Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting tool or email us at  wildlife.data@dfw.wa.gov. Be sure to include a photo of the species for verification and location (latitude/longitude coordinates) of your observation. 

Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same species, but rainbow are freshwater only, and steelhead are anadromous, or go to sea. Unlike most salmon, steelhead can survive spawning, and can spawn in multiple years.

Steelhead are highly regarded game fish and the steelhead is the state fish of Washington.

Description and Range

Physical description

Steelhead can weigh 40 pounds or more, but average between 8 and 11 pounds. Steelhead also have dark spots scattered over the entire fish, including the tail, with slight to pronounced rainbow coloring.

Geographic range

Like chinook salmon, steelhead have two runs, a summer run and a winter run. Most summer runs are east of the Cascades, and enter streams in summer to reach the spawning grounds by the following spring. A few western Washington rivers also have established runs of summer steelhead. Winter runs spawn closer to the ocean, and require less travel time. They generally prefer fast water in small-to-large mainstem rivers, and medium-to-large tributaries.

Where to fish

Lakes where this species may be found

Benton County
Chelan County
Douglas County
Grays Harbor County
Klickitat County
Okanogan County

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.