Rainbow Trout Facts

Rainbow Trout
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Science Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss
Other Names: bow, redsides, red-band trout, silver trout, steelhead, kamloops
Ideal Temp: 55 to 60
World Record: 42 lbs. 2 ounces, Alaska
Environment: lake, stream, coastal
Techniques: Light tackle, light tackle fly

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 pounds but has been known to reach 36 pounds. 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 changes drastically over the whole of its range.

Rainbow trout commonly hybridize with other salmonids, primarily cutthroat and golden trout.

Table Quality:
Depending on the fishes diet, the meat can be white to orange-red in color. The meat is firm, flaky and is considered excellent eating. Like most trout species, the meat is better fresh than frozen.

Sporting Qualities:
Rainbow trout are one of the most highly prized game fish for anglers throughout their native and introduced ranges. Their widespread availability, acrobatic fighting ability and delectable meat make them one of the most popular freshwater fish. Instead of heading for cover when hooked, as many other trout will do, rainbows will often immediately leap out of the water, then continue these leaps until they are either landed or manage to break free. Due to a number of factors – habitat, season, and whether they are stocked or wild – rainbow trout can be extremely easy or quite difficult to catch. Wild trout in a small stream are normally wary of unnatural-looking baits or lures, whereas freshly stocked fish in a pond or community lake may readily strike a wide variety of presentations. Whether an angler uses fly-casting or spinning equipment depends on angler preference and the natural food of the fish in any given body of water. In a river, where rainbow trout feed mainly upon insects, fly-casting methods are commonly preferred, while on big lakes, where rainbow trout feed on forage fish, trolling and spinning methods often have the most success. (Use of live bait to catch rainbow trout is restricted in some areas, so check with the local state fish and game department.)

Rainbow trout prefer clear cold-water streams with gravel or rocky bottoms, deep pools, and natural cover. They also thrive in large lakes with cool, deep waters. Though the temperature tolerance of rainbow trout is from 32 F to over 70 F, their ideal temperature range is between 55 and 60 F. They are found in fast moving water, often at the head of rapids or strong riffles, under vegetation and around rocks, fallen trees, or other structures. Stocked rainbow trout can adapt well to virtually any waters in its preferred temperature range, but they need proper habitat, year-round ideal temperatures, and food sources for long-term survival.

Food Habits:
Rainbow trout are opportunistic feeders. Their diet is highly variable, with some fish seemingly taking nearly any living thing that drifts or swims by, as long as it’s small enough to engulf. In most cases, a given body of water will provide one or two staples of the rainbow’s diet, primarily insects or baitfish. The bulk of their diet is comprised of mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies and their larvae, small mollusks and baitfish. Fish eggs are another favorite food, particularly when rainbow trout share a stream with migrating salmon, as well as during their own spawning cycles. In large lakes, big rainbow trout feed mainly on baitfish, such as alewives, sculpins or smelt.

Fly Hatch Chart

Best Fly Fishing Boxes

Spawning Habits:
This species spawns from March to August in smaller streams. The female digs and spawns in several nests depositing 800-1000 eggs in each redd. These eggs usually hatch 4-7 weeks later. The life expectancy can be as low as 3-4 years but generally the steelhead lives 6-8 years. They first feed on plankton then insects and as they grow older, crustaceans and other fish.

Age and Growth:
Rainbows grow to exceptional size. The life span of a rainbow may be as long as 12 years, depending on the location.

Tips for Lake and River Fishing:
Most steelhead trout caught in Lake Erie are caught while trolling deep running crankbaits and spoons for walleye. In the early fall, however, shore anglers east of Cleveland begin catching steelhead using spoons or jigs tipped with maggots. After fish begin moving upstream later in the fall, spawn bags, salmon eggs, flies, minnows, and worms can be productive. The best locations for steelhead are pools with deep water (2 feet or more) with some current. Steelhead prefer slower moving water in the winter, but move into shallower, swifter water in the spring where they are often caught on flies, spinners, minnow-shaped crankbaits, and jigs with maggots. River trout perform well on Powerbaits.

Range for Rainbow Trout

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