Steelhead are a type of rainbow trout that are anadromous. Anadromous means they spawn in freshwater streams, go to the ocean to grow, and return to fresh water as adults.
Excellent fishing for steelhead occurs in many states from October through March. You often will need to obtain a steelhead permit before setting out, even during a catch-and-release season.
Steelhead spawn in streams from mid-April to late June. They use areas of gravel, or cobble, depending on the size of the fish. The female selects a place in a riffle area below a pool to dig a redd (nest). She displaces the gravel with her body and tail, and the male fertilizes the eggs as they are deposited. The female covers the eggs with gravel by continuing upstream and the current carries the gravel over the eggs.
The eggs hatch in early to midsummer. The young fish live in the stream and migrate to the ocean, usually after two years of rearing in the stream. The juvenile fish that migrate to the ocean will grow rapidly.
When they mature and are ready to spawn, the steelhead migrate back to the place they were born. They enter the lower river drainages in the fall (Sept.-Oct.) and winter over to spawn the following spring, which allows a fall and spring fishing season. Most require 3 to 5 years to mature.
Steelhead trout eat insects and zooplankton in the water or on the surface. They will also feed on small fish and fish eggs. As they get larger, they will eat larger fish. Adult steelhead holding in the river prior to spawning do not eat much, but will strike at food or lures.
Steelhead respond to a variety of angling techniques. Since they are not feeding as they wait to spawn, the angler pesters the steelhead enough to get it to strike. They're aggressive and will take a variety of bait, lures, and flies. Some anglers prefer plugs, shrimp or fresh roe (fish eggs).