Rainbow or Steelhead Trout

by Fly Fisherman

Rainbow or Steelhead Trout
There are three widely distributed kinds of true trout in America. The first of these is the Rainbow or Steelhead (Salmo gairdnerii) —the famous, crimson-sided trout of Western streams which has been so widely transplanted all over the East and Middle West that it has become almost native there. The Steelhead is simply a strain of Rainbow trout whose instinct causes them to go down to the sea or a large inland lake to grow big and sleek and silvery; two or three years later, they come back to their home stream to spawn.

You can tell Rainbow trout by the red band running lengthwise on the sides of the body and the gill coven in spawning males and by the many black spots on a background of lighter color. The lower fins are light in color. The Rainbow has no red spots and does not have the Brook trout worm-like markings on the back. The Rainbow does not have the slash of red color below the lower jaw on each side that is found in Cutthroat trout. Steelheads, when they first come from the ocean or large lake, are silvery with practically no spots. Farther up the river the Rainbow colors come back.

Rainbow trout were originally found only on the Pacific Coast from California northward through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. They put up a tremendous fight with spectacular jumps equalled only by fighting salmon.
Rainbows like fast, turbulent streams in which the temperature ranges from 50° to 70°. They will stand a maximum water temperature of 83° if the water is highly aerated (large amount of dissolved oyygen in the water). Rainbow trout that live in streams usually weigh front 1/4 to 3 lbs., but grow to 13 lbs. or more in exceptional cases.
Rainbows migrate to smaller headwater streams in spring to spawn. The exact spawning season varies, according to the water temperature, from February to June.

Steelheads run up from the ocean or large lakes to spawn in the smaller headwater sections of the river in which they were hatched. Their usual weight is from 3 to 12 lbs., though they’re known to have grown to 42 lbs.

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