Rainbow or steelhead question.

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by DennisE, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. DennisE Topwater and tying.

    Posts: 334
    Tacoma, Washington
    Ratings: +68 / 0
    I know they're both the same fish with different life habits, but how does WDFW define the difference on the water?

    Reason is I'm planning on hitting an extreme southern OP river in a couple of days with my son and I've been reading the regs in preparation.

    Probably not much doubt on a bow in the 14-16 inch range. I imagine I would be unlikely to find anything larger that was really a bow. My grey area would be in that range between 16 and 20. Say I caught a 19", fin-clipped "rainbow". Am I likely to be called on it if I keep it? Minimum trout size is 14" while minimum Steelhead size is 20".

    Unlikely I'll get lucky anyway, but...
  2. Klickrolf Active Member

    Posts: 596
    Klickitat, Washington
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    WDFW defines a steelhead as 20" or over. 19" fin-clipped rainbow is dinner if you want it to be. Fin-clipped fish are all table fare!!!!???

    Well, I might be full of not knowing what I'm talking about but doubt any hatchery raised O. mykiss would be illegal to harvest since that's why they're produced.
  3. Smalma Active Member

    Posts: 2,831
    Marysville, Washington
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    I believe if you check the difference is that if on an anadromous stream and you decide to keep an O. mykiss over 20 inches you must record it on your catch record card. If it is under 20 inches (whether a steelhead Jack or a resident rainbow) you do not need to record it on your card.

  4. DennisE Topwater and tying.

    Posts: 334
    Tacoma, Washington
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    Probably a moot point given my catch record, but you never know. Thanks for the input.
  5. Freestone Not to be confused with freestoneangler

    Posts: 2,359
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    Rolf, an under 20" fin clipped O. mykiss would be illegal to harvest when trout season is not open or when it is C& R only. A few weeks ago, I was fishing a steelhead stream that requires one to harvest all hatchery steelhead. After grabbing one by the gill plate and throwing it up on the ice shelf, my heart sank as the fish looked small and I worried it might not be 20". Had I harvested it, it would have been illegal as trout fishing was closed and when open, it is C&R only. Luckily, it taped out at 23.5" but I did have a brief 'oh crap' moment.
  6. pbunbury Tights Lines

    Posts: 131
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    An easy way to distinguish between the 2, that I was told long ago is Steelhead don't have any spots below the lateral line, Rainbows do. See attached pictures.

    Attached Files:

  7. Preston Active Member

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    Not a very reliable indicator. Since steelhead and rainbow are, essentially, the same fish, and since spotting patterns and coloration vary with sexual maturity and and other factors as well as between strains of rainbow/steelhead originating in different rivers, I wouldn't consider that as a hard and fast means of identification. Here's a Stillaguamish River hatchery summer-run exhibiting a pretty good scattering of spots below the lateral line. DSCF0053.JPG
  8. Evan Virnoche Guest

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    sorry ass looking steelhead, by no means is that a diss to u preston, but seriously that thing is defintion of cooky cutter
  9. DennisE Topwater and tying.

    Posts: 334
    Tacoma, Washington
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    The river I'm headed to is open for trout, so... If it's over fourteen and clipped I guess I may choose to bonk. If it's over 20" and clipped I will bonk.
  10. GAT Active Member

    Posts: 4,169
    Willamette Valley, OR
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    You use a magnet. If it sticks to the head of the fish, it's a steelhead. If it doesn't, it isn't. :)
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  11. David Dalan 69°19'15.35" N 18°44'22.74" E

    Posts: 1,976
    Walla Walla, WA
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    Hey, that's how I catch them. Swung magnet. Quit giving away my secrets!!
  12. DennisE Topwater and tying.

    Posts: 334
    Tacoma, Washington
    Ratings: +68 / 0
    Worrying about Steelhead vs. Rainbow wound being a moot point, as I suspected. BUT, I didn't get skunked! Picked up a 15" cutthroat that looked spawned out. Only had a large mesh net with us, so after unhooking and while keeping the net in the water, it decided it had another appointment and swam through the net. No pics, but safe fish.
  13. pbunbury Tights Lines

    Posts: 131
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    In my experience it's a quite obvious difference with the number of spots and frequency of them below the lateral line. The pictures I posted clearly show that while the Steelhead can have spots below the lateral line, rainbows are typically completely covered in spots below the lateral line. Certainly not the best way, but pretty accurate.
  14. hookedonthefly Active Member

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    If it has an adipose, let it go. It's native; and, a pretty special, precious fish. Just because WDFW allows retention of native rainbows and sea run cutthroat, doesn't make it right.

    If it's clipped (and legal to do so), keep it.
  15. Preston Active Member

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    Here are a few pictures of rainbows from lake and stream with few or no spots below the lateral line.

  16. Sean Beauchamp Hot and Heavy at yer 6

    Posts: 2,140
    Shoreline, WA, U.S.
    Ratings: +508 / 1
    Spotting varies wildly, this particular river has some crazy spotting on its summer runs.

    I agree release em all the resident rainbows are just as precious (possibly more than we even know) as steelhead so treat em with gentle care.

    Attached Files:

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  17. Cruik Active Member

    Posts: 467
    Seattle, WA
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    Good example. I might have been tempted to call that a resident fish at first.
  18. Sean Beauchamp Hot and Heavy at yer 6

    Posts: 2,140
    Shoreline, WA, U.S.
    Ratings: +508 / 1
    I think the resident rainbows scattered around all the west side streams are the most intriguing fish that swim our waters. They share all the same genetics as our wild summer runs the only difference is some internal "decision" to stay put. I bet if more in depth studies of their lives were done it would turn up some pretty remarkable stuff and probably quickly lead to a tightening down of regulations on these special fish. The 2 fish limit is a relic of times gone by. I think current and future science will support that. But that's my humble opinion!

    Can't imagine slipping one of these on a stringer.

    Attached Files:

  19. Chris Bellows The Thought Train

    Posts: 1,688
    The Salt
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    they also spawn with winter-runs quite a bit too. to protect resident rainbows one has to not only think about the kill limit but the fact that bait has a higher mortality on trout than anadramous species like steelhead / salmon. they are a critical component of our wild steelhead runs.

    one of the main reasons i am anti-bait fishing.
    Sean Beauchamp likes this.
  20. Don Freeman Free Man

    Posts: 1,274
    Olympia, WA
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    Spose that's why he kept it?