What the heck happens to steelhead in the ocean? Where do they go? While ocean anglers catch tens of thousands of salmon every season off the West Coast, steelhead are encountered about as often as purple unicorns.
Well, here’s maybe a hint: A couple buddies of mine were trolling big plugs at 8 mph for albacore 20 miles off the Northern California coast when something strange happened…they caught a steelhead.
When the 8-pound hatchery hen hit, it started going bananas, jumping all over the place behind the boat. The thought that it was steelhead never entered their minds. At first the guys figured they had a dorado on. Then they thought it might be a yellowtail. As it got closer, the steelie looked like a coho.
But when they got her boatside, the fish was obviously a steelhead — and a gorgeous one at that.
After a few quick photos, they let her go, knowing that they had just seen something that few anglers ever witness — a steelhead in saltwater.
A small sample size, to be sure, but perhaps this sheds a bit of light on the ocean migration patterns of sea-run rainbows. Could it be that they like a bit warmer water than do their salmon cousins — and thus live much furthers offshore? If steelies spent most of their salt time well off the coast, that would explain why so few are caught by salmon trollers.
I donna…just taking a guess here!