Steelhead travel from the Great Lakes into the streams and rivers from late October until early May. The fish that arrive in October will overwinter in the rivers until spring when they spawn before returning to the Great Likes. The October steelhead is the first to spawn on beds of fine gravel often in March. The spring run steelhead will follow in April before making their journey back to the Great Lakes - this pattern will continue many times until the steelhead dies.
So what are they eating during these times? The October steelhead is on fire as they arrive into the rivers. This can make for some exciting fishing with burning drags and jumping as you work to land this fantastic fish. They are eating voraciously, getting ready to winter in the river. The fish feed heavily on the Chinook and King Salmon eggs that are spawning in the fall. They also feed on the aquatic life in the river and will even turn onto a shrimp looking pattern - something they were familiar in the depths of the Great Lakes.
Spring Steelhead, while focused on spawning, will gobble up an egg pattern of the right color, or a stonefly floating past them. This is an exciting time to fish, and many steelhead fishers look forward to the spring steelhead.
Conditions during both times of year play a huge role in what will be effective. In higher, cloudy water, your selection should be large, bright, contrasting, and can be unnatural - you are just catching the attention of the fish. Whereas the opposite is true in clear, low waters - the color selection must be as close to natural as possible. This varies from river to river.
The top five flies that I always keep in my box are :
Steelhead wooly bugger in various colors
Egg Patterns in various colors
Stonefly in various sizes