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Steelhead Trout Versus Salmon

Stanley, ID Fly Fishing Trips

Whenever you go with us on a fly fishing guided trip, you can always ask your guide what you’ve caught. But just in case you’re curious right now, here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between two species that are really close.

A steelhead trout is scientifically known as the oncorhynchus mykiss. It is dark olive in color and usually has a heavily speckled body with pink stripes along the sides of their bodies. It can live up to a maximum of 11 years although it matures sexually at around 2 to 3 years.

A steelhead trout averages at about 8 to 11 pounds. The largest steelhead trout was more than 20 kgs. This type of fish spawns in spring. The migration to their birthplace for spawning usually begins at different times of the year usually between May and October in the summer and November and April during the winter.

Salmon is group name given to a number of fish of the same species. They include fish like the Chinook, coho, clum, etc. They all have similar characteristics but they are all different in their own ways. For example, they have different sizes as well as lifespans but are similar in that they are anadromous. If you’re curious about what that means – check out

The Similarities between Steelhead and Salmon

Steelhead trout and salmons are both anadromous, i.e. they tend to go back to their original birth place to spawn. Salmon are born in freshwater and later migrate out into the ocean but they always return to their birth place to spawn. When the spawning season is over they usually go back to the wild. For example, those in rivers usually swim up the rivers when it is time to spawn and after the eggs have developed they move back downstream.


  • Both types of fish feed on basically the same diet of krill. It is this diet that gives the meat the pink color of fish. The meat of both fish is very identical in look and taste, and even most experienced chefs would have difficulty identifying which is which
  • Since the two fish have similar characteristics, the steelhead trout has recently been grouped as part of the salmon family however some people still categorize it as a trout instead of a salmon


  • The steelhead can live in either freshwater or salty water for the whole duration of their lives, which is quite different from salmon, which usually spends its life in both salty and freshwater. It is usually born in freshwater and later migrates into salty water, only returning to the freshwater to spawn
  • Most salmon move out of the freshwater and into the ocean almost immediately after they are born. Steelhead trout on the other hand move after around a year or even longer. Staying in the freshwater longer makes them grow to a much larger size than most salmon so they are less likely to be eaten by predators
  • Most salmon die after spawning but the steelhead trout does not die and can continue to live for many more months. Salmon usually die after spawning because their bodies deteriorate quite quickly due to the release of large amounts of corticosteroids
  • Steelhead trout are able to spawn many times compared to salmon. This is mainly because they do not deteriorate after spawning and they are able to spawn over and over again throughout their lifetime

So the next time you’re out on the river and you’d like a guided fly fishing trip set up, call White Cloud Rafting, we’d love to go fishing with you.

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