Steelheads(Oncorhynus mykiss) are sea run Rainbow trout which are perhaps the most revered salmonoids in North America. They are found in smaller numbers than pacific salmon, and are a catch-an-release fish. Steelhead are found from Mexico to Alaska. In British Columbia the most notable location is the Skeena river system where steelhead are found frequently in the 15-20lb range.


Steelhead are anadromous rainbows, which behave like salmon. The par hatch in freshwater streams and after 3 years smolt and migrate to the ocean when they are about six inches long. They return after 2 years when sexually mature, along with repeat spawners. Steelhead are differentiated from salmon in that there are 8-12 rays in the anal fin, whereas salmon have 12-17. They are sleeker than rainbow trout , and vary in colour from completely silver when fresh run to the bright red head and flanks found during spawning.Steelhead behave like salmon and sea-trout in that they rarely feed in the rivers, although over time they may revert to the trout like characteristics.

There are two main runs, the summer run is from August –October, with the prime time in the 3 rd week of September, and the winter run from December –April.




Fishing methods

A multitude of methods are used for steelhead although fly-fishing is rapidly become the preferred method.

Fly-fishing maybe less effective than ‘metal-wear’ fishing except in shallow water, tail-outs and riffles. The fish tend to take either on the surface or near the bottom, but unlike atlantic salmon fishing the mid-water is rather un-productive.

Wet-fly fishing is ideally with sink tip lines, ( Teeny ) casting at right angles, so as to allow the fly to rapidly sink and fish close to the river bed. Cast are initially short and then progressively increased to cover all the water. An alternative method is using a floating line with a heavily weighted fly, but this does not fish so well. The leader should be 10-15lb. Popular fly patterns are large maribou and leech patterns, in black, purple and pink on barbless hooks. Steelhead often take very subtly, so any resistance should be met with a tightening on the line.


Steelhead will also take the dry-fly in the summer/ fall period, which is perhaps the purest method of catching. Single handed rods of size 8-9 weight are more recently being replaced by the double handed rods, which have the advantage of casting a long line without a back cast that can snag in the river bank.

Other methods include drift fishing using an attractor, like spin-N-Glos, close to the bottom, Jig fishing and spinning.


Photographs have been provided by

Z-Boat Lodge




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