Steelhead or Rainbow Trout?

Steelhead and Rainbow Trout are essentially the same species. The main difference is that the steelhead is a sea-going fish and the rainbow trout is a freshwater inhabitant of the same trout species. They do look very similar and that is why so many anglers, understandably, confuse the two fish types.

One key difference is size. Steelhead are the larger of the two, they can reach up to 35 inches in length. Rainbow trout, in comparison, can reach a max of about 18 or 19 inches. Quite a length advantage for the steelhead and a great giveaway when trying to decipher the species of your latest catch.

Steelhead, especially from Lake Erie, have a more silvery color to them. Steelhead usually become quite silvery just before their migration. Generally, steelhead are more silvery until their spawning period nears and the steelhead darkens a bit, making it almost impossible to differentiate between the two. Both species are spotted and have a blue-green tone to them.

Another differentiating factor for steelhead is their natural ferocity compared to the tamer rainbow trout. Many seasoned anglers claim that they know when they have a steelhead on the line because of the aggressive nature of the species. Most prefer the steelhead for the excitement (and adrenaline rush) it can bring to a potential catch.

Some experts believe that the Rainbow Trout vs Steelhead debate will never die down. They believe that a rainbow trout becomes a steelhead when it makes it’s voyage. This is a school of thought that is fast gaining popularity. The reason for the rise in this thinking is that many experts can’t tell the difference between a true rainbow trout and steelhead. Although, there will always be the majority that believe these two species are in fact one species (differentiated by habitat, of course).

One thing is for sure, both species of fish are sure a great catch and they make for excellent angling. This winter, go out and catch some rainbow trout or steelhead, depending on your location. There hasn’t been a better time to start angling. Once your out there, you can make the call as to what type of fish you have caught. Just make sure you have fun when your angling and that is the most important factor of them all– no matter what type of fish you caught.