Washington State Fish: An Introduction to Steelhead Trout
Aug 30, 2019 | 3 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Washington has some of the best Steelhead fishing in the world. Anglers come from all around the country to battle the Evergreen State’s monster ocean-going Trout. There’s no bad time to target them, either, with two river runs and a chance of saltwater action. It’s only fitting, then, that the Washington state fish is Steelhead Trout

An angler in a hood and cap holding a big Steelhead on a boat on a river

Trout fishing is great in Washington, sure, but what makes Steelhead stand out from the rest of the state’s Trout species? Where should you go to catch them, and when? Read on to find out all this and more!

Why is Steelhead Trout Washington’s state fish?

Steelhead became the state fish of Washington in 1969, but they’ve always been a favorite among Washington’s anglers. That’s saying a lot, considering you can also target five other species of Trout and four different species of Salmon here. There are just a couple of the things that set Steelhead Trout above the rest.

The Best of Both Worlds

Steelhead are the same as Rainbow Trout, but with one key difference: They spend much of their life in the ocean, then return to the rivers to spawn. This means that you can target them in both saltwater and freshwater, which opens up a huge range of ways to catch them.

A close-up of a Steelhead Trout, the Washington State Fish
Fly fishing is the most iconic way to target Steelhead, but it’s not the only one.

Like the sound of wading through Washington’s remote rivers with a fly rod in hand? Steelhead will happily put you through your paces. Prefer the thought of shore fishing in the Puget Sound? You can still count Steelies among your many targets. There’s something for every angler’s taste.

One Fish, Two Runs

Even though they’re ocean-going, most of the state’s Steelie action happens in freshwater. Washington enjoys two separate river runs which tag each other out over the course of the year. Summer-run Steelhead make their way into the rivers as adolescents and mature as they journey upstream. Winter Steelhead are mature and ready to take on their spawning form when they hit freshwater.

“That’s great, but what does it mean for me?” Put simply, you can target Steelhead twice as often. The winter run is in season November through March. The summer run lasts from June through September. Throw in the appearance of hatchery Steelhead in fall, and you can fish pretty much year-round if you’re willing to travel to the right river.

Steelhead Trout: The Perfect Game Fish

A lady angler holding a large Steelhead Trout aboard a drift boat on a river in Washington

Washingtonians are spoiled for choice when it comes to the state’s game fish. The rivers are full of Salmons and Trouts. The sea is home to huge Lingcod, Albacore, Halibut, and more. Even so, the state’s Steelhead more than deserve their place as the Washington state fish. They’re big, they’re mean, and they’re around almost all year. In short, they’re the perfect game fish.

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Comments (2)
  • James Chamberlain

    Sep 16, 2019

    I’m coming up there and I want to go fishing for the steel head trout can you hook me up give me some direction And also send me the directions I will be driving from Laguna Beach California local directions in your area thank you

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      Sep 17, 2019

      Hi James,

      Washington’s a pretty big place. I’m afraid I can’t really give you directions to one specific spot.

      What I would recommend is to take a look at our guide to fly fishing in Washington. It has a good overview of the state’s freshwater bite. Once you have a rough idea of where you want to go, you can look for a fishing guide who will show you the best spots around.

      I hope that helps!

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