The Ultimate Guide To Skamania Steelhead Fishing

A Skamania Steelhead
A summer run Skamanis Steelhead caught by Eli from SBS Outdoor action. Check them out by clicking on the picture.

The Skamania Steelhead is a unique summer migrating steelhead developed by the State of Washington hatchery using wild stocks on the Washougal River. Adult Skamania steelhead are found on the west coast and on select rivers of great lakes.

These summer migrating steelhead trout provide anglers with fishing opportunities but only if anglers know where, when, and how to catch them.

Key Takeaways

  • Where and When: Some of the best Skamania steelhead fishing can be found on rivers in Oregon, Washington, West Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Upstate New York. They are in rivers from June to March.
  • Methods: All the typical river fishing methods are used and are suitable for catching Skamania steelhead. Fly fishing and spin fishing with lures or bait are the most used.
  • Baits And Lures: Skamania Steelhead will hit an assortment of the same lures and baits that are good for regular steelhead, however, due to the Skamania being in the rivers in the summers, some baits that are hot in the fall and winter are not as good in the summer. We discuss all of this and more in this article.
  • Fishing Strategies: Skamania are in smaller numbers, so knowing where in the river they hold is critical. Often, during the summer, Skamania will hold at the mouths of cold tributaries and in the lower sections of these tributaries.

More About The Skamania Steelhead?

Alex from Fire Plug Charters with a nice summer run steelhead. Click the image to see more or to book a trip.

Skamania steelhead are a sub-species of traditional winter running steelhead. They are a summer run steelhead.

Though they are often confused with salmon or other steelhead strains, Skamania and all the other steelhead varieties are actually rainbow trout.

I discuss this on my page What Is A Steelhead: Salmon Or Trout?

Skamania strain steelhead are anadromous, meaning they spend a portion of their life cycle in the ocean.

Skamania is common throughout the waters of the Northwest in the Columbia River drainage. They are also found in the Great Lakes region, with the highest concentrations in the waters flowing into Lake Michigan and the New York side of Lake Ontario.

Skamania now populate many rivers thanks to the efforts of hatchery staff at hatcheries on the West Coast rivers and around the Great Lakes region.

In some areas, especially on the West Coast, like other wild steelhead, the state will protect these wild steelhead with zero harvest regulations for the wild steelhead.

How Are Skamania Steelhead Different Than Winter Steelhead?

Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier.
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice Skamani steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier. Click the image to watch the video.

Since the Skamania strain are a subspecies of winter run steelhead, what is the difference between the two?

Physically, they are almost identical, but behaviorally, they are very different.

Skamania start their migration in the summer and winter run steelhead start in the fall and winter.

A June run steelhead often won’t spawn until February or March, whereas a winter-run steelhead will spawn from March to May.

Once Skamania arrive back in their home waters, Skamania tend to find refuge in deep pools and grow to spawning size for many months in the river until they spawn in late winter and early spring but Winter run steelhead can enter in February and spawn a couple of weeks later.

Fighting Ability: Many anglers will agree that Skamania fight harder than winter run steelhead due to their long slender body and oversized tail. When hooked, they tend to jump a lot more than winter-run steelhead.

Appearance: In appearance, an educated angler and river guide can tell the difference between a Skamania and winter run steelhead just by looking at them.

Skamania tend to have long narrow bodies with oversized tails compared to the more rounded compact bodies of winter run steelhead.

When Do Skamania Enter The Rivers?

A fly fisherman casting on the Kalum River in the Skeena Region of British Columbia, Canada

Both the Pacific Skamania and Great Lakes Skamania can enter rivers beginning in late spring or as early as May.

More will enter in June, July, August, and September, and anglers may find themselves hooking into these hard fighting steelhead while fishing for Chinook and coho salmon in November.

The best times for summer steelhead fishing will be July and August after rains or cool nights.

Eli with good success fishing the pier in August - SBS Outdoors Action
Eli from SBS Outdoor action having great success while fishing the pier in August – Click the image to watch the video

Shore and river mouth anglers will start hooking Skamania in early to mid-May as they start to congregate closer to the rivers.

Best Fishing Times To Catch Skamania

The best times for Skamania fishing from the shores, piers, and river mouths are in the morning or at dusk since they prefer to move into shore and up the rivers during low light hours.

The best times up the river are also early morning and evening or on cloudy and cool days.

What Triggers The Runs?

A slightly off-colored river after a rain
This river is usually gin clear but after rains it get better.

There is a lot of speculation and not much clear scientific evidence to determine why Skamania begin their run in the summer months.

Like other summer run steelhead, the biggest determination seems to be the size of the fish itself.

The thought is that smaller fish can navigate smaller streams easier than large ones can, and this means they can reach better spawning grounds further up the stream.

However, older Skamania can get very large and over 15 pounds and still be capable of navigating hundreds of miles of river.

Because summer-run fish can continue to grow in freshwater to reach spawning size, some believe that geographic location is an indicator for summer-run fish.

Both water temperatures and water levels can trigger them to start their migration.

When Do Skamania Actually Spawn?

Skamania spawn around the same time as many winter run steelhead, which is in the early spring. January to March are the heaviest spawning times in the Pacific west, but in the Great Lakes region, they may spawn later since most rivers are frozen over or too cold in January and February.

On rare occasions, some skamania might even spawn in late fall or through the winter months providing the right temperatures.

Where Can You Catch Skamania ?

The best areas in the Great Lakes Basin for Skamania are found in Michigan and Northern Indiana, as well as New York.

The best west coast areas are found in the Columbia River drainage. Stray Skamania can be found in many other nearby rivers.

Indiana Skamania Steelhead

Indiana’s stocking programs for steelhead includes Skamania. Indiana hatcheries put Skamania into some of their bigger rivers after collecting eggs and raising them to a select size. The Bodine state fish hatchery is the top hatchery for Skamania.

Anglers will start to see Skamania moving into streams in June.

Michigan Skamania Steelhead

Michigan Steelhead Feed behind big salmon like this one.
Michigan steelhead will hold and feed behind big salmon like this one caught by John from Get Bent Guide Service. For steelhead and salmon trips, click the image.

Michigan DNR stocks Skamania into some of their bigger rivers of West Michigan which can provide a good summer steelhead fishery close to Michigan City. Anglers may find Skamania from Southern Lake Michigan to the upper peninsula tributaries.

I discuss all the best rivers and strategies in my article Summer Steelhead Fishing In Michigan.

Just north of Michigan City are big rivers like the St Joseph River which some say might be the best Skamania river in the Great Lakes region. For guide trips near and north of Michigan City Contact John from Get Bent Guide Service.

Other rivers include the Grand River, Muskegon River, and Rogue River.

June through late August can be a good time to fish out on Lake Michigan. For charter boat trips and Northwest Michigan river trips check out Fire Plug Charters.

New York Skamania Steelhead

Upstate New York DNR stocks Skamania into the Salmon River and other close by rivers may typically see some stray Skamania as well.

Also, the salmon river get large runs of lake run brown trout and salmon in September and October and it’s common for the Skamania to gorge on salmon and brown trout eggs.

I have caught many steelhead in the riffles or pool just below spawning salmon.

It is uncertain if there is much natural reproduction in these Great Lakes rivers.

West Coast Skamaina Fishing

On the West Coast, the Columbia River and its hundreds of tributaries are the places go on both the American side of the drainage to the south and the Canadian drainage flowing down from the north.

What Are The Best Skamania Steelhead Rivers?

You can find a stray Skamania in many tributaries of the Columbia River, but the best areas calculated by total catch are in these Washington State rivers.

  • Lewis River
  • Little White Salmon
  • Wind River west coast
  • Cowlitz River
  • Kalama River
  • Lewis River
  • North Fork
  • Toutle River

For steelhead fishing on these rivers and areas check out:

Lake Michigan tops all the other areas around the great lakes for Skamania fishing. The best Michigan rivers For Skamania are:

  • St. Joseph River
  • Trail Creek near Michigan City
  • Little Calumet River
  • Salt Creek
  • Coffee Creek
  • Manistee Rivers
  • Pere Marquette

The Salmon River in New York is another option for Skamania fishing since it is stocked.

Skamania Steelhead Fishing: Targeting Them

Eli from SBS Outdoors Action with an early August steelhead
Eli from SBS Outdoors Action with an early August steelhead

Finding and catching steelhead can sometimes be tricky and smart anglers will change locations and tactics to help them catch more.

After each rain, try the lower river sections, but if it has not rained for a while, smart anglers will try further up the river.

Many anglers look for a slight green tint in the water, evidence of snow melt in the mountains above as the best time to catch Skamania.

Anglers are smart to look for summer steelhead that may be held up near the headwaters of larger rivers, in deep holes, or below the river mouths of small cold creeks. These creek mouths are often the best area to catch steelhead during the heat of the summer.

In lower summer waters, the steelhead will also be found near boulders, logs, and even in faster rapids hiding from the sun and predators.

They will also try to avoid warm water, so springs or spring upwellings in the river are good. Shaded areas where the river runs through thick forests can be good.

Best Methods For Skamania Steelhead

Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a lure
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a lure. Click the image to watch the action.

There are many different methods of catching Skamania during the summer months and they eat the same things, and they hit the same lures and baits other steelhead hit.

Lure Fishing

The best Skamania lures are spinners, with the Blue Fox Vibrax, the Panther Martin, and the Mepps Aglia the top ones in this category.

An angler shore fishing for great lakes brown trout
An angler shore fishing for great lakes brown trout and steelhead

Other very good lures include crankbaits like Rapalas and plugs like Kwikfish. Check out Lure Fishing For Steelhead for tips and methods.

Drift Fishing: Drift Fishing Can Mean Two Things.

Drifting down the river in a boat using methods like Side Drifting, or Back Bouncing, or Back Trolling.

You can do these methods from a n inflatable raft or pontoon boat, a drift boat, a canoe, or fishing kayak. See River Fishing Boats, where I discuss some of the best inexpensive river boats and methods used by anglers and guides.

The other meaning of drift fishing is casting your line, weight, and bait out into the current and letting it drift naturally down the river while you stand on the bank or wade into the river.

This method is used a lot more by the majority of anglers. Learn more about this effective method at Drift Fishing For Steelhead.


Plunking is another method of steelhead fishing. It’s another term for bottom fishing where your weight and bait are anchored to the bottom and is stationary while you wait for passing steelhead to grab it.

Both river and shore anglers will use this method. I see many anglers at the mouths of the rivers using the plunking method when steelhead fishing.

For more on this method, check out Plunkin For Steelhead.

Bobber Doggin

This is a combination of bottom bouncing and float fishing that is useful in heavy current areas. The idea is to let a float move the bait with the current, with this method of steelhead fishing, the float basically pulls the weight and bait along.

For more on this method, check out Bobber Doggin: How To Do It.

Bottom Bouncing

Bottom bouncing is a steelhead fishing method I use a lot. This methods is very similar to Drift Fishing, however, I like it better in smaller and shallower water and in pocket water.

With this method, you can keep your baits in the strike zone for the majority of the drift.

For more on Bottom Bouncing, see Bottom Bouncing For Steelhead, Trout, and Salmon

Float Fishing

Float fishing is often the most effective fishing method for steelhead in a river.

Float fishing means suspending your bait below a float which sets your bait at the same level as the fish, keeps it in the strike zone longer, and allows you to control the speed better, encouraging more bites. For more on this method, see Float Fishing.

Float fishing can be done with a spinning rod, spinning reels, baitcasters, but it’s hard to argue that the most effective way to float fish is with a Centerpin reel. For more, check out Centerpin Fishing.

Fly Fishing

Steelhead fishing in BC

Fly fishing for Skamania is a preferred method by many West Coast and Great Lakes fishing guides.

Skamania steelhead will grab well presented Nymphs below the surface and will even take dry flies off the surface.

You can Spey fish with Spey flies, streamer fishing is also very effective, and anglers can also do indicator nymphing or Euro nymphing.

For more on all of these types of fly fishing methods as well as great steelhead flies, check out our article Fly Fishing For Steelhead.

Jig Fishing

Not the most popular method of steelhead fishing, but jig fishing for steelhead can be very effective if you know how to do it and which jigs are best. See Jig Fishing For Steelhead.

Best Baits For Skamania

Steelhead will feed heavily once in the rivers as this allows them to sexually mature and get bigger before they spawn.

Skamania in the river in the summer are most likely to feed on insects and batfish since that is mostly what is available. As fall progresses, the majority of Skamania will be up the river, where they will feed on minnows, fish eggs from spawning salmon or trout, and flies.

Steelhead will sit behind the salmon and feeds on any salmon eggs that drift off the beds.

Salmon eggs and egg imitations are the best bait when fished below salmon.

Skamania Steelhead Q&A

That wraps up this article on Skamania Steelhead Fishing, but if you have any questions, comments, or advice, let us know in the comments sections below.

Tight Lines,


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