Steelhead Overview

Oct 19


Cameron Larsen

Cameron Larsen

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This article is intended to be a basic ... in the great game fish the ... Entire volumes have been written on the subject, so this article will not go into much specific detail. Those of


This article is intended to be a basic education in the great game fish the Steelhead. Entire volumes have been written on the subject,Steelhead Overview Articles so this article will not go into much specific detail. Those of you wanting the hottest tip, will be better off calling your buddy, local guide or fly shop. However, if you are a beginner or thinking of beginning, or a seasoned veteran looking to catch perhaps a new idea or remember a lost one, we hope this series will be of value.

Steelhead are nothing more than sea run Rainbow Trout. They are born in fresh water streams (at least the wild steelies are) where they imprint everything from water chemistry to natural occurring food sources. The Steelhead life cycle is about as varied and complicated as fish can get. They can spend anywhere from 1 to 4 years in freshwater before going to sea and 1 to 4 years at sea. Steelies are native to the Pacific once occurring from the Asiatic coast to Southern Alaska and originally down to the Tijuana River. Now they are found as far south as Central California.

Steelhead have been successfully planted in the Great Lakes region, and fly fishing there can be incredible. Great Lakes steelhead live entirely in freshwater, and migrate up the tributaries to duplicate the spawning behavior of the Pacific Steelhead.

To further complicate the Steelhead life cycle is the time they return to spawn. There are generally two runs of steelhead. One enters the river in the summer and runs through fall, usually spawning in early to mid-winter. This is typically called the summer run. And then there is a winter run where the fish enter the river in early winter to early spring and spawning sometime in that time frame. The Great Lakes Steelhead generally enter the river in early fall, especially in Pennsylvania, and fishing can be done in fall, winter and spring.

Steelhead fly fishing is becoming more and more popular and with good reason. When conditions are ideal a ‘chromer’ will smash a fly and treat the fly angler to a treat that is hard to duplicate. When steelhead enter the river we are getting them at their biological prime. Loaded with survival instincts that include territorial and sexual aggression, they can rip into your fly and go off on a terror of a run, that will often leave the uninitiated limp lined and open mouthed. But the angler will be hooked.

In upcoming articles we will delve more deeply into techniques of inducing strikes from this terrific game fish.