Did you know that there is a fish that can move between salt water and freshwater? Yep, right here in Michigan, the Rainbow Trout! Of course, in the upper midwest, we're not near the ocean so there is no saltwater to be found. However, the rainbow trout moves from freshwater rivers to the ocean and back to freshwater rivers in the Northern coasts of North America.
This rainbow trout exhibits the same behavior here in MIchigan but instead of traveling to the ocean to spend a year or three, they travel to the Great Lakes. So, in specific rivers along the Great Lakes, these mighty fish are born or planted in a river and spend a year or two there growing. Then they swim out the Great Lakes and attain huge sizes! Not as huge as the ocean-run rainbow trout but pretty big! They then return to the river they were born in to mate & lay eggs. These large rainbows returning from the Great Lakes are known as "Steelhead" by local fisherman due to their coloring and shape.
Once in a Great Lake, they lose much of the greenish brown camouflage that protects them so well in the river. They turn a brilliant silvery shiny steel grey. They are also much larger and stronger than a rainbow who doesn't travel out to big water. As they return to the rivers to spawn (mate), they are a prized fish for fisherman. They are moving in the fall and early spring when the water is very cold. They don't feed much as they are single mindedly attempting to lay and fertilize eggs. The tough weather and water conditions paired with a fish who is not especially interested in feeding on whatever you throw in front of it, makes catching these fish a real challenge. But when they are caught, it is even tougher to reel them in. They are significantly larger than anything else in the river, quite strong and incredibly feisty. They also happen to be a prized fish for the dinner table.
So if you're lucky enough to find yourself on a trout stream in February or march, look down and see if you can spot one of these goliaths in the shallows. If you drive by a place where a trout river crosses the road or a public access site and see 30 cars and trucks with boat trailers around, chances are, they're fishing for Steelhead.