Coastal Rainbow Subspecies

Coastal Rainbow: is a designation given to all anadromous coastal forms of rainbow trout from Baja California north to Alaska.

 

California's Native Fish Crisis

Caltrout Issues Report on Native Fish CrisisCalTrout issues a detailed status report of California native fish. Warning: Large PDF File.

 

Distribution of Steelhead

Steelhead populations are strong in southeast Alaska and British Columbia but spotty along the Gulf of Alaska. Some steelhead populations have expired inland, east of the Coast Ranges and interior Columbia River basin. Current distribution may reach as far south as Santa Barbara with limited spawning manifests well into Baja, Mexico.

 

Oncorhynchus mykiss Steelhead

Wild Steelhead photographed in water of California Trinity River

Steelhead do not die after returning to spawn in freshwater and can live fairly long lives ranging from 4 to 8 years. Steelhead adapt to a variety of environmental conditions and utilize the entire river basin - from small tributary streams to deep river channels. While all O.mykiss hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, some stay in fresh water all their lives. These fish are generally know as rainbow trout. The Steelhead that migrate to the ocean develop a much more pointed head, become more silvery in color, and grow larger than fresh-water rainbows.

California steelhead trout caught and released along North Coast River

Steelhead can live for as long as 11 years and grow as large as 55 pounds. They may spend as long as seven years in fresh water before migrating downstream to the estuaries as smolts and then into the ocean to feed and mature. Their coloring is quite distinctive: from dark olive green on their backs shading to silvery-white underneath, they sport a pink lateral band. They also tolerate a greater range of water temperatures than other salmon, which may explain their longevity.

Adult California steelhead trout along North Coast River

Steelhead have two general life history patterns: winter and summer.

Winter Steelhead

Winter steelhead enter streams from the ocean when the more abundant winter rains contribute to larger in-stream flows. These larger flows widen and deepen thestream greatly aiding the steelheads' migration and access to spawning ground. The usual spawning grounds for wild strains of steelhead are located in tributaries to the mainstem river. Afer spawning, these steelhead will return downstream to the ocean.

A 30 inch steelhead landed on the Trinity River

Summer Steelhead

For the Summer steelhead, or spring-run steelhead, they enter streams as smaller, immature fish during the receding flows of spring. They gradually migrate upstream looking for deep pools to hold in near the headwater. They spend the summer in these waters while they mature - moving later to spawn in the winter or spring.

Photo of California Golden Trout by P. Michael Carl © The Ecological Angler