In the past year, I relocated from Vail, Colorado up to Portland, Oregon. I’m lucky enough to have access to dozens of quality steelhead and salmon fisheries. After decades of trout fly fishing, the transition to steelhead fly fishing has been quite the learning experience. There is a big learning curve. It seems like you have to be fishing on the right day, in the right spot, with the right gear and flies to land a steelhead on a fly rod or just a lot of luck. It is a challenging task but shouldn’t be a daunting task. And for some reason, the challenge is what keeps bringing me back and I’m sure other anglers that enjoy fishing for steelhead. In this article, I focus on clearing up some basic terms for beginners to understand the basics of steelhead as it pertains to anglers.
What is the difference between a steelhead and rainbow trout?
Steelhead and rainbow trout are genetically the same species. They are classified both as “Oncorhynchus mykiss.” The difference is their life strategies. A rainbow trout
Hatchery Steelhead vs. Wild/Native Steelhead
Steelhead also come in two forms, native/wild or hatchery steelhead. The native/wild steelhead are the fish that have never had any hatchery lineage. They are native to the rivers they were born in, live in and die in. The hatchery steelhead
Winter Steelhead vs. Summer Steelhead
It is pretty common for the summer run fish to be more aggressive than winter run fish. As the summer run steelhead are will often feed on the surface. Some people also believe that summer run fish are smaller on average that winter run fish.
Fun Facts about Steelhead
salmonsteelhead can spawn several times.
arevery diverse from one another. Some steelhead spendone year and others five years in freshwater before going to sea. The adults can spend a few months to five years in the ocean.
areknown to swim as fast as 35 MPH. That will pull some line off the reel. Typically the “fresher” the fish are, the more fight they have in them. “Fresher” meaning just arrvingin the fresh water from the salt. Fish that have just arrived into the freshwater are typically more chrome than colored up.
- Steelhead can reach up to 40 pounds with 8-11 pounds being the average.
- The original life history of steelhead spanned from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula all the way up to Alaska. These days there are still #’s of steelhead in California and to the north. But,
duetoo many negative environmental issues they have been on a steady decline.
wereintroduced to the Great Lakes in 1876. Today successful stocking programs are responsible for today’s fantastic runs in rivers throughout the Great Lakes system.
- Buck – male steelhead (Look for
largerhead, elongated jaw, and kype).
- Hen – female steelhead (smaller head, rounded forehead, small adipose fin).
- Sea Lice – a small parasite that attaches to the steelhead. Typically means that the fish has just arrived into the freshwater. As the sea lice cannot live in freshwater long.
The Techniques: Swinging Flies vs. Nymphing
Fly fishing for steelhead is typically done two different ways, swinging flies or nymphing. Different conditions, rivers, and anglers preferences call for the two different techniques.
Nymphing for steelhead
Swinging flies is the preferred technique for many anglers and had been a traditional way of fly fishing for decades. It is as simple as making a cast across the river and letting the current “swing” the fly around to below your position. The rod’s tip can be altered to “lead” or “follow” the fly adding control.
Patrick Perry @patperry Content Contributor and Former Guide