Rainbow vs Steelhead Trout: What’s the difference?

If you’re a trout fisherman, then you probably heard of both rainbow trout and steelhead trout. What’s the difference between the two? Today we’ll discuss the differences between rainbow and steelhead trout, as well as how to catch them. So if you’re looking to add some new fish to your list, read on!

The main difference between rainbow and steelhead trout

Rainbow trout and steelhead trout are actually the same species. But they’re also different.

The main difference between rainbow and steelhead trout is that steelhead are an anadromous fish.

That means that they can live in both fresh water and salt water. This comes in handy because steelhead can travel to the ocean, where they feed and grow larger, then return to rivers and streams to spawn. Rainbow trout, on the other hand, are a freshwater fish and can’t survive in salt water.


Another difference between rainbow and steelhead trout is their coloration. Rainbows have a dark greenish-blue back with a pink strip along its side and black spots throughout.

Rainbow trout have a greenish back and a more pronounced pink strip

Steelheads are more of a silver color with few dark spots and a less pronounced pink stripes.

Steelhead Trout are usually more silvery

Steelheads coloration will change after their migration and they’ll actually start to look more like a regular rainbow trout.

How to catch steelhead trout

Steelhead fishing is pretty similar to salmon fishing. The main difference between catching steelheads vs salmons is that you need lighter tackle and smaller baits when targeting steelheads. You also want to fish in shallower water, as steelheads like to hang out in riffles and runs.

There are a variety of baits that you can use when fishing for steelhead trout. Some popular choices include: salmon eggs, spawn bags, worms, minnows, and jigs. When it comes to lures, spoons and spinners are a good choice.

Steelhead can be caught all year round, but the best time to fish for them is from late fall to early spring.

How to catch rainbow trout

Rainbow trout are also a popular species of fish to target.

The best way to catch rainbow trout is by using a spinning rod with lures or bait. Some popular baits include worms, salmon eggs, minnows, spinners and spoons. Learn more about the best bait for rainbow trout.

Rainbows can be caught all year round, but the best time to fish for them is from late fall through early spring. If you’re looking to catch some big rainbows in the winter months, then try fishing at dusk or dawn when they are feeding on small baitfish such as minnows and sculpins.

Can you eat steelhead trout?

Yes, you can eat steelhead trout. In fact, they are a very tasty fish and many people consider them to be better than rainbow trout.

What about eating rainbow trout?

You can also eat rainbow trout, and I have many times. They are a very popular sportfish, but they’re also a great choice for dinner. Rainbow trout are especially good baked, broiled, or grilled.


Well, as we’ve seen, they are both the same species but have some key differences. Rainbows are a freshwater fish that can’t survive in salt water, while steelheads are an anadromous fish that can live in both fresh and salt water.

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