Overview

Steelhead - Oncorhynchus mykiss

Also known as: Rainbow, Silver Trout, Steelie

Steelhead are sea-run versions of rainbow trout but lack the ‘rainbow’ coloration, being silver with black dots sprinkling all sides. By contrast, the fish known as the rainbow trout will be much more colorful and live solely in freshwater. These fish are native to tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America and have been introduced for food or sport to at least 45 other countries. The steelhead is an anadromous fish that will live most of its life in the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean. After about 2-3 years, these fish will look for freshwater tributaries and estuaries to enter so that they may spawn in the freshwater.

The steelhead and its closest relatives in the Pacific salmon group (cutthroat, golden, Mexican golden, Arizona native or Apache, and gila trouts) are known as the black-spotted trouts because they are covered with numerous prominent black spots. These spots may cover the entire body or may be more abundant near the tail. The spots characteristically extend onto the dorsal fin, the adipose fin, and the tail. Those on the tail radiate outward in an even, orderly pattern. Spots may or may not be present on any of the lower fins and there are never any red spots such as occur on freshwater and spawning specimens of brown trout (Salmo trutta) and Atlantic salmon (S. salar).

Steelhead are a highly sought after species on the Pacific Coast and in the spring and summer, small runs of fish will average around two or three pounds. During the fall runs of steelhead, 10-15 pound fish are very common and they are known to reach weights of over 40 pounds. Anglers often target these fish with fly tackle, however light spinning gear and baitcasting outfits will also work. Spinners, spoons, rattle lures, and flies are all great choices for artificial baits where as small live baits and cured salmon roe are the natural baits of choice.

This is an extremely valuable species in any and all of its forms. It is the fly fishermen’s delight as it takes a fly readily, leaps often, and fights hard. Though there is no direct commercial demand for the steelhead it is taken by Pacific salmon fishermen and is pond-reared in Europe and Japan to be sold as frozen whole fish. The flesh is pink or white due to its primarily piscivorous diet. It is excellent regardless of color and may be cooked in any manner desired.

Habitats

Overhanging Trees and Bushes

Usually close to shore, these spots offer protection from the sun and above-water predators. Bigger fish rest in these areas if the water isn’t too shallow, allowing quick access to deeper water for feeding and escape.

Coastal Waters

In coastal areas, closer to shore, the ocean bottom may have sections of exposed rock, coral or debris. These areas of uneven bottom provide a great ambush spot for predatory fish as well as crevices for smaller fish to take shelter. Fish live at all depths in coastal water and many stay close to the bottom. Many feed near cover, such as a rock or a coral reef, where they can ambush prey. Other fish roam at all depths of the water column, searching for an easy meal.

Most saltwater anglers fish in coastal waters because there are dozens of different fish species there, and these areas are often very easy to access. Many marine fish migrate up and down the coastline seasonally. Smart anglers monitor water temperatures, winds, currents, seasons and tides to determine which species they should target.

Outsides of Bends

When the river or stream curves, the faster water (which carries the food) moves to the outside of the bend, and fish look for food in these bends. If the outside of the bend also contains a rock or fallen tree (to slow down the food-carrying current), it’s an even better place to catch fish.

Current Edges

A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.

Merging Currents - Feeder Brooks, Stream or Creek Mouths

Flowing water carries food. So when two bodies of flowing water meet, fish will find twice as much food. Plus, when currents collide, there’s a small area in the intersection where the water and food actually slow down, making merging currents an excellent place to catch fish.

Drop-Offs

When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.

Rock and Boulder Pockets

When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.

Undercuts

Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.

Dams and Falls

When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.

Small Pointed Waves

These triangle-shaped waves form where faster water meets slower water. Like the riverside edge of a bend, bay or eddy. Large fish gather under these waves because the water slows and food drops.

Bays and Estuaries

If you’re fishing in a bay or estuary, you better have a big tackle box. These bodies of water contain a mixture of fresh water and salt water. They also contain a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fish. Bays and estuaries can be fished from shore or from a boat. Estuaries are locations in which the mouth of a river meets the ocean. Estuaries support saltwater fish such as tarpon, snook, redfish and striped bass. Other saltwater fish like shad, herring, salmon and sea-run trout can also be found in estuaries because they need to find saltier or fresher water when it’s time to mate. Freshwater fish like largemouth bass can also survive in the salty waters found in estuaries.

Weather can also affect the mix of fish in combined waters. Stormy weather pushes fresh water from the rivers closer to the ocean, causing freshwater to move farther downstream. Dry weather pushes salt water and saltwater fish further upstream into the rivers.

Rivers and Streams

In a lake or pond, fish have to move around to find food. In a river or a stream, the food comes to them. So moving-water fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to up to several hundred feet, several times a day to eat.

You have to decide if you’re going to fish where the fish are hiding or where the fish are feeding. Either way, you’ll have to learn about river and stream feeding and hiding structure.

Hiding structure include undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes: places that provide protection from the current and above-water predators.

Feeding places include the outside of bends, merging currents, drop-offs, feeder brooks and springs: places where the current slows down and food collects or sinks.

In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But they’re fighters, strong from battling the currents.

Channel Entrances

Anywhere water is forced to move through a smaller opening, currents run faster and dig deeper into the bottom. Fish will be attracted to these places because the water is deeper and the supply of food is more concentrated in the “pinched’ area.

Eddies

When fast moving water flows into a small inlet, or eddy, it slows down and creates a whirlpool. Fish will feed where the whirlpool is slowest or in the main body of the river where the whirlpool kicks out the food that has been carried in and out of the eddy.

Standing Waves

If you see waves on the water that look like a rollercoaster, the water is probably going over underwater rocks. Fish like to sit in the shallow part of these waves.

Fishing Methods

Bait Casting

Bait casting is a style of fishing that relies on the weight of the lure to extend the line into the target area. Bait casting involves a revolving-spool reel (or “free spool”) mounted on the topside of the rod. Bait casting is definitely an acquired skill. Once you get the hang of the technique (check out the casting animation), you will be casting your lures right on target into the structures where fish are feeding and hanging out.

With bait casting, you can use larger lures (1/2 to 3/4 ) and cast them for longer distances. To get started, you’ll need a rod with good spring action, a good quality anti-backlash reel, 10–15 pound test line and a variety of specific bait-casting lures.

Fly Fishing

With fly-fishing, various materials are used to design a very lightweight lure called a fly. A fly can serve as a ‘dry fly’ or ‘wet fly’. A dry fly will float on the water and mimic a floating insect and a wet fly will sink below the surface to mimic a swimming bait. It takes a little practice, but fly-fishing is a pure and exciting way to fish. Unlike other casting methods, fly-fishing can be thought of as a method of casting line rather than lure. Non-fly-fishing methods rely on a lure's weight to pull line from the reel during the forward motion of a cast. By design, a fly is too light to be cast on its own so it must follow the trajectory of the cast fly line, which is thicker and heavier so that it casts easier than lines used in other types of fishing (such as monofilament). The angler normally holds the fly rod in the dominant hand and manipulates the line with the other hand close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.

Ice Fishing

Fishing through a three-foot hole in the ice? Yup. It’s a unique way tocatch multiple species of northern, fresh-water fish. And thanks toadvancements in garment design, portable fish houses and fish locatingdevices, it’s becoming more and more popular every day. One- tothree-foot rods are most often used and simple reels hold the line. Youcan also ice fish with tip-ups. When a fish hits your tip-up gear, itreleases a lever that raises a flag or rings a bell. This means youshould stop playing cards with your buddies and start reeling.

Many fisherman fish with no protective structure other than theirwinter clothes. Longer fishing expeditions can be mounted with simplestructures. Larger, heated structures can make multiday fishing tripspossible, but these are often eschewed by seasoned fishers, many ofwhom do not use these larger shelters. In other words, they think theyare wimpy.

For those who are game for a cozier experience, a structure withvarious local names, but often called an ice shanty, ice shack or justplain shack, fish house, bob house, or ice hut, is sometimes used.These are dragged or trailered onto the lake using a vehicle such as asnowmobile, ATV or truck. The two most commonly used houses areportable and permanent shelters. The portable houses are usually madeof a heavy, watertight material. The permanent shelters are made ofwood or metal and usually have wheels for easy transportation. They canbe as basic as a bunk, heater and holes or as elaborate as havingsatellite TV, bathrooms, stoves, and full-size beds, and may appear tobe more like a mobile home than a fishing house.

Spin Casting

We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.

Trolling

Most trolling is done using a small electric motor that moves the boat quietly through the water so fish aren’t spooked. But you can also troll by towing a lure while walking along the edge of a shoreline, bridge or pier. The speed of the boat determines the depth of your bait. And the depth of the bait is determined by the species of fish you’re trying to catch. Use a spinning reel or a bait caster for trolling. Some states don’t allow motorized trolling, so check out your local fishing regulations to avoid tangling with the fish enforcers. Trolling allows you to cover a lot of water while effectively fishing an area.

Bait & Lures

Cured Fish Roe

Salmon or trout eggs are one of the most effective baits when targeting fish like salmon, steelhead and trout. When spawning fish are active in the streams, rivers, shorelines or harbors they will often ignore any other baits and lures that you try to throw at them. An egg spawn sack (usually a small pouch of cheesecloth with clusters of eggs) or cured skein (cluster of cured eggs) can be attached to your hook and can either be left to float freely or weighted with a small sinker to get the bait deeper. Cured fish roe can be found at most bait and tackle shops or with a little bit more effort, you can make it yourself.

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Flies

Poppers and flies are small lures used with spincast and fly-fishing tackle. These baits are very good for pan fish and other fish that feed on the surface such as trout and bass. Poppers get their action from a cupped face carved or molded into the front of the lure body. Fly action is totally controlled by the angler.

Insects

Ants, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars are ideal for catching pan fish, sunfish and trout. Brown trout are especially attracted to ants presented on a fly. Smallmouths and large trout prefer immature versions of mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, hellgrammites and dobsonfly larvae. You can buy insects or catch your own. Ants can be gathered from a nest and large insects can be captured with a net.

Jigs

Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish

Plugs

Plugs have a plastic or wood body and are designed to be fished on top of the water or at depths below the surface. Top-water or floating plugs are designed to float on the surface and are great lures to use during the early morning and late evening hours when fish are actively feeding. Diving plugs have plastic or metal lips so they will dive to a certain depth. The size of the lip will determine how deep a lure will dive but the rated dive depths can often be found on the box they are packaged in. A good plug to start with will often be a similar color to the baitfish that you see swimming in the area you are fishing. For example, if you notice that there are a lot of 3 inch baitfish with silver bodies and dark green backs, look for a plug of similar size and color.

Saltwater Live Bait

Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.

Spinner Baits

Spinners have one or more blades that spin, or revolve, around a straight wire shaft. Some spinners have tails made of soft plastic or animal hair. Spinner baits are lures with one or more blades that spin around a safety pin-type shaft. Most spinnerbaits have skirts made from animal hair, vinyl, rubber or other materials.

Spoons

Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.