Steelhead are the anadromous version of rainbow trout and have a genus/species of Oncorhynchus mykiss. Steelhead are differentiated from rainbow trout due to Steelhead migrating to salt water for a period of their life and then returning to freshwater to spawn. As compared to rainbow trout that reside in freshwater for the entire life span. Steelhead have a unique characteristic in comparison to Salmon in that steelhead can survive spawning and spawn multiple times. This occurrence varies greatly between systems and has been reported to occur at a rate of 5% to 20%.
Pacific Ocean steelhead range from eastern portions of Russia to northern California.
Steelhead have been successfully introduced into the Great Lakes and have maintained a self-sustaining population.
Steelhead are typically categorized as being either summer run or winter run fish. This is meant to distinguish between Steelhead that return into fresh water from the ocean in the summer months or winter months. Steelhead are very flexible to given freshwater conditions and there exists a lot of variation in run timing depending on the location. Winter run fish are typically found in rivers less than 100 miles in the ocean while summer run fish may be found in rivers several hundred miles from the ocean.
Summer run steelhead typically enter the freshwater between May and August, migrate to their preferred spawning location and spawn as early as December in some locations and as late as March in others. Winter run steelhead enter freshwater between November and March and typically spawn with December to April. A key differentiator between winter run and summer run steelhead is that winter run steelhead are much closer to sexual maturity (and spawning) when they enter freshwater than summer run steelhead. In some systems summer run fish may be in freshwater for six months before spawning and winter run fish may be in freshwater a matter of a days to weeks before spawning.
Types of Pacific Steelhead and Salmon
Pacific Salmon are classified within the same genus as steelhead (Oncorhynchus) and include the species of Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, chum, and masu. Salmon have a much wider range *(range of what) and a much larger population than steelhead. Oncorhynchus is a genus of fish in the family Salmonidae; it contains the six species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, chum, masu) as well as steelhead, and other Pacific trout.
Chum salmon are also known as dog, keta, or calico salmon. Chum salmon have the widest distribution of the pacific salmon from central Oregon coast to Japan. As global warming thaws are previously frozen rivers in the arctic, Chum are straying into new river systems. Chum are second in size only to Chinook and often described by sport fisherman as the hardest fighting of the Pacific Salmon species. The roe of the chum salmon is highly valued as delicacy in many cultures. Chum typically spawn in lower gradient stretches of rivers in side channels and small tributaries of gravel bed rivers. Chum fry migrate to the ocean soon after emerging from the redds and thus have little reliance on fresh water for development. Chum run timing is typically divided into summer/fall returns that spawn in the early fall months in the northern rivers and fall/winter returns that spawn in the late fall to early winter in the more southern rivers.
Pink salmon are also known as humpy or humpback salmon. They are the most numerus and smallest of the pacific salmon species. The Pink salmon have the unique distinction of having dominant spawning years in southern ranges and the southern Alaska ranges. In the Puget sound and southern Canada regions Pink Salmon are most common in odd years while in most of the Alaska territory the dominant spawning class appears in even years. Pink salmon spawn in the river stretches nearest to the ocean of all the salmon species. Pink Salmon fry migrate to the salt water very soon after being born where they are the fastest growing species of salmon. Pink salmon are the highest number of produced hatchery fish and account for the largest number of commercially harvested salmon.
Chinook salmon are also known as king or tyee salmon and are the largest bodied of the pacific salmon. Chinook of over 100 lbs have been documented. Chinook have a diverse life history depending on the specific river and type. There are documented runs of chinook for each season of the year, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. For southern pacific regions fall chinook are the largest runs, followed by spring and then summer. The life history of chinook varies depending on the run as well. The fry of some runs spend 1-2 years in fresh water before migrating to the ocean and some migrate to the ocean after only a few weeks in fresh water. Being the largest bodied of the pacific salmon carries high value for the sport fishing perspective.
Coho salmon are also known as silver salmon are the backbone of most sport fisheries along the west coast. Known for their aggressive feeding habits and desirable meat quality. Coho run timings are consistently within the summer to late fall with spawning taking place in the fall to early winter. Coho range span from southern Oregon to southeast Alaska with many coastal rivers having strong populations. The coho fry spend at least one winter in fresh water before migrating to the salt water. Coho are known to prefer slower moving rivers and as adults reside in back channels prior to migrating to the spawning bed. Male coho exhibit a bright red coloring near spawning.
Sockeye salmon are also known as red, blueback, silver trout or kokanee (resident). Sockeye are the most desirable fish from a public consumption perspective commanding a high market price. The pink tinged meet from krill consumption in the ocean and mild flavor drive this demand. Unlike all other salmon, sockeye juveniles rear exclusively in a lake. In some cases spawning even occurs near the lakeshores. This results in the wide range being irregular based on rivers with lakes as part of the system. Sockeye juveniles may spend a few weeks to 3 years in the lake before migrating to the ocean where they could spend up to another 3 years before returning to freshwater. Sockeye run timing is known for being very condensed and entering freshwater occurs in the spring to summer months with spawning occurring in the fall.
Masu salmon are also known as cherry salmon. The range of the masu salmon is limited to the waters near Japan, the southern portion of Eastern Russia, Korea, and even Taiwan. Masu salmon are the smallest in size and population of all species of salmon. The juvenile life span is similar to coho, with spending 1-3 years in freshwater before migrating to the ocean. After spending only one year in the ocean, spawning occurs in the fall months. There is some debate on the presence of a resident species of Masu salmon that may also participate in spawning.