As trout anglers in and around the Lake Tahoe region, we love our hard-fighting wild fish. The feeling of a sizable rainbow moving downstream and making powerful head shakes is what drives us out of bed in the mornings. What if there was a rainbow trout even more hardcore than our wild McCloud strain? Well, that award would, without doubt, go to the steelhead.

Pacific steelhead are the ideal cross between salmon and trout. They are born in anadromous rivers and tributaries, then work their way to the ocean, where they spend a few years bulking up and dodging predators.

They then come back to the river they were born in to continue the life cycle and spawn. Unlike salmon, steelhead are able to spawn three or four times before they die. Because of their usual four to six year lifespan, they can get big.

A steelhead trout in a shallow creek
One of an estimated 400 remaining southern steelhead, photo courtesy of Mark Capelli

Unfortunately, steelhead have been driven out of much of their native range, particularly in Southern California. There are currently estimated to be around 400 southern steelhead left on Earth. If you drove south from Alaska, you’d notice that steelhead are more and more scarce the further south you drive, right to Los Angeles.

There’s still hope for southern steelhead though! Biologists and engineers are teaming up to reconstruct a five-mile stretch of the Los Angeles river flood channel to prime it for spawning steelhead. With any luck, steelhead should be able to once again spawn in a more natural place, and their population is expected to increase once the project is finished.

Learn more about what’s being done to help the critically endangered southern steelhead at this L.A Times article.

Ryan Rintala | Social Media @mattheronflyfishing