steelhead fishing tips

Steelhead Trout feed on schools of bait fish regardless of depth of the bait fish

When we talk about deep water for Rainbow Trout, we’re discussing 3 main habitats:

  1. ocean habitat
  2. stream and river habitat
  3. lake habitat

Each habitat has different characteristics that leads to different sized fish and they can be found at different depths.

Steelhead fishing tips

Rainbow Trout found in the ocean are called Steelhead Trout. They are the same species.


They can be caught between 10 to 15 pounds. While the largest ever caught is similar in size to the largest Rainbow Trout, Steelheads are on average much bigger than their freshwater dwelling counterparts.


The ocean is much cooler than the lakes so you’ll find them closer to the surface in summer than their freshwater cousins.


Locating them in the ocean requires much more skill and knowledge of the area as there’s a lot more area to cover. You can also  deeper than in lakes and rivers.

  • The best way to locate them is by knowing where the schools of baitfish are located
  • Use medium tackle for ocean fishing Steelhead

Steelhead Trout travel in schools and can be found feeding on schools of popular baitfish regardless of the depth of the bait fish.

River Habitat and Depth

Rivers and streams can be as deep as 50 feet in some parts of their distribution. However most of the time, these rivers don’t get much deeper than 20 feet.


Rainbow Trout can be found in riffles and pools in the summer months as deep as the river permits. Generally they don’t get much bigger than a few pounds and are much smaller than their ocean and lake dwelling counterparts. Their size varies greatly depending on which lake watershed they are found in.

Lake Habitat and Depth

For Rainbows found in small lakes in Europe and other colder climates like Canada and the United States, their size often tops around 4 to 5 pounds.


Those caught in the Great Lakes grow much bigger due to the abundance of food in that watershed. They can often reach 10lbs. However the largest Rainbow Trout ever caught, as far as we know, was found in Diefenbaker Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada. This is not a very big lake so there are always exceptions. You never know where the big fish are hiding.


In the summer generally you won’t have much success when fishing in water less than 15 feet deep. Rainbow Trout are found below the thermocline, which is where the temperature is between 55°F to 64°F. In summer this may be as deep as 30 to 40 feet and they may be found as deep as 60 feet when they’re not feeding.

Rainbow Trout Food Preferences

  • In lakes they can be caught with alewife, smelt, minnows, earth worms, leeches and crayfish.
  • For river bound Rainbows, fly fishing is the best method, even when they are found deep. The use of wet flies are best and use wet flies that resemble both aquatic and terrestrial insects.
  • For those found in the ocean, popular foods that work when they are deep include squid, crustaeceans, smelt, and small fish.

Rigging for Deep Water Rainbow Trout

Fishing lakes and the ocean

  • medium tackle is recommended as the Rainbow Trout are much bigger as are the other predatory fish that will be after the same bait fish
  • Use a line weight of 8 to 10 pounds

If you’re fishing the ocean or brackish water, make sure that you’re fishing with saltwater gear. Be sure to grease and clean your rod regularly when fishing saltwater to make sure that your gear will last.