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Steelhead are ocean-run rainbow trout which return to run the rivers in both the summer and winter seasons. They are usually one to three years old when they return to spawn. Washington winter-run Steelhead weighs from 5 to 10 pounds, but many are also caught in the 15 to 20 pound range. An occasional fish is caught near 30 pounds. The Washington state record is 32 pounds, 12 ounces, caught on the East Fork of the Lewis River in 1980. Winter Steelhead tend to move quickly upriver to their spawning grounds, stopping to rest in holding water, before moving on. Learning to read what good holding water for Steelhead looks like, is the first step to successful steelheading. These fish often strike very softly, and detecting the bite is another technique that must be learned by Steelhead fisherman.

Summer Steelhead on a Dry FlySummer-run Steelhead are also common in many Washington waters. The difference between a summer and winter-run is that summer-run steelhead stay in the river longer. The summer fish stay in the river through the fall and early winter before spawning. They tend to be more active and feisty, sometimes slamming a fly and taking off on spectacular runs. Typical summer Steelhead weigh in the 5 to 15 pound range. Summer Steelhead holding water is usually different than winter holding water, partly due to the difference in the water levels and conditions in the summer. Summer runs look for good cover, a break from the strong current, and plenty of highly oxygenated water. They present a bigger challenge than winter-run fish in the respect that the rivers are lower and clearer, making the fish spookier. As water conditions change, so do the holding spots for these fish.

Most Washington rivers are stocked with hatchery bred stocks of Steelhead to supplement the wild stocks. The hatchery-bred fish usually enter the rivers earlier than the wild stocks, so timing your fishing trip may be dependent on which fish you are going for. You should also be aware that Washington's complicated fishing regulations usually have restrictions on the taking of wild Steelhead. Be aware of Washington's regulations before keeping any fish. Download the Washington Fishing Rules pamphlet for specific information.

These are few of the good Washington rivers for steelhead:

Cowlitz River, Skykomish River, Bogachiel River, East Fork Lewis River, Snoqualmie River, Hoh River, Sol Duc River, Skagit River, Quinault River, Kalama River, Snake River.

For information and rules in other regions and Canada, see the following links:  British Columbia, Great Lakes, Idaho, Oregon,

See also:
Summer Steelhead by Dr. David Burns
By Dr. David Burns
Summer Steelhead Fly Fishing by Steve Burke
by Steve Burke
Another good site for information about Steelhead, is WDFW's Salmon Facts page.


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