What is a steelhead?

385- What-is-a-Caddis

Not your average trout!

The Pacific steelhead is a rainbow trout which chooses to leave its natal environment of freshwater to visit the ocean. Unlike all five Pacific salmon, the Pacific steelhead doesn’t necessarily die after spawning. It can return to the ocean. In the saltwater, abundant food sources allow a steelhead to grow substantially larger than a freshwater rainbow. The competitive environment of the ocean reduces the overall number of steelhead returning to spawn, making for a rarer, larger gamefish…the steelhead.

In the ocean, the silver body and gray back of a steelhead makes it more resemble a salmon than a trout. As the story goes, the name steelhead comes from the steel or metal color found on the fish’s head and back. After three or four years in the salt, the steelhead returns to freshwater to spawn. Here, a color change occurs making this once-chrome-colored fish look more like a rainbow trout. Pinks, reds, olives and even oranges begin to appear along with dark spots…beautiful.

Limited Pacific steelhead populations can be found as far south as Southern California, and way north in Western Alaska and even Eastern Russia. However, the majority of steelhead are found within the Northwest of the US and Canada’s British Columbia. Although there are many strains and runs of steelhead, the bulk of steelhead caught on the fly are considered summer-run fish, as they enter freshwater in the summer months to spawn in the smaller tributaries when the rains of winter arrive.


The Pacific’s celebrated fish.

With a limited population of steelhead and along list of seasonal variables that can confuse just about anyone, chasing a steelhead with a fly rod is a low numbers game. So why should you want to catch a steelhead on the fly? Because steelhead return to beautiful rivers in beautiful places and the payoff for catching a steelhead on the fly is grand. Approached correctly, every steelhead earned is memorable. It’s like the best wine or scotch that has ever touched your lips. It’s a worthy challenge with a fair reward. And here’s the kicker…just about anyone can do it. It just takes a bit of confidence.

Whether you’ve fly fished before or not, chasing a steelhead with fly fishing equipment can surprisingly be for everyone, but it’s better served up for those who like to invest in the big payoff. In other words, if you’re already used to not catching a bunch of fish when you go fly fishing…steelheading with fly fishing equipment might just be the perfect activity for you.