What Do Winter Steelhead Eat? February 7, 2011

Nicholas’ Salmon Journal, February 7, 2011

Sorry so sorry I am way behind promised deep scientific studies on the feeding habits of winter steelhead.  Near as I can tell, winter steelhead do not eat much.  The things they do eat are silly.  I have friends who have reported stomach contents of roughly a hundred winter steelhead.  Non Kelts.  Kelts do not count.  Sometimes they will eat burgers and fries.  So no, post-spawning steelhead do not count.

Maybe wild fish eat a lot of food like junk or junk like food but as I almost never catch any winter steelhead anyway, maybe they do not eat anything either.  That would make sense because if they ate Bunny Tube leeches and Intruder style flies as part of their normal diet then well I would catch many many winter steelhead but I do not so they must not either the former anyway you know what I mean right?

So of these hundred or so steelhead bellies my actual fish catching friends have reported on were included roughly 10% with anything whatsoever in their guts besides guts.  Among the non guts items were bird feathers (2 fish); grey cruddy looking styrofoam (3 fish); rubber fake eggs or maybe fake rubber eggs (1 fish); half a ghost shrimp (1 fish); a dab of cured salmon eggs (1 fish); and gammarid amphipods (3 fish).

Not one steelhead fly was found in any steelhead stomach.  Not one.

Therefore, ladies and gents, we could perhaps up our catch rates considerably by tying flies that look like feathers, styrofoam, and # 14 Scuds.

There is no reason to doubt people who have reported summer steelhead with bellies full of fresh salmon eggs that floated free from spawning Chinook that were working their redds, snails, caddis pupae, stonefly nymphs, headless smolts, sticks, rocks, and beer nuts.

I believe all these stories.  I really do.  You should too.

Jay Nicholas, February 07, 2011

11 thoughts on “What Do Winter Steelhead Eat? February 7, 2011

  1. While I adore this unusual, quasi-scientific, and mostly-helpful blog, I am somewhat miffed that you have chosen to omit the picture, taken this VERY weekend, of a winter steelhead YOU caught on a swung fly! Does that not have to be taken into account in this scientific query? Just because the fly didn’t make it into the fish’s stomach, it’s reasonable to presume it might have if not yanked upon by you! This strange omission leaves me wondering whether you are withholding key evidence in an attempt to confuse unwitting anglers. Or are you still in a state of disbelief?

    1. Me? Withholding key evidence? In an attempt to confusticate and initiate wild goose chases? Sneaky Pete says: “no way.” And by the way, that photo you refer to is a steelhead i found on the gravel bar with pinkish dental floss in its teeth. So there. JN aka SP

  2. I recently caught a 24″ hen with a white stone, about a 1/2″ diameter, in her belly. That was it. Which led me to think that she was either all bound up, or on a starvation diet. Either case, I am going to start tying up some “stone” flys. 😛

  3. this winter I caught male that had a corkie in its stomach … no big surprise unto itself … except the corkie was tethered to a pair of #2 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks on either side. How that whole arrangement made it down the gullet into the gut is beyond me. I’m trying to tie an imitation, but as yet, can’t find anything that looks quite like an Octopus hook when spun into a dubbing loop

    1. Steve: What kind of cookie was it? Oreo? Chocolate chip? Peanut butter oatmeal? This opens up a whole new realm of fly tying for us, I think. I am heading for the fly vise right now. Yum. JN

    1. Rich: Most shots with a Cannon G-11, some with Nikon DX 40. Great to hear that you have been swinging steel this winter. Looking forward to seeing you on the water. JN

  4. What do adult steelhead eat in early Spring? good question. I tried catching some on various spoons. Not one bite…then I decided to try and catch some trout (rainbow) on a blue fox lure…It tagged a 17 lb steel head…go figure

  5. Try leeches-either artificial or live. Just caught a 22″ female with 3 leeches in her stomach. Leeches go after the eggs of the fish and it’s a defensive move to get the leeches away form the nests of the steelhead. DWR

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