Fishing for Coastal Rainbow Trout / Steelhead


  • Highly variable in color and body shape, especially between resident fish and steelhead.
  • Adults are silver and heavily spotted with small black spots.
  • Iridescent pink or red along the lateral band.
  • Numerous black spots pepper the body and dorsal fin, often radiating in lines along the rays of the tail.
  • Opercula (cheeks) are pink, the back iridescent blue to nearly brown, and the sides and belly silver, white or yellow.
  • Juveniles have oval parr marks along the lateral line that are large and dark.
  • Steelhead are known for their large size, silver-blue ‘chrome’ color, and square-shaped tail.
Coastal rainbow trout captured in Agua Blanca Creek
Agua Blanca Creek coastal rainbow trout.
Hatchery steelhead trout captured in the Trinity River
Trinity River hatchery steelhead. CDFW photo by Eric Crump.


  • Native to parts of Asia and North America.
  • In the U.S., found from the Kuskokwim River in Alaska south to Baja California.
  • Most widely-distributed trout form in California.
  • Found in watersheds draining to the Pacific Ocean.
Clavey River
Clavey River.
Map of coastal rainbow trout historic watersheds - click to enlarge in new window
(click to enlarge)


Rainbow trout are, by far, the most popular cold-water species amongst anglers in California (and perhaps the world) due to:

  • widespread distribution
  • willingness to take all forms of tackle and bait
  • reputation as hard-fighting fish, regardless of size

Due to the large variety of habitats in which coastal rainbow trout are found, specific recommendations on fishing techniques and terminal tackle are difficult to provide. Check with local fishing shops in the area you intend to fish to get tips on localized conditions and suggested tackle.

Steelhead Report Card

Putah Creek
Putah Creek.
Sacramento River
Lower Sacramento River.

Fisheries Branch
1010 Riverside Parkway, West Sacramento, CA 95605 |