Can you tell a steelhead by the fight? - Spey Pages
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 01:21 PM Thread Starter
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Can you tell a steelhead by the fight?

I have caught trout, smallmouth bass, and suckers while swinging flies for steelhead. It is pretty easy to tell within a few seconds whether the fish is a steelhead or one of those species.

It gets a lot trickier when there are other anadromous fish around, particularly coho. Two months ago, I hooked and lost a very large fish in an Alaskan river. The fish dashed upstream, then back down, thrashed near the surface, but never jumped, then broke me off with a head shake. I felt pretty certain it was a steelhead, though there were coho in the river, undoubtedly in larger numbers. All I saw of the fish was a silver flash. A big silver flash.

So, here's a question for those familiar with both species - can you, by the nature of the fish's fight, tell a coho from a steelhead?

Last edited by steelhead23; 11-21-2019 at 11:53 AM.
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 01:40 PM
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Dime-bright coho are a close second

I fish the Skeena system and encounter both, but typically far from the salt where the steelhead's superior endurance almost always self-identifies on the second run. Cohos can fight like a steelhead for the first 30 seconds or so (as can large bull trout), but on that crucial second run tend to run out of gas. However, on those uncommon occasions when fishing close to the salt (say in the Skeena below Terrace), I've hooked Northern coho that have almost spooled me, making for comic viewing as an aging angler stumbles and bumbles downstream furiously reeling to get a few wraps back on the reel.

* * * * *

FWIW, August warm water sockeye fight like hell, too, but we don't speak of them much as they're most often lined.

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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 02:02 PM
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Usually, but it depends on what other species are in the river at the same time. Since I'm fishing for steelhead, I almost always think the fish that just struck is a steelhead, that is, until it behaves like a Chinook salmon, or a coho salmon, or a bull trout. I've even had nice cutthroat take my waking Muddler and thought it was a steelhead for the first two seconds. I've never had a fish on for long enough to nearly land it before realizing what species it is.
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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 04:15 PM
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In my experience, especially when I lose the fish without seeing it, it's always a steelhead in the 75-100 lb range.
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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 08:28 PM
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Iím in agreement about generally being able to tell when Iíve got a Steelhead on the line...unless there are also fresh Coho/Silvers around as well. My experiences are that those two fish have a large overlap in terms of behavior once hooked, ferocity, speed, acrobatics, etc. It seems like there are some differences between the two, generally, but even there I feel there are many exceptions with both species. I have been fooled several times thinking I had one vs the other, both ways. Fortunately both are a thrill! 😁
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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 09:53 PM
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I think the answer is no if there are other good fish around, despite how we all feel. The best fighting steelhead i hooked this year on the babine was a coho, and not even a very bright one... I have also hooked fresh sockeye around terrace that I was sure were steelhead until I got them in. On the Pitt river near Vancouver the sea run bull trout pull harder than steelhead (they are also bigger than the steelhead). I’m all for more good fish to catch so I don’t view this as a problem.
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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-19-2019, 11:55 PM
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I have hooked hot bright pink salmon that I initially mistook for steelhead. Larger sockeye can feel like a steelhead for a few moments. Lots of fun to make these kinds of bad forecasts.

Sometimes the most notable differences are within the steelhead clan. On a system with hot fish, what's the average, I'm not sure, perhaps one out of 5, one out of 6 that is unbelievably pistol-hot. Where the sustained speeds can surpass all other anadromous salmonids. Or so it feels. Not all steelhead are created equal.

Coho tend to play themselves out very quickly. They are typically far more aerial than steelhead. In-river coho can look just like steelhead but unless the fish are both stale, coho and steelhead almost always behave differently on the line in my experience.

Coho are at their most exciting in the ocean. Never caught a steelhead in the ocean so impossible to compare.
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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-20-2019, 02:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steelhead23 View Post
I have caught trout, smallmouth bass, and suckers while swinging flies for steelhead. It is pretty easy to tell within a few seconds whether the fish is a steelhead or one of those species.

It gets a lot trickier when there are other anadromous fish around, particularly coho. Two months ago, I hooked and lost a very large fish on the Kenai near Soldotna, AK. The fish dashed upstream, then back down, thrashed near the surface, but never jumped, then broke me off with a head shake. I felt pretty certain it was a steelhead, though there were coho in the river. All I saw of the fish was a silver flash. A big silver flash.

So, here's a question for those familiar with both species - can you, by the nature of the fish's fight, tell a coho from a steelhead?


It has been my experience over and again that coho (hook in the mouth) will spin and roll in the water sometimes tangling the leader around their body. Playing a fish this way can be like bringing in dead weight. Very few times, less often that a steelhead rolled and tangled in the same way. Steelhead run and jump, clear of the water at times - pacific salmon tend roll on the surface. Chinook dive deep and hold in the current. It can be a tug-of-war at times.
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-20-2019, 08:27 PM
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Kind of a cool topic!! I find Steelhead to be awesome fighters with incredible stamina! I’m not sure if I can tell right away what I have, but unless the Chinook is dime bright and fresh (the best fight IMHO) usually pretty easy to tell!

Also, since we have gin clear 80’ visibility on Lake Superior, I’ve had the pleasure of watching steelhead fight after being hooked.......tons of rolling and spinning under water, awesome fighters! The chinook that come to the mouth of the St Mary’s rapids in late July / August are dime bright, on the feed, and will run harder and faster than anything!! There have been more than a few clients fishing for Atlantic’s in the boat that hook a chinook and in about 1 minute are staring at the arbor knot.....unreal

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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-20-2019, 09:35 PM
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Not to be too critical as I don't want to take away the main point the OP is saying but are there steelhead in the Kenai? I thought there were only resident O. mykiss there? Not a big deal for most I suppose but for some, the life history of our favorite game fish is a big deal.

For the most part, there are more steelhead individuals that have the potential to peel off fly line into your backing than coho. My experience is they jump about the same. Coho are famous for rolling and twisting when brought in close to the bank. When I'm fishing for steelhead, I still enjoy catching coho, but I'm always a little disappointed when it is not a steelhead because generally they are not as abundance as coho. That being said, I'd rather fish over a run with 10 undisturbed steelhead than 100 coho because I think day in and day out, they are better biters and not as moody.
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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-21-2019, 04:19 AM
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I always cringe when people mention the river and that species in the same sentence online. River is no secret but the other thing, I'd love to see you edit the details out.

There is a city with 350,000 people close enough to fill dozens of drift boats whit guys slinging beads and bobbers there and they do.

A guy posted something else about steelhead on here back in 2009 (same year I joined) and that ended up costing me a great fishing spot.
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-21-2019, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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My apologies as regards the place. I edited it out.
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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-21-2019, 01:54 PM
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I think the experiences with Coho really need to be qualified by how fresh they are, as that will vary how they behave tremendously! While the same can be true with steelhead, in my experience itís much less substantial: in other words Steelhead adjust much better to their fresh water existence than Coho. Almost all of my experiences with Coho have been with fish that are immediately out of saltwater, and Iíve found them to be extremely acrobatic and just as chaotic as similar sized steelhead ... sometimes even more so. Both have managed to get well into my backing pretty quickly a number of times, and both have managed to break off 15lb Maxima more than once. I also have a similarly humble ratio of hooked to landed fish with both species as well, but I donít feel the need to divulge those details. After a few days out of the salt they still can put up a respectable fight, but no where near the same intensity level as those right of the ocean. I personally donít see myself ever specifically targeting Coho other than in the salt or just out of the salt; steelhead of course Iím happy to target much further from sea.
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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-23-2019, 01:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steelhead23 View Post
My apologies as regards the place. I edited it out.
That was cool buddy!

I worried that I came off like a butt head as usual

You and I know there are no real secrets in the game but there are a lot of bead boys who really don't target that particular fish in that river. The rivers that are well known for these fish are predominated by rig slingers and I only ran into 2 guys fishing flies this fall. They were young men and I was walking the shore back toward an access point when I came upon them. I actually made small talk and when I saw those Intruder style flies I shook both their hands and wished them a good day.

Funny thing, for all the high speed rod whipping strikes I saw related to a bobber going under I saw only 2 steelhead caught by any of those guys this fall. I caught at least one each time I fished so those black tube flies I posted to the hooks & floss thread did really well

Oh, the original question? I'm no expert at catching fish and this fall I had to wait until I actually got a look at the fish (thank you Oakley Prizm Shallow) before I knew what I had. Some plowed along deep like a big Dolly, some took off like a Silver. It's always so cool when I'm straining to see through the water out there then say to myself, I'll be dammed that's a steelhead. That's when I know.

Ard
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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-25-2019, 12:35 PM Thread Starter
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Ard, you were right. It was clumsy and thoughtless of me to ID the place. I like to think that fish was a big steelie, but truly, it could have been either. I spent a couple of days tossing beads and staring at bobbers (when in Rome) - catching nothing but dollies. The big one I hooked on the swing. Sometimes it pays to go against the grain.
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