Rainbow Trout and Steelhead

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Game Fish Species of British Columbia

Rainbow Trout


Rainbow Trout & Steelhead

Oncorhynchus mykiss or Rainbow, Kamloops Trout,
Steelhead, Coast Rainbow Trout, Silver Trout

These two forms are vastly similar and the only major difference is that the steelhead is a sea-going fish and the rainbow trout inhabits fresh water.

DESCRIPTION - The average length of a rainbow trout is 12-18 inches and the steelhead is 20-30 inches. A mature steelhead usually weighs 8-9 pounds but has been known to reach 36 pounds. The body is somewhat compressed with a rounded snout and a large mouth. The spawning male experiences minor changes to its head, mouth and color. Stream residents and spawners are darker with more intense coloring and lake residents are lighter, brighter and more silvery. They range from steel-blue, blue-green, yellow-green to almost brown. Steelhead tend to be more silvery. All have a number of small black spots. The coloring chamges drastically over the whole of its range.

DISTRIBUTION - The native range of this species is the eastern Pacific Ocean and the fresh water mainly west of the Rocky Mountains. It has also been introduced into New Zealand, Australia, South America, Africa, Japan, southern Asia, Europe and Hawaii.

BIOLOGY - This species spawns from March to August in smaller streams. The female digs and spawns in several nests depositing 800-1000 eggs in each redd. These eggs usually hatch 4-7 weeks later. The life expectancy can be as low as 3-4 years but generally the steelhead lives 6-8 years. They first feed on plankton then insects and as they grow older, crustaceans and other fish.

RELATION TO MAN - The rainbow trout and steelhead are rated in the top five sport fish in North America because of the hard fight they put up. The difficulties of landing a hooked steelhead in a swift, rocky river in winter are legendary. The flesh of this fish is usually bright red and rich in smaller individuals and pink to white in larger lakes where they feed on fishes.

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Rainbow Trout and Steelhead