Steelhead or Trout? [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Steelhead or Trout?

07-06-2006, 07:38 PM
This is a question related to SSPey's thread about follow-ups.

For those that fish where there are both trout and steelhead, how do you distingush looks or pulls from trout vs. steelhead? I have been fooled so many times.

The rat-tat-tat type of grab is an obvious trout. A huge boil, moving lots of water, is obviously a steelhead. But what of the in-between situations:

A hard thump?
A pull?
A boil that moves a small to modest amount of water?

I've had light pulls on a cast, changed flies, and had similar pulls that ended in a solid hookup to a steelhead.

I've had steelhead hookups on a waker that seemed just like a trout to an elk hair caddis. I've even missed steelhead by failing to set the hook when I was incorrectly certain that the rise was from a trout. (My buddy watching from above saw that particular episode.)

I've had hard thumps, with no rat-tat-tat, that seemed like it had to be from a big fish, but a subsequent cast verified to be a trout.

My usual approach is to hope it was a steelhead, but if I suspect trout I will try and prove it by fishing a trouty fly, such as a soft hackle or small dark wet.

How do you distinguish between grabs, if possible? If not, what do you do if fishing water where both subspecies are present to identify what approached your fly?


07-06-2006, 09:57 PM
heck if I know how to tell the difference. To complicate matters, I've had several times when "rat-tat-tats" turned into weighty steelhead on the end of the line.

One strategy that I employ is to fish 1/0 wets pretty regularly. On the waters that I fish, it is the very rare trout that gets it maw around a fly that big.