Skamania vs. Rainbow Trout: Similarities And Differences 

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A pro fisher proudly holds a big trout by a wintery river while having fun fly fishing.

If you’re disappointed about missing the spring steelhead run, there is still hope to catch chrome. People call that hope Skamania steelhead.

Skamania is a steelhead strain that runs upriver during the summer rather than the spring. 

What Is a Skamania Trout? 

Similar to steelhead and, therefore, rainbow trout, distinguishing a Skamania trout can be challenging. Here are a few clues to tell if you’ve caught Skamania.

Skamania Characteristics 

Skamania have slender bodies and a chrome and pink palette. Their torpedo shape and acrobatic displays are standard for any lucky angler.

By age 5, Skamania can reach over 30 inches long and approach 15 pounds. For someone catching dink inland brown trout, that doesn’t sound like such a bad size! 

Where To Find Skamania 

You might be wondering where to find this summer run steelhead. Being a hatchery fish, wildlife management plant Skamania into the Great Lakes yearly, particularly Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan

Depending on the time of year, anglers can chase Skamania in the Great Lake tributaries or troll on a charter.

Skamania tolerate warmer temperatures and show aggressive behavior in cooler temperatures. Because of this, anglers can catch Skamania nearshore, offshore, or inland. These opportunities make expanding Skamania hatchery programs a popular endeavor for many anglers. 

Skamania Origination 

Skamania steelhead come from a hatchery and are not a native fish. In the 1970s, the Skamania Hatchery in Washougal, Washington, transplanted Skamania from the Pacific Northwest to Indiana. Shortly after this, the Indiana DNR introduced this strain to Lake Michigan, where they are still prevalent today. 

Fish ladder helps fish at hatchery.

How To Catch Skamania 

Being a steelhead strain, Skamania seek similar water types and food. Anglers will have their best luck in shallow, moving water where their natural food washes downriver. Cast a line if you stumble upon a prominent eddy or confluence between slow and fast water. 

Regarding the style of fishing, outdoorsmen can catch Skamania on spinning or fly fishing gear. Worthy lures include eggs, nymphs, streamers, minnows, and spinners. 

What Is a Rainbow Trout? 

Rainbow trout and steelhead are similar. In fact, they’re the same fish but with different lifestyles. Therefore, a rainbow trout and Skamania share similar genetics too. 

However, the biggest difference is that rainbows are native fish, while hatcheries bred Skamania from steelhead genes.

Rainbow Trout Characteristics 

Rainbow trout have a silver, gray, or green body with a distinct pink stripe on its side and cheek. This subtle pink streak can often be missed, but you will notice it more often the more you fish. 

But the most significant difference between ‘bows and Skamania is the size. While Skamania can grow to well over 30 inches, average rainbows are between 10 and 16 inches. If you catch an inland ‘bow measuring over 20 inches, get out the camera – you just caught a lifetime fish!

Close-up view: Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in an aquarium.

Where To Find Rainbow Trout 

Throw a dart at a map, and you have a chance of finding rainbow trout. These are the most prevalent trout in the world. Rainbow trout can be found in ponds, lakes, rivers, and creeks in all 50 states. 

Yet, in my experience, even when lakes or reservoirs claim to stock rainbows, catching them is not easy. Though they tolerate a lake’s warmer climate, rainbows seek refuge in deep pools or areas with cool temperatures.

Related Questions 

Do Skamania Reproduce? 

Though stocking Skamania to maintain populations is popular, these fish do reproduce. This justifies and explains their annual spawning run. Like their steelhead brethren, Skamania can spawn year after year

What Is The Rarest Trout? 

Anglers revere Paiute, Gila, and Tiger trout as some of the rarest trout. Catching any of these gems is worth celebrating. Their location might also be worth keeping a secret, especially due to their declining numbers. 

How Do You Tell The Difference Between Rainbow Trout and Steelhead? 

The easiest tell between rainbow trout and steelhead is size. Rainbow trout’s inland lifestyle leaves them smaller compared to steelhead.

Other differences are subtle but noticeable with time. Steelhead have a torpedo shape, whereas rainbows have a blunt, round nose. Steelhead also tend to have a more silver disposition, while rainbows can have a dull palette that includes gray, green, or even light yellow. 

Final Thoughts 

Skamania steelhead are a steelhead strain that runs upriver during the summer. For anyone who missed the spring steelhead run, consider Skamania the procrastinator’s special!

David Linsmeyer Avatar


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