10 Steelhead Facts

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March 18th, 2022

Originally, Steelhead were not found in Ontario. They are an anadromous species, which means they spend some of their life in fresh water and some of their life in the Ocean. Rainbow Trout are a freshwater fish and live the entire duration of their lives in fresh water, however are still not native to Ontario. In other parts of the world, the Steelhead and Rainbow Trout are differentiated on whether they migrated to the Ocean or not, Steelheads grow much larger than Rainbow Trout, have different visual characteristics and feeding habits but are the exact same species of fish. Since being naturalized in the Great Lakes, the often called Steelhead is actually a Rainbow Trout considering they do not migrate to the Ocean whatsoever. So, when someone refers to a Steelhead in the Great Lakes region, they’re actually referring to Rainbow TroutIf you’re looking to reel in a naturalized SteelheadSuperior Country has Lodges, Outfitters and Resorts to guide you to your new personal best record!

Brooke Russell - Steelhead

1. Scientific Name

The Rainbow Trout is often also referred to as Salmon Trout, Hardhead, Silver Trout and of course, Steelhead. They are actually a member of the Salmon family! Their scientific name is Oncorhynchus Mykiss.

2. Lifespan

Similar to the Brook Trout, the naturalized species has a rather short lifespan. They live in their natural wild habitat for about 4-6 years. However, the largest to be caught was estimated to be 11 years old! Merely doubling the average lifespan.

3. Size

The original lifestyle differences of the Steelhead and Rainbow Trout affected the size averages. Considering the Steelhead migrates to the Ocean in other parts of the world, they get larger than that of the Rainbow Trout due to a more abundant food source. Considering they are naturalized to live in freshwater throughout their entire life without the option to go to salt water, they don’t get as large as they would. The typical length of the Rainbow Trout is 14-24 inches and they weigh in at 5-10lbs on average.

Related Article: 10 Bass Facts

4. Spawning

Rainbow Trout spawn in the early spring. They will migrate back to their original spawning site to make their nests and spawn, similar to Salmon. However, indifferent from Salmon, they do not die after they spawn and will spawn multiple times throughout their life. They are unique in a sense that Rainbow Trout females will dig many nests (redds) and spawn with a number of different males, laying approximately 1,000 eggs per nest. The nest is covered with a small layer of gravel or sand before the male and female leave the site. The strain of Steelhead that are able to migrate to the Ocean do so until they are ready to spawn, they will then return to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn before returning back to salt water.

5. Habitat

Rainbow Trout were widely distributed in the Great Lakes in 1895 and into the other parts of Ontario between 1883 and 1904 including tributaries of the Great Lakes water system. Rainbow Trout are now found in the Great Lakes, tributaries of the Great Lakes, cold rivers and streams as well as inland lakes. They are an adaptable species, however prefer cold, clear water with ranging current. They are strictly carnivores and do not consume aquatic vegetation, therefore need to locate areas with sustainable dietary options.

6. Diet

As mentioned, Rainbow Trout do not eat aquatic vegetation, they’re carnivores. Rainbow Trout consume juvenile fish, minnows, smelt, worms, leeches and crayfish. The Rainbow Trout swims through the Great Lakes in a larger span than a lot of other species, to get a wider range of dietary options. In other parts of the world, the Steelhead that can migrate to the Ocean eats primarily fish, squid and amphipods.

Gord Ellis - Steelhead

7. Common Baits & Lures

Those who have caught Rainbow Trout can vouch that they put on a good show. They are fighters upon reeling them in, they often “charge” towards the direction they’re being pulled in, this often causes the hook to slip from the mouth if not set good enough. When fishing for the species, try a variety! Below are some common go to’s.

  • Spinners – flashy in color
  • Spoons – also flashy in color
  • Flies – Yes, you can fly fish for Rainbow Trout and Steelheads!

8. Appearance

Rainbow Trout are silver bodied with black, small, dark spots on them. The spots are found on their tale too! The freshwater Rainbow Trout has a more distinctive and bright pink band on their side, while the Ocean strain of Steelhead encompasses a more silver overall body color with a less distinctive pink band, hence their name Steelhead. There is also some difference in their fins in terms of length and depth. Now that they are naturalized in the Great Lakes they have Rainbow Trout features.

Gord Ellis - Steelhead

9. A hover of Rainbow Trout / Steelhead?

You may be wondering what a hover is in terms of a Rainbow Trout or steelhead. When this species swims in a school, it is referred to as a hover rather than a school! Who would’ve known?

10. Ontario Record

The Ontario record for the species is an impressive 40.7lbs!