What Is Steelhead Trout?

rainbow trout

Last updated on August 17th, 2022 at 08:13 am

Steelhead trout are freshwater salmonid fish of the genus Oncorhynchus. The steelhead is so-named because its head and tail may turn from silver to black in color, with the tints often looking like rust or gunmetal gray. Like other Pacific Salmons (Oncorhynchus spp.), all trout begin their lives in freshwater before swimming to the ocean. After an unspecific period of time, they swim back upstream into spawning grounds, where they die after spawning and releasing eggs or sperm.

Some steelhead trout are hatchery-raised and do not make a full migration from saltwater to spawn; others may travel upstream only as far as the hatchery in which they were raised.

Steelhead trout are freshwater salmonid fish of the genus Oncorhynchus. It has been described by some authorities on ichthyology as being a circumpolar species, spanning in all but one of the world’s major rivers and more than two-thirds of all the world’s freshwater.

What is steelhead trout?

steelhead trout

Steelhead trout are also known as oceangoing salmon because they share many similarities with their ocean-running cousins, including similar spawning behavior and habitat requirements. Steelhead migrates to the sea where they spend time feeding on smelt, herring, anchovy, and other small fish before returning to their natal streams where they spawn and die.

They are born in freshwater rivers, lakes, or creeks but spend most of their lives at sea, migrating back for spawning once every one to three years. They can be found along the Western seaboard from California up into Alaska as well as throughout Canada and Washington. They’re also found in the Great Lakes watershed, but they are not native to this area.

Hemibagrus Wyckioides (Asian Redtail Catfish)

Steelhead trout can be differentiated from other salmonids by their large scales and smaller mouths. They also differ from anadromous fish because they do not migrate past saltwater; instead of making a round-trip migration like salmon, they make one-way trips.

Steelhead trout can be found in many colors including silver, blue and green with a pink back or side near the tail fin. The average size of steelhead is between 12-24 inches while some may grow to 30 inches long.

Is a steelhead a rainbow trout or salmon?

Steelhead trout are actually not rainbow trout that have grown to full size. They live in the ocean for a few years and then swim up into freshwater streams where they spawn, die, and their offspring do not stray back downriver as fry. The steelhead is distinguished from other types of rainbows by its darker coloring on the head and back.

Why is it called steelhead trout?

steelhead trout

Steelhead trout are so named because they have a steel-like silver coating on their back and sides. They also have very sharp teeth, which is one sign of the fact that these fish were not meant for human consumption. The name “steelhead” itself comes from an angling term meaning to strike a lure or bait with enough force to propel it out of the water and onto dry land.

Is steelhead trout freshwater or saltwater?

Steelhead trout are freshwater fish. They can live in the ocean, but they’re a species of salmon that lives permanently inland and doesn’t migrate to the oceans like most other types of salmon do.

Steelhead trout vs salmon


Steelhead trout is an ocean-going fish that has a different diet than salmon. Steelheads eat small animals, crustaceans, and other fishes like smelt. Salmon are found in freshwater systems including rivers and streams where they feed on smaller prey such as insects, invertebrates (animals without backbones), and plankton (tiny organisms found in water).

Herichthys carpintis (Pearlscale Cichlid)

Steelhead trout are often caught in the ocean. The fish is sometimes called “steelie” by sports fishermen who catch these fish from boats near the shoreline. Steelhead trout can be distinguished from salmon because steelies have deeply forked tails, while a salmon tail appears more rounded or squared off at its end.

Steelhead trout are a popular game fish that is often made into smoked or jerky-style dishes. Steelhead fishing has become more and more common on the West Coast of North America, where this type of fish makes up about 50% of the annual catch. In the East, they’re primarily caught in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, where they’re harvested for their succulent pink meat.

Steelhead trout vs. rainbow trout

rainbow trout
rainbow trout

Steelhead trout and rainbow trout look similar at first glance, but there are some major differences. Steelhead trout have a silver-gray head and back with dark green sides, red spots on their lower jaw, green fins that resemble those of salmon, and a large black spot on the base of their tail.

Steelhead trout are usually found in the Pacific Northwest, but can also be found farther south to California. They typically live in large rivers and travel long distances upriver after spawning. These fish have a silver-gray head and back with dark-green sides, red spots on their lower jaw, green fins that resemble those of salmon, and a large black spot on the base of their tail.

Rainbow trout is considered a freshwater fish, but it can be found in saltwater environments too. They have a variety of colors depending on location and habitat: blue-green with silvery spots along the sides; gold to brown with dark stripes or olive green without any markings at all; steel blue to black with orange spots and red along with the lower fins.

Rainbow trout are usually found in lakes or streams but can be seen in tidal pools as well. They are considered an invasive species because they have been introduced into areas where they do not originate from.

Channa Striata (Striped Snakehead)