steelhead fish

What is a Steelhead?

Steelhead are famous worldwide for line-peeling runs and putting up spectacular, acrobatic fights. This famous fish with an identity crisis is described as, “elusive, challenging and the ultimate game fish”.

What is a Steelhead?

In some ways, the steelhead is a trout that acts like a salmon. Typical trout remain in freshwater all their lives. Steelhead however migrate to the ocean as juvenile fish and return to fresh water as adults to spawn.  Because steelhead undertake large ocean migrations, behaviorally they are more similar to salmon than they are trout. Unlike salmon however, steelhead do not die after spawning and may even repeat the cycle multiple times.


Steelhead migrate to the ocean between ages one to two and return to fresh water between one to three years later to spawn. While in the ocean, steelhead are silver in color and usually grow much larger than their freshwater siblings. Once back in fresh water, they generally change color to reveal dark olive tones with silvery-white undersides,  speckled bodies and a pink to red stripe running along their sides. These fish have orange flesh like Salmon, but the flavor is described as milder like a cross between salmon and trout.  The flesh has medium flakes and a tender texture.

Where to Fish

There are two main runs of steelhead in Oregon, known as “summer” and “winter” runs. The type of steelhead run is determined by the season the fish enter freshwater. Both winter and summer run fish spawn in the spring, but they each enter the river at different times and at different stages of reproductive maturity.

These sea-going Rainbow Trout inhabit various rivers along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, and from Japan to the Kamchatkan Peninsula.

The Deschutes is home to “summer run” steelhead and is listed as one of Oregon’s best steelhead fishing rivers. You can fish for them in the Deschutes during June through November.

In addition to a fishing license, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife explains that steelhead anglers need to purchase a Combined Angling Tag (steelhead, salmon, sturgeon and Pacific halibut) as well.

Ready to go fishing? Check out all of our fishing resources below and we hope to see you soon!

Winter Fishing on the Lower Deschutes River, Oregon

Imperial River Company, Maupin OR
Lodging and Rafting on the Lower Deschutes River

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