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Steelhead Trout

Oncorhynchus mykiss
Description:
  Steelhead trout typically range in weight from 5 to 10 pounds, but can get up to 45 inches in length and weigh up to 43 pounds.  These fish have metallic blueish-green backs and silver sides, but when spawning the males display a pink to red band along the lateral line of their bodies.

Range: Southern California to the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.  Introduced worldwide. 

Abundance: Highly favored as a sport fish, steelhead have been produced in hatcheries to meet demands.  Wild, native stocks are dwindling, and in many areas special fishing regulations have been imposed.  Steelhead are taken commercially by Native American tribes and incidentally and illegally in the high seas drift net fishery.


Life History:  Steelhead spend 1 to 4 years in fresh water and 1 to 4 years at seas.  Most common in Oregon and Washington is a 2/2 life history.  As juveniles they behave much like resident trout.  At sea, steelhead are distributed widely over the North Pacific Ocean.  Because they can survive spawning, some spawn a second or third time. 

Spawning Season: February to June. 

Habitat Requirements: Good steelhead habitat is found in streams where water temperature remains cool and well-oxygenated, and where aquatic and terrestrial insects are abundant.  Because young steelhead spend up to 3 years in freshwater, high-quality stream habitat is essential.  Steelhead spawn at sites similar to those used by coho and Chinook salmon – some evidence suggests that competition for spawning habitat is minimized by spring spawning, after the salmon fry have emerged.

In Our Local Watersheds:  In the Nooksack River basin we have 4 native stocks of steelhead and 2 races: a winter-run and a summer-run.  Winter-run steelhead enter the rivers between September and March, while summer-run steelhead enter the rivers from June through October.  There are summer-run and winter-run fish in the South Fork of the Nooksack River and winter-run fish in the Middle Fork and the mainstem/North Fork of the Nooksack River.  In 2007 all Puget Sound steelhead were listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.    

Did You Know?  A component of steelhead populations residualize in freshwater as resident fish and are known as rainbow trout.  These fish are genetically identical to steelhead, but are not anadromous. 

For more information on Whatcom County's steelhead trout click here.