Wild Freshwater Steelhead original artwork of steelhead in saltwater phase of their life. Nature, wildlife, fisherman & chefs will enjoy our original fish series of steelhead & salmon. Prints & gifts. Rainbow trout are unusual in that there are two forms which sometimes share the same habitat. The anadromous form called "steelhead" migrate to the ocean, though they must return to fresh water to reproduce. After going to sea, their color changes, including loss of the red band. They stay at sea for 1-4 years, and return to fresh water to spawn. Rainbows stay in fresh water their whole lives. Like salmon, steelhead are anadromous: they return to their original hatching ground to spawn. Unlike salmon, which die after spawning, steelhead rejuvenate after spawning so they may return to the oceans to start the anadromous cycle once again. The steelhead smolts (immature or young fish) usually remain in the river for about a year before heading to sea, whereas salmon typically return to the seas as smolts. Different populations of steelheads migrate upriver at different times of the year. "Summer-run steelhead" migrate between May and October, before their reproductive organs are fully mature. They mature in freshwater before spawning in the spring. "Winter-run steelhead" mature fully in the ocean before migrating, between November and April, and spawn shortly after returning. Similar to Atlantic salmon, but unlike their Pacific Oncorhynchus kin, steelhead are iteroparous and may make several spawning trips between fresh and salt water.