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Rainbow trout

Rainbow Trout Illustration

Illustration by Joseph R. Tomelleri ©

Oncorhynchus mykiss - scientific name


Rainbow trout can be hard to identify. Learn more about identifying Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow (steelhead) trout and brown trout.

(non-native) Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, mouth and gums are light, small spots along rays on entire tail, 10-12 rays in anal fin. Genetically rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species but lead very different lives. Rainbow trout stays inland, and an anadromous form that migrates to the Great Lakes (or ocean in their native habitat).


Like any trout, stream rainbows can be caught by a variety of techniques; live bait, artificial lures and flies all produce. In large lakes, rainbows can be caught by trolling or by fishing with bait or jigging through the ice in winter. Though most commonly associated with clear-water lakes in northern Michigan, rainbow trout have been successfully stocked into a number of southern Michigan lakes as well, where they provide a unique fishery. Fishing after dark at the thermocline -- the depth at which there is a major change in temperature -- with live bait, salmon eggs or corn is the principle technique.

Review Fishing Guide for current rules and regulations »


Young rainbow trout first eat waterfleas and then add aquatic (water) insects, like caddisflies, mayflies, and midges, to their diet. As they grow larger they include small fish, but continue to consume larval and adult insects.

Life history:

The female digs a redd (nest) and deposits her eggs. The male fertilizes them with milt (sperm). Eggs take 20–100 days to hatch, depending on water temperature.

Background information:

Native to the Pacific watershed, rainbow trout came to Michigan when eggs were imported from California in 1876. First stocked in the Au Sable River, then four years later in the Lake Michigan watershed, rainbows can now be found in all corners of the state. Large specimens that inhabit the Great Lakes but travel inland to spawn in streams have come to be called steelhead.