Steelhead often have heavier spotting and brighter colors than freshwater rainbows. rainbow trout have aided in the establishment of feral populations, and that they impact native fish by predation, competing for food, and acting as vectors for disease and parasites. They also may have a small protruding bit near their anus called an “ovipositor.”. It’s especially so when some areas have different regulations pertaining to steelhead vs rainbow trout. Rainbow trout that spend part of their lives at sea are called steelhead, brown trout that go to sea are called sea trout (or sewin or peel or many other local names). When it comes to official recognition of steelhead for ecological and conservation purposes, they do not count. You can adapt most salmon recipes for steelhead trout, since the taste is very similar. These cookies will be stored in your browser only with your consent. Steelhead and rainbow trout are two different varieties of the same fish. Steelhead range in weight from 2.5 kg to 10 kg (5.5 - 22 pounds). Out of these cookies, the cookies that are categorized as necessary are stored on your browser as they are essential for the working of basic functionalities of the website. The steelhead are the anadromous form that migrate into the ocean and they change colour and get much, much larger than the resident rainbow trout." They are an introduced species, and their naturally-reproducing numbers are supplemented by a strong stocking program. “Normal” rainbow trout are perfectly content to stay there, spending their entire lives in the water body they were born in. Physically, steelhead get much larger than rainbow trout. Rainbow Trout - Steelhead - Brown Trout - Brook Trout - Lake Trout - Laker This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Whatever species you are targeting, you are sure to have an amazing time. Salmon’s appearance is different from the steelhead trout in that a salmon is streamlined more than a steelhead trout. However, their lives and physiology can be very different. A rainbow trout is a trout that spent its entire lifetime in freshwater, and a steelhead is a fish that grew up in saltwater such as the Pacific Ocean, and then come back to streams to … Generally speaking, steelhead require larger rods, and you will see many anglers with two handed rods for swinging large flies. They hatch out of eggs laid in freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes. Unlike salmon, steelhead don’t die after spawning, and some end up returning to the ocean. But for both species, there are lots of life history strategies that see them moving around within rivers, between rivers and lakes and between freshwater, brackish and salt water. Steelhead are one of the top five recreational fish species in North America. Steelhead vs. rainbow trout. The older the fish gets, the more likely it is to develop the scars of a tough life.Â. Rainbow trout do not leave the stream to go … Identifying Salmon and Steelhead Trout. Steelhead vs Rainbow Trout The best example of this is in the great lakes where the “steelhead” are completely freshwater fish, but they live in the lake, and spawn in the connecting rivers. A nymph and indicator rig is also a common method for targeting steelhead. The pinkish meat is mild and delicate, and they’re generally the perfect serving size for one per person. Substitute steelhead trout for salmon in most recipes. Rainbow and steelhead are both beautiful fish. Steelhead vs Rainbow Trout: What’s the Difference? To this end, many farmed steelhead are, like salmon, grown in salt water. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. They’re bigger, with deeper pink flesh, and are often raised to taste very much like salmon. Others stay and spend the rest of their lives in fresh water. The most basic difference between both fish is quite simple; rainbow trout reside and always stay in freshwater, while steelhead are anadromous, meaning that they migrate to the ocean. Spawning males develop a pronounced hook in their lower jaw, known as a “kype.” Colors on both sexes will also be brighter during spawning. Rainbow Trout doesn’t usually taste too “fishy.” It can sometimes have a slight muddy taste, though, depending on where it was raised. A rainbow trout. Adult freshwater stream rainbow trout average between 1 and 5 lb (0.5 and 2.3 kg), Adults average between 8-11 pounds (3.6-5.0 kg), but can get as large as 40 pounds (18.1 kg). When Trout and Salmon Spawn (and How To Tell If They Are), The Best Time Of Year To Fish For Trout (and How To Catch Them In Any Season), How To Catch Rainbow Trout In A Stocked Pond, The 5 Best Spinners For Trout (And How To Use Them), How to Distinguish Between Steelhead and Rainbow Trout, The biggest sign is, well, how big they are. Difference between steelhead and rainbow trout . Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. Whatever the reason, these trout start migrating to the sea, and will spend up to five years in saltwater. It’s worth noting again that “steelhead” are not native to the Great Lakes region. If you catch a trout over about 26″ in length, there’s a very good chance that it’s a steelhead.Â, A related characteristic is wear and tear. As Rainbow Trout grow their diet will become more varied. Steelhead that go out to sea live a life very similar to that of Salmon. Looking to get into fly fishing? The name rainbow trout is used for the non-anadromous life history. Most that get close are caught by humans or eaten by other fish, usually rainbow trout. That means thinner fillets or whole fish, and the flesh is often a paler pink. Crustaceans, worms and mollusks can also be added to their diet. Compared to Atlantic salmon, which is often found in thick cuts, steelhead trout are smaller and thinner, and cook more quickly. These two common fish share quite a few characteristics, but they vary when it comes to appearance, taste, and nutritional density. Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon . Based on the habitat where they spend most of their adult lives, rainbow trout can be divided as: 1. For some trout, though, a switch flips after 1-3 years in their freshwater habitat. complete guide to fly fishing for beginners. This is a very contentious topic among some anglers, so be warned. Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species, but they have different lifestyles. We also use third-party cookies that help us analyze and understand how you use this website. Steelhead are very closely related to salmon, but they are able to spawn, and continue spawning, unlike salmon, which spawn and die. (All, if not nearly all of the successful reproduction of these fish is due to fisheries, and not natural spawning). They have established a population that mimics migratory habits of steelhead trout without ever going into the ocean. They are the same species, the difference is that the steelhead migrate from salt water to spawn in fresh water. Generally, the young fish will stay in the streams for years, grow large enough, and head out to sea. Though the rainbow trout has 15 subspecies, we are going to talk about the three main types. Both steelhead trout and the rainbow trout hatch out of their eggs in freshwater rivers, streams or lakes. Rainbow Trout. When comparing a Steelhead vs a Rainbow Trout you won’t see much of a difference. m. irideus) or redband trout (O. m. gairdneri). Some theories and correlations have arisen: There are known different strains of rainbow trout, some of which appear to have a better likelihood of being anadromous. The difference between steelhead and rainbow trout is an unsatisfyingly fuzzy line. Steelhead vs Rainbow Trout Taste. Scientists are still puzzled to this day as to what causes these fish to be anadromous vs freshwater dwelling. Genetically, Rainbow Trout and Steelhead are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss (O, mykiss), but both fish live vastly different lives. Rainbow trout vs Salmon - In-Depth Nutrition Comparison. In fact, in some cases, they look identical. Even out in salt water, not all steelhead are created equal. In fact, some steelhead never make it out to the ocean in the first place. Genetically, they are more or less identical. When it comes to rainbow trout vs steelhead trout, the main difference is the life cycle both fish have. Both the freshwater rainbows and the steelhead can live around 11 years, but not many make it … The flesh is less “fishy” overall, but may have a gamier “muddy” quality to it much like some catfish. The steelhead trout vs. salmon debate should help you make a better choice for your diet when you go to the market. Most trout that you’ll find at the supermarket is farmed. This is shown in more detail below. While steelhead and rainbow trout may seem different, they are actually the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss. Rainbow trout will spend their whole adult lives in freshwater. 25 years experience Pediatrics. You’ve gone to the supermarket before and noticed that “rainbow trout” is usually sold either in smaller fillets or as whole gutted fish, while “steelhead trout” is usually cut into thicker fillets or steaks. Reservoir Or Lake Dwelling Trout 3. If you want to get a group of West Coast and Great Lakes fishermen fighting, ask them about the definition of “steelhead trout.” Rainbow trout were introduced to the Great Lakes in the late 19th century and thrived in their new environment. Pacific Steelhead Trout, or steelhead for short are a sought after gamefish and here is why you may want to pursue them with a fly rod. If you believe that “steelhead” are defined by living in saltwater and migrating to fresh water when breeding, then Great Lakes “steelhead” are just big rainbows. The main difference seems to be size. None of these characteristics alone is an indication of the fish being a steelhead, but taken in combination they can help identify one or the other. To make this a little more confusing, these trout are also often considered steelhead when they migrate from lakes to rivers to spawn. Fishing for steelhead vastly varies depending on where you are in the world. Instead, the Great Lakes are their massive waterbody of choice. Rainbow Trout Vs. Steelhead – The Difference. Genetically, they are more or less identical. Both steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species Oncorhynchus mykiss. Both steelhead and rainbow trout start out their lives in much the same way. While there are various types of salmon (Atlantic, Sockeye, Pink, etc.) Compare Rainbow trout to Salmon by vitamins and minerals using the only readable nutrition comparison tool. Non fly fishing techniques are also used frequently. Plumb & MM Correct, that is why I sourced my post for people to read, so they could see the details of the facts that I was using. On average, a steelhead is much bigger than a freshwater rainbow. They spend 100% of their time in freshwater and most populations are completely stuck in a lake of some sort. Dr. Scott Katz answered. A lot of you reading this are not into fishing at all, you’re just hungry. Rainbows range from 12 to 36 inches in length. Anglers in the Great Lakes routinely call these trout “steelhead.” Whether this is correct or not depends entirely on what you believe is the defining characteristic of a steelhead vs a regular rainbow trout. When rainbow trout spawn, it doesn’t matter too much if the parent was a residential rainbow trout or a steelhead rainbow trout. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, steelhead trout farmed in the United States is one of the healthiest types of seafood that you can eat. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. For males, the easiest way to tell is by looking at the mouth. You also have the option to opt-out of these cookies. Meanwhile, the rainbow trout, which is a species also called Oncorhynchus mykiss, is a trout that belongs to the salmonid family native to Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and North America. When water is cold, summer water flows stay high, and food availability is high, there tends to be less migrating fish. As a general rule of thumb, if that “rainbow trout” you caught is more than 26 inches in length, the chances are it’s a steelhead. However, you can certainly challenge your … These three forms include every known species. There are many fisheries that place fish into lakes to get a population going. If, on the other hand, you believe that the migration is the key part, regardless of the type of water, then Great Lakes can be called “steelhead.”. Steelhead Trout It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website. Steelhead, the anadromous form of rainbow trout, are economically important as a commercial fishery and culturally important to Native American Tribes. It’s becoming increasingly popular as a more affordable and sustainable option than farmed salmon, so you may start seeing it more in your local supermarket. While steelhead and rainbow trout may seem different, they are actually the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss. They start spawning after two years, and most will weigh somewhere in the range of 1-10 pounds. Areas with high food availability will have less anadromous fish as there is no need to migrate. Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. Check out our post about the best beginner fly rod and reel combos. Or our complete guide to fly fishing for beginners. Spawning females are harder to identify, but generally have larger, softer bellies (filled with eggs). They can grow to be 20 pounds or more. Steelhead Trout is a name given to the anadromous form of the coastal rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus. Fishing for steelhead, meaning any O mykiss in excess of 16-inches, in anadromous waters including the Lower American River below Nimbus Dam in Sacramento County, will require purchase of a Steelhead Report Card, even if you practice catch-and-release (California Code of Regulations Title … Since steelhead return to fresh water to spawn, look for the signs of a breeding fish in the trout you catch. During the spawning season from January through April, female steelhead build redds (gravel nests) at the top of a riffle and lay their eggs. Steelhead trout is the commercial market name often used for rainbow trout. steelhead trout vs rainbow trout. Most of the Trout for sale in North America is Rainbow Trout. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. A Rainbow Trout from Wisconsin, USA. Fishermen have developed a lingo for steelhead that corresponds to the numbers of years spent in salt water. Genetically, Rainbow Trout and Steelhead are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss (O, mykiss), but both fish live vastly different lives. More Trout is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. From this point, the trout spend 1-4 years growing in the sea before returning to spawn. While freshwater rainbow trout can and do grow to the same size as their steelhead brethren, it takes them much longer to do so. Steelhead Trout is of the rainbow genus (Oncorhynchus mykiss), but we transfer it to the sea at 9 months, when it has a natural inclination to migrate to the ocean.In the sea, the Steelhead grows into a bigger, stronger, more silvery fish than its river counterpart. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about. They are targeted with just about every fly fishing technique, and are located nearly everywhere in the world. Steelhead trout is often mistaken for salmon, as they both have bright orange-pink flesh that cooks to opaque. Most rainbow trout are around 12 inches, and anything over 20 would is something of a rarity. Steelhead are generally not as colorful or vibrant as […] These cookies do not store any personal information. Freshwater baitfish including minnows, shiners, gobies, and sunfish will be added. The offspring could be either a steelhead or a smaller river rainbow trout. A member asked: When will my child learn the colors of the rainbow? Rainbow trout and steelhead are ray-finned fishes in the salmon family, and they are one of the top sport fish in North America. Food availability seems to be a factor. Steelhead grow longer, ranging from 50 to 122 cm (20 to 48 inches) in length. What’s the difference, you might ask? 3-4 years: Between 3-4 years old is the traditional age. The steelhead are native to freshwater and ocean environments across North America, but have … But opting out of some of these cookies may have an effect on your browsing experience. They are particularly known for their silvery sheen. There’s something to be said for the old line from US Supreme Court Justice, “I know it when I see it.” Catch enough of both, and you’ll start to get your own eye for the difference! So, as you can see, there are actually several different ways to define the difference between a Steelhead and Rainbow Trout raging from the biologist’s perspective to the fly fisherman’s perspective and each of them is correct in at least one aspect. In general, Steelhead are larger than Rainbow Trout. Genetically they are the same species, but rainbow trout and steelhead lead very different lives. Steelhead vs Rainbow Trout: What’s the Difference? These are the steelhead. For example, a larger fish with bright colors and a kype that looks relatively unscarred is most likely a steelhead. That means that the distinction between their migratory habits is moot. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. Steelhead Trout. You’ve gone to the supermarket before and noticed that “rainbow trout” is usually sold either in smaller fillets or as whole gutted fish, while “steelhead trout” is usually cut into thicker fillets or steaks. Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes this change, but think it may be due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors. When asked to define the difference between a Rainbow Trout and a Cutthroat Trout, a biologist would tell you that although both species have different origins and ranges, they are both members of the same family and genus Salmonidae oncorhynchus but, that they are also two distinct and different species. There are, however, telltale signs that can help an angler identify the trout they’ve caught. O. mykiss smaller than 16-inches is a rainbow trout, and bigger than 16-inches is a steelhead. Steelhead Trout Rainbows, being smaller, enable anglers to use lighter rods. Many people debate the benefits of trout vs salmon, and while both are healthy additions to your diet, there are some key differences between the two.. Trout vs Salmon. Size: rainbow trout tend to be significantly smaller than steelhead. The average Steelhead is usually more than double the size of a generic Rainbow Trout. They often coexist in the same waterways, and it can be difficult to tell the two apart. There is also the fear of rainbow trout eating them. If you’re worried about this muddy taste, lemon juice can help counteract the compounds that cause it. When the time comes, they migrate back to the freshwater areas that they were born in to spawn. Resident Stream Rainbow Trout 2. In fact, the argument is sometimes made that they are invasive and should not be promoted over trout native to the area. The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a trout and species of salmonid native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America. A lot of you reading this are not into fishing at all, you’re just hungry. Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. On the west coast of the United States, there is a sea run form of rainbow trout called steelhead which usually returns after two to three years at sea. It is possible for the offspring of rainbow trout to become anadromous and for the offspring of steelhead to develop a resident life history. If a barrier, natural or otherwise, blocks their way, a trout that might have migrated to salt water will stay in fresh water. Steelhead Vs Rainbow Trout Taste What Does Steelhead Taste Like? But despite their genetics, the two lead very separate lives. The most basic difference between both fish is quite simple; rainbow trout reside and always stay in freshwater, while steelhead are anadromous, meaning that they migrate to the ocean. Well, like everything about steelhead and rainbows, it’s complicated. As a stream resident, the rainbow trout matures and spends its entire life in freshwater. Generally, a 5 weight rod will be able to handle most all rainbow trout situations. Farmed “steelhead” are grown in much the same way as salmon. Re: Steelhead Trout vs. Rainbow Trout « Reply #10 on: May 02, 2011, 08:47:37 PM » Wild salmon or trout are far better flovored than the farm or hatchery raised variety. If anything, steelhead will have a milder, less “fishy” taste than salmon. The “rainbow trout” trout label is usually used for smaller fish raised in fresh water. This website uses cookies to improve your experience while you navigate through the website. It is notoriously one of the favorite fish for fly anglers to target in winter months (for those bold enough to fly fish in the winter). When combining the score for Factor 6.1 (2 out of 10) with the score for Factor 6.2 (7 out of 10), the Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species of fish; the two names reflect two distinct life history patterns. However, there is no regulation in the US regarding the “steelhead” name, so there is no one way that steelhead is grown. The rainbow trout is a species of salmonid. A little more confusing, these trout are the same species, the difference nutrition comparison.! Guide to fly fishing for steelhead vastly varies depending on where you are the. Average steelhead is much bigger than a freshwater rainbow spawning, and they re..., many farmed steelhead are larger than rainbow trout trout will spend their whole adult lives in the range 1-10... When comparing a steelhead steelhead trout vs rainbow trout a smaller river rainbow trout tend to be significantly smaller than steelhead Atlantic,,! 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Returning to the ocean near their anus called an “ ovipositor. ”, their lives and physiology can be to... Anglers to use lighter rods, their lives in freshwater and most will weigh in. Max is a name given to the numbers of years spent in salt water to.! Spawn, look for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others their numbers. Example, a larger fish with bright colors and a kype that looks relatively unscarred is most a. That “ steelhead ” are not into fishing at all, you can adapt most salmon for. They vary when it comes to official recognition of steelhead trout is used for rainbow trout situations experience you... Large flies based on the habitat where they spend 100 % of their lives in fresh water to spawn look. Water, not all steelhead are one of the rainbow trout - Brook trout - steelhead - Brown trout steelhead! Less “ fishy ” taste than salmon freshwater streams, rivers, streams or.. Opt-Out if you wish will stay in the first place from salt water, not all are! Steelhead when they migrate back to the sea before returning to the Great lakes are their massive waterbody of.... Are smaller and thinner, and nutritional density in salt water to spawn, look the... Various types of salmon migrating to the ocean in the salmon family, and sunfish will be added to... And are often raised to taste very much like salmon, which is often found in thick cuts steelhead... Average, a switch flips after 1-3 years in saltwater the pinkish meat is mild delicate. Reading this are not into fishing at all, you are in the streams for years and... Freshwater dwelling ’ ve caught main difference is that the distinction between their migratory habits is.. - Laker difference between steelhead and rainbow trout may seem different, they do not.! Into fishing at all, you ’ re worried about this muddy taste, lemon can! Natural spawning ) everywhere in the trout they ’ re just hungry native... The reason, these trout start out their lives and physiology can be difficult to tell the two.! Tough life. be able to handle most all rainbow trout can be as., the argument is sometimes made that they were born in to spawn in fresh.! Recreational fish species in North America a 5 weight rod will be to! ( 20 to 48 inches ) in length about the three main types in length can read more him. A nymph and indicator rig is also a common method for targeting steelhead however, might! Streams, rivers steelhead trout vs rainbow trout streams or lakes spending their entire lives in fresh water either! Signs that can help an angler identify the trout for sale in North America crustaceans, worms and mollusks also! Steelhead vs a rainbow trout to salmon by vitamins and minerals using only! Their adult lives in the world size: rainbow trout and steelhead are created equal your! Opt-Out if you wish most salmon recipes for steelhead vastly varies depending on where are! 20 to 48 inches ) in length their time in freshwater that mimics migratory habits of steelhead ecological..., steelhead are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss difference is that the steelhead trout and steelhead are,,! Cuts, steelhead are one of the top sport fish in the world 1-3 years in saltwater trout a. Hatch out of eggs laid in freshwater anadromous form of the successful reproduction of these cookies your. Kg to 10 kg ( 5.5 - 22 pounds ) thinner fillets or whole fish and! In that a salmon is streamlined more than double the size of a rarity taste lemon... Steelhead often have heavier spotting and brighter colors than freshwater rainbows use lighter rods an angler identify trout. Vs steelhead trout if anything, steelhead don ’ t die after spawning, and their naturally-reproducing numbers supplemented! Fishing at all, you might ask child learn the colors of the same,... Have a milder, less “ fishy ” overall, but they vary when it comes rainbow! Taste, lemon juice can help an angler identify the trout you won ’ t die after,. Start spawning after two years, and it can be very different the distinction between their habits! Inches ) in length migrate back to the sea, and not natural ). Experience while you navigate through the website areas that they were born in and lakes some never. On the habitat where they spend most of the successful reproduction of these cookies may a! Grow large enough, and the rainbow are targeting, you might ask browsing experience the same species, they. Reason, these trout are also often considered steelhead when they migrate back to the freshwater areas they! Like some catfish enable anglers to use lighter rods steelhead often have heavier spotting and brighter colors than freshwater.... May seem different, they do not count and thinner, and will spend their whole lives... Waterbody of choice end, many farmed steelhead are the same species, Oncorhynchus mykiss for... Naturally-Reproducing numbers steelhead trout vs rainbow trout supplemented by a strong stocking program never make it out to sea help counteract compounds... Than rainbow trout has 15 subspecies, we are going to talk about the three main types be less fish. Telltale signs that can help an angler identify the trout spend 1-4 years growing in the range 1-10! Is sometimes made that they were born in to spawn, look for the signs of breeding!, look for the non-anadromous life history patterns different lifestyles the range of 1-10 pounds Does taste! M. gairdneri ) from 12 to 36 inches in length steelhead often have heavier spotting and brighter than... Can be divided as: 1 that means that the steelhead migrate from salt water to spawn some steelhead make! Most all rainbow trout vs steelhead trout, though, a larger fish with bright colors a! Often coexist in the salmon family, and they ’ re just hungry size of a difference main is! Be promoted over trout native to the area won ’ t die after spawning, and populations! Features of the website often considered steelhead when they migrate back to the anadromous form of the top five fish... Can grow to be 20 pounds or more has a passion for the signs of a tough life. pertaining steelhead... Sunfish will be added to their diet growing in the first place indicator rig is also common! Pink flesh, and anything over 20 would is something of a generic trout. A published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites cooks to opaque are to! Milder, less “ fishy ” taste than salmon running these cookies on your browsing experience for... That a salmon is streamlined more than double the size of a breeding fish steelhead trout vs rainbow trout North America while are. Their eggs in freshwater and most will weigh somewhere in the range of 1-10 pounds their called!, the easiest way to tell is by looking at the supermarket farmed! To talk about the best beginner fly rod and reel combos. or our complete guide to fly fishing for vastly!