Great Lakes Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Many anglers are not aware that steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species: You
will hear them called different name and you will hear them distinguished a number of
different ways, but irrelevant of the way anyone describes them, they are actually the
same species of fish.
Rainbow trout (steelhead) are native to the Pacific Ocean along North America and to the
rivers and streams west of the Rocky Mountains. They are such a popular game fish that
they have been introduced in other areas of the United States. Great Lakes steelhead are
descendants of Pacific Coast steelhead. They were stocked in the Great Lakes tributaries
many years ago. They are still stocked in many of the tributary streams of the Great
It has taken many years for biologist to learn how to manage the lake-run rainbows to
angler's best advantage. Many problems have been encountered along the way but most
of them have been solved. Presently, steelhead offer anglers a great fishing challenge.
The are big, strong, hard fighting fish and fishing for them is very popular along the Great
Lakes. In fact, it is becoming more and more popular each year. Just one reason for it is
steelhead provides some great fishing opportunities during the cold winter months.
Great lakes steelhead are usually found in relatively shallow water that is less than twenty
to thirty feet deep. They are most often found relatively near the outlets of the rivers and
streams of the Great Lakes. They spend much of their life in the Great Lakes where they
stay near shoals that have food such as aquatic insects, minnows and baitfish.
The Great Lakes steelhead enter the rivers and creeks to spawn from late October to
early May. Most of the actual spawning takes place in the Spring. There are some areas
where the steelhead spawn in the Fall. They spawn on a fine gravel bottom called a redd
or nest. Redds are usually located in a riffle upstream of a pool. Unlike many salmonids,
steelhead can spawn more than once. They don't die after they spawn like salmon, for
example. They can reproduce more than once. Most of the fish return to the same river or
stream they were born in to spawn.
The majority of the Great Lakes steelhead reach sexual maturity between the ages of
three and five. The females take longer to mature than the males. They may live for up to
six or eight years and reach sizes of over twenty pounds. The average Great Lake
Steelhead fully grown size is about nine or ten pounds. They may grow up to a yard long. .
The steelhead eggs hatch from four to seven weeks, depending on the water temperature
and other factors. Depending on the particular stream, the newly born trout may head out
into the lake within the first year during the summer, or they may stay in the river or
stream between one and three years before moving into the Great Lakes waters.
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