Rainbow or steelhead question.

DennisE

Topwater and tying.
#1
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...
 

Klickrolf

Active Member
#2
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.
 

Smalma

Active Member
#3
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.

Curt
 

Freestone

Not to be confused with freestoneangler
#5
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.
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.
 

Preston

Active Member
#7
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
 
E

Evan Virnoche

Guest
#8
sorry ass looking steelhead, by no means is that a diss to u preston, but seriously that thing is defintion of cooky cutter
 

DennisE

Topwater and tying.
#9
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.
 

DennisE

Topwater and tying.
#12
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.
 

pbunbury

Tights Lines
#13
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. View attachment 37927

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.