosen migration pattern. This means timing is the key to a good catch in the area of your choice at the best time of the season.

For the best steelhead fishing in Idaho, look no further than River Adventures. Our expertly led fishing tours are led by experienced guides who know the best spots on the Salmon River. While steelhead season comes and goes, we also offer other guided fishing trips throughout the year for trout, sturgeon, bass, and salmon. Contact us with any questions or to book a future trip with us today.

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