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Rainbow (Steelhead) Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss
Photo by USDA

Rainbow trout are usually dark-olive in color, shading to silvery-white on the underside with a heavily speckled body and a pink to red stripe running along their sides. They are a unique species that develop differently depending on their environment. While all rainbow trout hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, some stay in fresh water all their lives and others migrate out to the oceans are commonly called steelhead. The individuals that live in the ocean develop a much more pointed head, become more silvery in color, and typically grow much larger than the individuals that remain in fresh water. They usually return to the same streams they hatched from to spawn.

Rainbow (Steelhead) Trout
(Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Native to North America west of the Rockies from Alaska into northwestern Mexico; introduced all over North America

Andromous; in fresh water lakes and streams as well as sea (fresh water- rainbow trout, anadromous- steelhead)

Small fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and insects


The status of this species is representative of the populations within the waters of this Sanctuary only, not global populations.

Quick Fact
Rainbow/steelhead trout are tough fighters and excellent tasting making them one of the most popular North American sport fish.

Learn More
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources
- Texas Parks and Wildlife
- Fisheries Global Information System