What are Steelhead?


Steelhead Trout

Steelhead are rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean, the Great Lakes (GL), and some large inland lakes as Juveniles and return to their native freshwater streams as adults to spawn. Steelhead are normally described as A-Run or B-Run, based on size and ocean or (GL) life history.

A-Run steelhead return from the ocean (or GL) earlier in the year (normally June -August) and most often return after spending only one year in the ocean (or GL). Because they only stay in the big water for a short time, they are generally smaller than B-Run steelhead. A-Run steelhead usually top out at around 7lbs and only grow to around 28″ in length.

B-Run steelhead normally spend a couple of years (or in some cases longer) in the ocean (or GL) and start their migration later in the year (usually late August or September). Because they stay in the ocean or Great Lakes longer, they return as much bigger adults. Normally 10-20lbs and up to around 35″ in length. The fish that stay even longer in the ocean or the great lakes don’t normally get much over 30 lbs.

Steelhead use areas of gravel or cobble depending on the size of the fish to lay their eggs. The female selects a place in a riffle area below a pool and digs a redd (nest) . It moves the gravel using her body or tail. The male fertilizes the eggs as they are deposited in the redd. The female then covers the eggs with gravel.

Eggs normally hatch in early to mid-summer. The young fish live in the stream and migrate to the ocean or the great lakes normally after a minimum of two years in freshwater.

When they mature and are ready to spawn, the fish migrate back to the place they were born, sometimes traveling thousands of miles.

Steelhead trout eat insects and zooplankton in the water or on the surface. They will also feed on small fish and fish eggs. As they grow larger, they will eat larger fish. Adult steelhead holding in a river prior to spawning do not eat much if anything but will strike at flies if agitated.