Salmon and steelhead are two of essentially the most prized gamefish within the U.S., and so they’re typically lumped collectively inside angling circles and discussions. This occurs as a result of these fish are ceaselessly locked in a little bit of a turf struggle, if you’ll. All through the nation, they co-exist, and inside a lot of their ranges, the place you discover one, you’ll discover the opposite. However regardless of salmon and steelhead sharing our bodies of water, they’re wildly completely different when it comes to habits and habits, requiring considerably distinction fishing approaches. It’s not unusual for anglers to be diehards for one species or the opposite, so, when you’re on the fence about which one you’d reasonably get after, this breakdown of salmon vs steelhead will provide help to choose a camp.
Wild Fish vs Hatchery Fish
You’ll be able to’t focus on salmon vs steelhead with out understanding the fundamentals of their availability. Traditionally, these fish had been native to the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska, and to this present day no different area provides extra salmon selection. Prized king, silver, and sockeye salmon nonetheless have hundreds of anglers clamoring to fish Alaska and British Columbia every year, however even when the first targets elude you, pink salmon and chum salmon will bend your rod in these areas.
Wild salmon spend most of their time within the Pacific Ocean, returning to coastal rivers to spawn from late spring by early fall. Wild steelhead, that are basically massive rainbow trout, do the identical. They’re born in coastal rivers and ultimately return to the ocean the place plentiful forage helps them develop a lot greater than inland trout and ramps up their power and tenacity. Many anglers—no matter which salmon vs steelhead camp they match into—really feel that the solely salmon and steelhead worthy of concentrating on are actually wild fish that spend time in saltwater, nonetheless, you don’t have to go to the West Coast to catch them.
For many years, an plentiful steelhead and Pacific salmon fishery has existed within the Nice Lakes. This, after all, was fully manufactured by imprinting hatchery raised fry with water collected from Nice Lakes tributaries. The open water of the huge lakes is a stand in for the ocean, the place salmon and steelhead spend many of the summer season. Come fall, they return to the tributaries the place they had been born (and the place hundreds of anglers line as much as hook them). Although there’s overlap between salmon and steelhead runs throughout the Nice Lakes, how and whenever you get after them varies fairly a bit.
The important thing distinction within the salmon vs steelhead dialogue is that when a salmon returns to a river to spawn, it’s going to die after it completes its mission. Most of you could have doubtless seen photographs or video of rivers in Alaska suffering from rotting salmon carcasses. Although it might appear grotesque, it’s the circle of life, because the decaying fish feed wildlife like bears and birds, and the vitamins reabsorbed into the ecosystem maintain vegetation joyful and wholesome. However due to this demise march, it’s essential to take into account timing extra within the salmon recreation.
The target is to catch them after they’re as contemporary as attainable, as their our bodies start breaking down as quickly as they enter a river. Subsequently, many individuals who need salmon for the desk spend time trolling within the Nice Lakes or simply off the West Coast in the summertime, because the fish are contemporary and wholesome. The longer a salmon has been within the river, the much less appetizing will probably be in your plate. For that reason, anglers attempt to time the run in order that they’re intercepting salmon that simply entered the river, which frequently has them fishing as near the lake or ocean as attainable.
Not lengthy after a salmon enters a river, it additionally stops feeding completely. Many individuals who see images of fishermen mean-mugging with large river fish don’t understand that these salmon hit a lure, fly, or chunk of salmon eggs strictly out of annoyance, not starvation. As they advance upstream, they’re so targeted on spawning that the drive to feed is shut off fully, but when one thing will get proper of their face as they’re shifting from level A to B, they “swat” at it with their mouths identical to you’d swat at a bee buzzing in your face along with your arms.
Like salmon, steelhead additionally return to the river of their delivery to spawn. Nonetheless, steelhead don’t die, permitting them to return to the lake or ocean and create a number of new generations of fish—making this one other key distinction within the salmon vs steelhead debate. Steelhead additionally proceed feeding closely as soon as they enter a river. Through the fall on the Nice Lakes, steelhead are drawn again to their delivery rivers early, following the salmon as a result of they know their eggs will present a protein-rich meals supply. The steelhead gained’t spawn till late winter or early spring in lots of areas, however they’ll pack on kilos forward of the chilly, which creates a bonus for anglers. Not solely will they hit a wide range of egg flies, egg beads, and pure salmon eggs, however they’ll additionally smack baitfish-imitating choices like spinners and streamer flies.
Whereas salmon alternatives will fade away as the autumn presses on and the fish proceed to die, steelhead may be caught all winter (when you can stand the chilly) and even into early spring as they return—or “drop again”—to the lake or ocean. Within the Pacific Northwest, steelhead can be found virtually year-round, as completely different waves of fish enter coastal rivers all through the season. Likewise, winters are much less harsh on this area, making it extra tolerable to fish than alongside a lot of the Nice Lakes shoreline. Nonetheless, hundreds of anglers who wish to be a part of the “chosen frozen” will courageous the chilliness to tie into winter metal from New York to Michigan, because the fierce runs and stamina of those hard-fighting fish is downright addicting.