Steelhead Trout

Piscifun fly fishing reels

Steelhead Trout Salmo gairdneri Richardson


This species is variously known as the steelhead, steelhead trout, salmon trout, and hardhead. It is found in all coastwise streams from the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara County, California, north to British Columbia and probably to Sitka. It is especially abundant in the lower Columbia, ascending the Snake River as far as Augur Falls, and the Pend d' Oreille probably to Metaline Falls. It is more or less common in all the shorter coastal streams and is said to be abundant in the Russian and Klamath rivers.

The steelhead is more or less anadromous in its habits, being migratory like the salmon, and ascending rivers fully as far. The spawning season of the steelhead seems to be a prolonged one and varying greatly with the locality. In the headwaters of Salmon River, Idaho where there are important spawning beds, spawning takes place in May and early June. In Payette River they spawn a fortnight earlier, and in the shorter tributaries of Snake River from April 15 to May 10. Still lower down the Columbia basin they probably spawn increasingly earlier. Of 4179 steelheads examined during the last week in September, and the first half of October, at The Dalles, Oregon, 1531 were males and 2648 females; 476 males and 900 females were well developed and probably would have spawned in 4 to 6 weeks. The remaining 2803 apparently would not have spawned until the next spring.

The run of steelheads in the lower Columbia is heaviest from August to November. They reach the Sawtooth Mountains early in May and the headwaters of Payette River early in April; while they reach that portion of Snake River between Weiser and Lower Salmon Falls early in September and remain until spring before they spawn.

Steelhead Trout Salmo gairdneri

In the streams tributary to the northern portion of Puget Sound they arrive in September and October while they do not usually appear in numbers about Seattle until 2 months later.

The steelhead is a large and very important food-fish. The average size of those reaching the Sawtooth Mountains is about 8 pounds, the extremes being 2 and 14 pounds. The maximum weight of the species is probably about 20 pounds, and in streams where it is resident it does not usually exceed 5 or 6 pounds. Unlike the Pacific salmon the steelhead does not die after once spawning, though some individuals probably do. Except during a period following the spawning season, the steelhead ranks as one of the very best of food-fishes. Great quantities are taken every year in the Columbia and either canned or sold fresh. The shipments of steelhead trout to the East have rapidly increased during recent years until they are now very large.

The steelhead ranks very high as a game-fish and trolling for steelheads in the bays, sounds and river-mouths along our Pacific Coast affords excitement and pleasure exceeded among the Salmonidae only by trolling for chinook salmon.

When in fresh water the steelhead does not bite well except where it is resident, but in waters in which it is permanently resident it takes the trolling spoon well and will also rise to the artificial fly; and its large size and gameness make it a fish lunch sought after by those who have the opportunity.

The steelhead is propagated by the United States Fish Commission with marked success. The Commission has introduced it into Lake Superior and its tributary waders in which it found a congenial home and in which catches of some very large steelheads have been recently made.

From American Game and Food Fishes. Jordan and Evermann 1902.