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At a Glance: Salmon and Steelhead


Many anglers will put their skills to the test and pursue a trophy Salmon or Steelhead. Salmon and Steelhead are cousins in the fish world. While Steelhead are technically the same species as the common Rainbow Trout, they act more similarly to Pacific Salmon species in their behavior and migration. Salmon inhabit the north Atlantic and Pacific Ocean but have been introduced to non-native waters, such as the Great Lakes. Steelhead are native to, and inhabit, both ocean and freshwater environments in the Pacific Northwest, as well as being stocked into non-native freshwater environments, such as the Great Lakes.


Naturally, both Salmon and Steelhead are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater rivers and streams, then migrate to the ocean for their adult lives, only returning to the same freshwater streams and rivers for spawning. One of the major differences between Salmon and Steelhead is that Steelhead can spawn multiple times in their lives, while Pacific Salmon species die after spawning. Salmon are also considered a keystone species, which means they are essential to the ecosystem around them, from the plants to the animals, they all rely on Salmon for food and nutrients.


When it comes to fishing, Steelhead take some skills and varying techniques. Steelhead are easy to stir up and they have some excellent vision. They can be quick as well! One glimpse of a human and they can reach twenty-five miles an hour with a single burst of their tail! Steelhead are famed for being unpredictable. One day you can see them striking over and over for salmon egg soft or baits, and the next it’s minnows drawing all their attention. Some days fly fishermen will pull them in like it’s nothing, while the next day the casting and spincasting anglers will keep them striking. With Steelhead, no one lure or bait and technique will work every time. They challenge anglers to adapt on the fly and use a broad range of strategies. When fishing for them it is highly recommended to bring an abundant supply of different lures and bait.


Salmon, on the other hand, are known for their amazing sense of smell. They prefer low light water conditions, so coming prepared with some bright, shiny lures is encouraged. Salmon, like Steelhead, are a tricky species to hook. Anglers use all sorts of techniques, from fly fishing to baitcasting, with live bait or shiny spinners and on. Salmon have thick, tough skin around their jaws, making hooking them a bit tricky, so make sure you bring sharp hooks! When they are hooked, let them tire themselves out because they will put up a hard fight and you run the risk of breaking your line.


Both Salmon and Steelhead can be fished from rivers, streams, lakes, or the ocean, giving anglers of all kinds an exciting fight. Salmon and Steelhead are known to be strong fighters, so bringing a reel with a good drag is key. You can’t “muscle” in a Salmon or a Steelhead. They have been known to snap lines with their excited and energetic bursts. The best tactic is to let the drag work for you, let the fish get tired. Due to their size, both Salmon and Steelhead should be fished with medium to medium-heavy fishing rods when trolling or casting from shore. However, make sure your rods are sensitive as both of these fish are known for being heavy fighters, but they strike lightly and let go quickly, so you need to be faster than they are. Because of this, many anglers choose light to medium power rods in tributaries.


Salmon and Steelhead are an exciting, but challenging group of fish to pursue. When you do take up the challenge, make sure you come prepared. FishUSA offers a number of the needed gear, from baits and lures to fishing rods and reels, to waders and accessories. Make sure you show up ready because these fish won’t give you any slack!


FishUSA offers the top brands for Salmon and Steelhead fishing such as Shimano, Rapala, Eagle Claw, Berkley, St. Croix, and many more!