Rainbow Trout fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
For many years the rainbow was considered a near relative of the
Brown trout, and it was given the scientific name Salmo gairdneri. The rainbow more closely akin to the Pacific salmons and the
Cutthroat trout of the West. Its scientific name was changed to reflect that link. Like those salmons, some rainbows run to the ocean or a large sealike lake, like the Great Lakes, if they have access, returning upstream for spawning. Then they are called
Steelhead (they appear steel-colored, or more silvery, than stream rainbows). Rainbows are flashy fighters when hooked, jumping out of the water more than other trout.
The rainbow trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss, is a species of salmonid native to the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America including the central, western, eastern, and especially the northern portions of the United States. It has also been introduced into New Zealand, Australia, South America, Africa, Japan, southern Asia, Europe and Hawaii.
Rainbow trout are silvery-gray to dark-green on the back and sides. They have a pinkish or reddish lateral stripe, sometimes with lavendar or orange overtones, from the gill cover running the length of the fish to the tail. The caudal fin has rows of small dark spots, and there are more small blackish spots sprinkled on the head and sides, and spotting on the dorsal and adipose fins. The belly is whitish. The lower fins are pale-pink without spots. At spawning time, males become deeply colored with an intensely red side stripe. Steelhead can be separated from similar-looking
Coho salmon and
Chinook salmon by looking at the inside of the mouth. The mouth is completely white in the Steelhead.
In the salmons, the mouth has some gray or black. Steelhead and other deepwater, big-lake rainbows are more silvery than stream fish, with less of a side stripe. Great Lakes steelhead can grow to 30 inches and larger.
The average length of a rainbow trout is 12-18 inches and the steelhead is 20-30 inches. A mature steelhead usually weighs 8-9 lbs but has been known to reach 36 lbs. The body is somewhat compressed with a rounded snout and a large mouth. The spawning male experiences minor changes to its head, mouth and color. Stream residents and spawners are darker with more intense coloring and lake residents are lighter, brighter and more silvery. They range from steel-blue, blue-green, yellow-green to almost brown. Steelhead tend to be more silvery. All have a number of small black spots. The coloring chamges drastically over the whole of its range.
Rainbows are considered fastwater fish, preferring the swift runs and riffle areas of streams. They may live in small creeks, as well as suitable spots in large rivers, the tailwaters of dams, and in lakes and reservoirs. As trout, rainbows live in cold, clean, well-oxygenated water. Their optimum water temperature is about 55ºF (21°C). Although they do best when the water is under 70ºF (13°C), they can withstand temperatures into the 70s if there is plenty of oxygen and a cool, shady place to which they can retreat. Rainbows are the trout least tolerant of acidity. They do best in slightly alkaline waters. As steelhead, rainbows inhabit the cool waters of large lakes, especially Lake Erie and other Great Lakes, as well as oceans. Rainbow trout respond well to hatchery culture and have been introduced for sport fishing throughout the world. In some places, especially the mountains of the southeastern United States, introduced rainbows have encroached on native brook trout populations.
Rainbows also eat fish, as well as plankton, snails, leeches and fish eggs. They take a variety of anglers’ flies, lures and baits. Rainbows have been intensively cultured in fish hatcheries. Strains have been developed that are of various colors, are tolerant of warm water, grow rapidly, resist disease and spawn at times different from the rainbow’s natural spawning time. The lifespan of the steelhead in the Great Lakes is 6 to 8 years. Small-stream rainbows may live only to be 3 to 4 years old.
Rainbow trout are considered spring spawners, but steelhead may enter streams to spawn from late fall through spring. Spawning takes place when the water temperature is about 50 degrees, over gravel beds with good water flow. Rainbow trout move upstream to find the proper spawning area. Rainbows in lakes seek tributary streams. Like other trout, the female rainbow prepares the nest depression by turning on her side and “kicking” against the bottom gravel with her body and fins. Male rainbows are aggressive on the spawning grounds, driving other males away from the female’s nest. When the actual spawning takes place, several males may be beside the female. The females produce several hundred to over 12,000 eggs, depending on their size. After the eggs are deposited into the gravel and fertilized, no parental care is given. The eggs hatch in four to seven weeks. The fry take up to another week in the gravel to absorb the yolk sac. Then they become free-swimming. Most rainbows are sexually mature when they reach about 3 to 5 years old.
Self-sustaining populations of rainbow trout are found only in a few scattered streams. But mature rainbows, especially Steelhead that have run up Lake Erie tributaries, spawn and successfully produce young. However, adult returns are mostly comprised of hatchery-released fish. Unlike salmon, which die after spawning, steelhead can spawn again, returning to the ocean or large lake to grow even bigger before the next year’s spawning run. Steelhead also follow other spawning fish migrating upstream and prey on their eggs and young. Rainbows feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects, crayfish and other crustaceans.
Summer Fishing Techniques
Summer fly-fishing in rivers of at least 8 feet deep will catch the May to October steelhead. With a standard nine-foot fly rod, a weight-forward sinking line will facilitate easier long-distance casts of weighted flies. There are innumerable steelhead fly patterns, and many anglers check their local fishing or sport shops to discover which seasonal patterns are effective.
Smaller than winter steelhead, summer steelies hold in pools downstream from white-water river riffles. In the summer, the fish are in deeper water and presentation is more important than the fly pattern.
Cast upstream into pools, letting the fly drift, or occasionally twitch the line. If the steelhead follow but do not strike a drifting fly, change the lure to a fly one size smaller. Repeat casting to the same pool; a steelhead may strike after twenty or more casts. When fly-fishing, anglers must be careful not to spook the fish with undue splashing and many false casts.
Winter Fishing Techniques
When the fall rains begin along the Pacific Northwest coast, the bright silver steelhead move into the rivers. Spinning or bait casting equipment works best when fishing the high waters of winter. Protected by large boulders, steelhead lie near the bottom of a moderately flowing river, in water four to eight feet deep.
The same tactics apply to winter fishing as to summer fishing, except the fish are in deeper water, and are comparatively larger. The colder water slows the activity of the fish, and bait works to attract the still fish more effectively than lures or flies. Popular winter baits include canned or fresh roe, night crawlers, single eggs, Egg-drifter Balls, or Okie Drifters.
One technique is to rig the bait, and tie a three-way swivel to the end of the line. Tie one or two feet of line above the hook to one eyelet of the swivel. Attach a four-inch piece of four-pound test monofilament and a pencil sinker to the lower eyelet of the swivel. Bring extra weights, lures, and hooks because this kind of fishing results in many hang-ups on the river bottom.
Cast around thirty feet upstream past a suspected fish, and allow the bait to settle with the current and move along the bottom beyond the lying fish. Steelhead will softly hold bait for a few seconds, and seasoned anglers set the hook the moment the bait stops bouncing along the bottom.
In some areas, lures are more effective than bait. In clear, low water conditions use smaller spoons and spinner lures. Larger bright lures produce in dark water. With wobblers and cherry bobber lures, do not add any weight - sinkers disrupt the lure action. To catch steelhead, lures should bounce along the bottom. If the lure does not produce on a cast, try letting the lure coast in the current at the end of a drift. Replacing treble hooks with single hooks will help avoid hang-ups in obstruction-filled areas.
Lake Fishing Techniques
In the early spring, anglers fish the lakes and ponds using spinning gear, a light or medium rod, and reels spooled with 6 - 8 lbs test line. One popular rig is simply a split shot or a light weight attached a foot-and-a-half above the hook. Worms, night crawlers, salmon eggs, corn, small marshmallows, and pieces of cheese are cast into water 6 to 10 feet deep, and left to sit on the bottom.
Other techniques include suspending the rig 3 or 4 feet beneath a bobber and waiting for a school of rainbows to swim near, or casting spinning lures from the shoreline. Troll spinning lures (Goldfish, small gold Castmasters, yellow Rooster Tails), small spoons, buck tails, and streamer flies near the surface. To coax hesitant fish into taking the lure, add a piece of night crawler to a treble hook on the lure. In small bodies of water, a night crawler fished on the bottom of the deepest area often results in hooking summer rainbows.
In the summer when water surface temperatures reach over 65ºF (18°C), rainbows swim for deeper, oxygen-rich water at temperatures between 55ºF and 60ºF (from 13 to 16°C). Surface feeding occurs very early in the morning if the lake waters are still cool, but on stormy summer days the rainbows may actively feed on the surface at all times of the day. When rainbows move to deeper waters, a depth finder and down rigger are generally needed to catch the fish.
Stream Fishing Techniques
In early spring, rainbows prefer streams with fast currents and fallen trees, large rocks, or undercut banks. Similar to steelheading, bait fishing for rainbows demands the same responsive touch as the bait moves along the bottom. The bait must be presented close to the fish, because the cold waters reduce active feeding. Many anglers use the same fishing gear for lake fishing as they use for stream fishing, or they use a light spinning reel on a fly rod for better control and response. Worms, night crawlers, salmon eggs, corn, small dead minnows, and live nymphs are excellent baits.
Fly-fishing for rainbows is exceptional in the summer. When the waters warm, fly-fishermen use weighted nymphs, buck tails, and streamers. Rainbows become selective feeders as the summer progresses, but during the aquatic insect season, wet flies thrown across the current and left to drift downstream or directed into pockets will often produce a strike. In the low and clear streams, rainbows feed in fast water during the day. At daybreak, rainbows search pools for small minnows, but as the waters warm they look for aquatic insects and grasshoppers. During the early-morning pool feedings, use gently presented buck tail and streamer flies and small spinning lures. During day feeding, use grasshoppers or experiment with different flies until the rainbows respond. After a summer rain, use night crawlers or worms.