What's a steelhead?

#18
When I was fishing in California last week I was told it is now a requirement to carry a steelhead catch card everywhere on the Sacramento and all trout over 20 inches had to be marked...so I guess I caught like 5 steelhead that day that looked suspiciously like resident rainbows. :confused:

That's a damn good day on the Sac!
 
#19
Rainbow Trout: spots above and below the lateral line, including on the belly
Steelhead: Minimal spots below the lateral line, none on the belly.

At least that's my understanding.
 

GAT

Dumbfounded
#20
This is the best explanation of the difference I've found yet. It's from the Alaska F&G site.

According to this, the steelhead have spots below the lateral line and the rainbow do not.



General Description

Rainbow and steelhead trout are the most widely known trout in the world and are highly sought after by anglers because of their strong fighting abilities. In Alaska, there are two commonly recognized forms of the rainbow trout and these sub-groupings or “forms” are based primarily on where they spend their time feeding and maturing. The most common rainbow trout in Alaska is the stream-resident form that lives its life entirely in freshwater with maybe short periods of time spent in estuarine or near-shore marine waters. The second form is commonly known as steelhead and these rainbow trout leave freshwater as juveniles and migrate long distances in the ocean where they grow to maturity before migrating back to their original home waters.

Since rainbow and steelhead trout are the same species there are no major physical differences between them, however, the nature of their differing lifestyles has resulted in subtle differences in color, shape, size, and general appearance. Juvenile steelhead are indistinguishable from juvenile rainbow trout during the first few years of their life. Young trout have eight to thirteen parr marks on their sides and five to ten parr marks between the top of the head and dorsal fin. The adipose fin usually has a continuous outline of black surrounded by a clear window and the lower jaw (maxillary) typically does not extend past the back margin of the eye. Prior to their seaward migration juvenile steelhead go through a series of physical changes called smoltification which allows them to survive in saltwater; during this process the fish lose their parr marks and become silvery in color.

Within a year or so of hatching the stream resident form of rainbow trout possess the well-known streamlined salmonid form, though body shape and coloration vary widely and reflect habitat, age, sex, and degree of maturity. The body shape may range from slender to thick. The back may shade from blue-green to olive. There is a reddish-pink band along each side about the midline that may range from faint to radiant. The lower sides are usually silver, fading to pure white beneath. Small black spots are present over the back above the lateral line, as well as on the upper fins and tail. In some locations, the black spots of adults may extend well below the lateral line and even cover the entire lower side. Rainbow trout are positively identified by the 8 to 12 rays in the anal fin, a mouth that does not extend past the back of the eye, and the lack of teeth at the base of the tongue. River or stream residents normally display the most intense pink stripe coloration and heaviest spotting followed by rainbows from lake and lake-stream systems. Spawning trout are characterized by generally darker coloration.

Adult steelhead which have spent 1 to 3 years in the ocean are generally heavily spotted with irregularly shaped dark spots both above and below the lateral line. Small spots are also scattered along the top of the head, along the sides, on the dorsal and both lobes of the caudal fins. Steelhead are typically silvery or brassy in color but may range from steely blue and emerald green to olive. Steelhead fresh from the ocean can be very bright and much more silver in color than resident rainbow. The classic band of color along the lateral line, which rainbow trout are named for, can range from light pink to deep red with mature males having the brightest colors. Although typically larger in size, steelhead are generally more slender and streamlined than stream resident rainbow trout. On steelhead the typical colors and spots of the trout appear to be coming from beneath a dominant silvery sheen which gradually fades in fresh water and steelhead become difficult to differentiate from mature resident rainbow trout. The distinct and beautiful coloration of steelhead during the freshwater spawning period is important for mating and reproduction while the silvery sheen and streamlined shape of ocean-bright steelhead is essential to survival in the ocean environment.

Stream resident rainbow trout and juvenile steelhead can usually be distinguished from their close relative the cutthroat trout because rainbow trout do not have the classic red or “cutthroat” slash on the underside of their lower jaw. However not all cutthroat trout have this slash and there are naturally occurring rainbow/cutthroat trout hybrids which have physical markings of both. Biologists often use the presence/absence of small teeth at the base of the tongue called basibranchial teeth as a means to distinguish between steelhead (teeth absent) and cutthroat trout (teeth present).
 

Freestone

Not to be confused with freestoneangler
#21
Just to clarify WA law, it is not just wild steelhead that can't be removed from the water. We tend to get excited about wild steelhead getting lifted for photos but you could just as easily get a ticket for lifting a Chinook, bull trout or hatchery steelhead for a photo and then releasing it.

SALMON and TROUT HANDLING RULES

FRESHWATER: “It is unlawful to totally remove salmon, steelhead, or Dolly Varden/Bull Trout from the water if it is unlawful to retain those fish, or if the angler subsequently releases the salmon, steelhead, Dolly Varden/Bull Trout.”
 
#23
This is the best explanation of the difference I've found yet. It's from the Alaska F&G site.

According to this, the steelhead have spots below the lateral line and the rainbow do not.

If that was true, then I've caught hundreds of wild steelhead!

Since it's from AK, any picture of an Alaskan Leopard Rainbow would prove them backwards on the spotting. Otherwise nice intel.
 

GAT

Dumbfounded
#24
I'm amazed how fragile the wild fish must be... how the hell can they even manage to swim upstream?

With the regs as restrictive as they are, simply close down all the rivers and bays and open only the lakes for fishing.

Sheesh.

How on earth do all those Yellowstone cutthroat in YNP and the rainbow living in pay to play fisheries manage to live through human contact? -- yet they do... again and again.

At study was made in YNP as to the mortality rate of the wild cutthroat that were caught and released. It was estimated that the trout in the most popular areas were hooked and released an average of 9 times per year. Using scuba gear, the park biologists watched what happened to the trout that were caught and released. They found a mortality rate of 3 percent. Hooked 9 times per year by folks who may or may not know how to handle a fish and only 3 percent of those hooked and released died.

We are talking about wild and native fish... same as the wild steelhead, salmon and bull trout in Washington and Oregon.

Evidently, wild salmon, steelhead and bull trout are total wimps!
 

porterHause

Just call me Jon
#25
When I was fishing in California last week I was told it is now a requirement to carry a steelhead catch card everywhere on the Sacramento and all trout over 20 inches had to be marked...so I guess I caught like 5 steelhead that day that looked suspiciously like resident rainbows. :confused:
Isn't it 17 inches in CA? My father went out last year on the Shmershmorshman River and caught 7
"Steelhead" that looked pretty resident to me.
 
#26
It was pure insanity...we hooked so many fish between the launch and sundial bridge (like 1 mile) that we pretty much rowed through the rest of the river. Right place at the right time.

There's a riffle just upstream from the sundial bridge that I pulled 5 bruisers out of one day, none of them hit 20" though. One fish I never saw... I set the hook and it took off towards the bridge, pulled out all of my fly line in one run, and broke me right the hell off. It was insanely powerful.
 

PT

Physhicist
#27
I'm sure there are guide sites with 20+" bows held up for pictures out of the Yak and they are likely just that, Bows and not Steel, but some are also quite likely steel and I would be curious how many guides now on the Yak require their clients to keep all their real big fish in the water just in case?
I'm no tree hugger, or fish hugger, or any type of hugger in between. But, guides should show their clients that the fish come first and make every effort to educated them on how to handle fish properly. The bigger fish, if not all, should be left in the water. Or at least held close to the water where we can see that stream of water dripping off them in the picture. People shouldn't take any fish for granted and a photo op is the best place to practice what many preach.
 
#28
I'm no tree hugger, or fish hugger, or any type of hugger in between. But, guides should show their clients that the fish come first and make every effort to educated them on how to handle fish properly. The bigger fish, if not all, should be left in the water. Or at least held close to the water where we can see that stream of water dripping off them in the picture. People shouldn't take any fish for granted and a photo op is the best place to practice what many preach.
just finished looking over reports from the OP, local guide has a client posing with a hatchery fish and it's head is under water... Guess trying to keep fresh before bonk?!
 

GAT

Dumbfounded
#30
I'm scanning my Deschutes slides to build another slide show you guys will need to suffer through. I've taken a close look at the redside photos and chase... you are absolutely correct!!! The info from the Alaska F&G site is backwards!

The photos of the trout show spots below the lateral line... unless this is really a steelhead.

gt holding trout_edited-1.jpg
 

Latest posts