Posted by: Tom Keer
September 11, 2013

Tom Keer

A Fall of Steelhead

Every two or three years, a wonderful fish graces us with its presence.  Steelhead, a sea-run rainbow trout, returns to the freshwater to spawn. Like Atlantic and Pacific salmon, steelhead spawn in the same area where they themselves were born. It’s a homecoming of the most dramatic proportions.

Here’s why: when the steelhead drop out of the river and head out to sea they grow big and strong.  They feed on a wide variety of baitfish, navigate strong currents, outrun predators, leap water falls with a flick of their tails and avoid raptors and nets.  When they return to the rivers they are like a middle linebacker on gameday.

Different steelhead migrate at different times of the year. Summer run steelhead enter the rivers between May and October while Winter  steelhead arrive between November and April.  The fact that a lot of fish are moving in this time of year means that you can catch a gorgeous and aggressive fish during one of the prettiest times of the year. It’s tough to beat that, but you can try.

It’s not to say that they’re easy to catch.  Sometimes they’ll snub a fly that is swung perfectly, right above their noses.  Othertimes they’ll whack a sloppy, bent spinner that is raced through a pool. Steelhead don’t work on your terms. You work on theirs.  And figuring out just what approach and method will work is part of the appeal.

You’ll know when you hook a fresh fish.  They’ll run and jump, and their brightly chrome sides flash in the sunlight.  Big fish test your tackle and abilities, and even smaller fish are coveted.  And since the steelhead is found in 40 countries and on all continents except for Antarctica the odds that they’re close to your home is pretty good.  This fall give ‘em a try.  You’ll be glad you did.


Tom Keer is an award-winning freelance writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Visit him at or at


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