Many people do not realize there are 14 different types of trout in North America and around the world. Trout fishing is one of the most popular types of fishing behind bass. There are several things attributed to this popularity, including the fact that trout always put up an acrobatic fight, they are easily accessible, and, when cooked, they taste great.
There are three primary species of trout chased by anglers and scientists, along with an array of sub-species. The most common species include Brown Trout, Brook Trout, and Rainbow Trout. Trout and salmon are very closely related and sometimes fishermen are confused between the two. This article will help you understand and identify different trout. For salmon, check out this article.
These are the Different Trout Types:
- Lake Trout
- Dolly Varden
- Tiger Trout
- Gila Trout
The best-known species of North American trout is the rainbow trout. Rainbow trout, oncorhynchus mykiss, gets its name from the visible pink stripe found on the fish’s side; however, that is not the only way you can identify them. Another giveaway is the black spots on the trout’s dorsal fin and body, and the square, broad tail.
You can find rainbow trout all along the Pacific coast, from Mexico up to Alaska. However, they have been brought into other regions, too. For example, rainbow trout are in all the Great Lakes, to the south, in Alabama and Georgia, and most of Southern Canada. People stock this game fish species in bodies across the globe and it is one of the most popular targets for fly fishing enthusiasts.
In the rainbow trout family, you will find a few different types. If you have ever been fishing, the one you are most familiar with is likely the steelhead. These may look different, but they are the anadromous type of rainbow trout.
The cutthroat trout do not get as much attention as the more popular rainbow trout; however, they do have a pretty intimidating name. Once you see this species, you will find out why. They get their name from the red coloring found under the lower jaw making this trout look like it is bleeding from the throat or neck. If you are not sure if you have caught a cutthroat trout from the red color alone, you should also see smaller black spots on the top portion of their body, too.
Naturally, cutthroat trout are found in the western portion of the United States, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. You can also find this species in the southwestern portion of Canada, and the ones that travel via the ocean can be located as far north as Alaska. This species has also been introduced into parts of the northeastern U.S. and Quebec.
When it comes to subspecies, the cutthroat trout are considered the most varied with 11 options. Each of the subspecies looks unique and lives in certain drainage areas or rivers. Some national parks even have a unique version of Westlope cutthroat trout.
The golden trout is one of the smallest of the trout types. Just like the name implies, the trout is golden in color and features reddish-orange stripes on the side of their body. Also, the rear right before the tail is spotted with darker marks. You can find the golden trout in higher-altitude freshwater lakes and rivers found in more mountainous regions.
Golden trout feed on small crustaceans and surface insects, such as terrestrial insects and freshwater shrimp. Because of how scarce the insects are during the winter months, the golden trout have a set feeding season, which starts in May and ends by September. You can also find this species of fish in the western regions of the U.S., including Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and California.
The name may be slightly misleading since brown trout are not always brown. You can find silver and golden colored brown trout – all this is dependent on where they live. Even though they come in varied colors, this species of trout is pretty easy to recognize.
Typical brown trout have orange-red spots with a silver ring around them. Another noticeable characteristic is that the brown trout has a salmonish look to them, more so than some of the other trout on this list. This is because the brown trout is some what related to the Atlantic Salmon.
Brown trout were introduced to North America from Germany. They thrived in the waters from Georgia to Ontario and throughout the Great Lakes region. You can also find brown trout from Colorado to California and even in British Columbia and Alberta Canada. They are a favorite for those fly fishing local streams and rivers.
Back in Europe, there are several subspecies of brown trout. The anadromous brown trout are referred to as “sea trout,” and the lake and river-dwelling trout are referred to as “lake trout” or “river trout,” respectively. However, do not mix these up with the native lake trout in North America, as this is an entirely different species.
The biggest species of the Char family is the lake trout. This is a deep water fish that can grow to be more than 80 pounds. Their large size is one of the characteristics that makes them easily recognizable; however, they also have a forked tail and creamy spots, which sets them apart from some of the other species.
If you are looking for a massive lake trout, they are native to Canada and Alaska, the Great Lakes, and the Northeastern portion of the U.S. While this is true, through the years, the lake trout has spread beyond this region. Today, they can now be found in lakes across the U.S. along with the Rocky Mountains.
While the lake trout are not as varied as the Pacific Trout options, they tend to make up for this because of the huge collection of nicknames they have been given. The name you hear depends on where you catch them. Some of the most common include Togue, Touladi, Grey Trout, Namaycush, and Mackinaw.
The next trout that is not really a trout is the brook trout, salvelinus fontinalis. When it comes to size, the brook trout comes in on the small end of the spectrum. Most brook trout range between one and two pounds, and it is rare to find one in double digits when it comes to weight.
Besides the size, one of the easiest ways to determine if you have caught a brook trout is to look for the worm-like markings on their back and head, and the white edges found on their lower fins.
The brook trout is native to the eastern portion of North America and are popular for trout fishing. You will find this species in all the Great Lakes except Erie, north to the Arctic Sea, and south through the Appalachian Mountains. Today, it is possible to find this species of trout anywhere the water is cold enough, including the southern Canadian provinces and throughout the streams in the Rockies.
While brook trout are native to North America, today they can be found across the globe. In fact, they have been taken as far as Europe, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, and more. Some people consider the brook trout the “exchange fish” for the brown trout in America from Europe.
Dolly Varden Trout
The Dolly Varden trout is considered one of the most northerly trout species in North America. This species is technically not a trout; it is a Char. Only recently have people realized that the Dolly Varden is different from the Arctic Char. This is a species of Char that continued unnoticed for a while, and that was simply called a trout.
This species can be found from the Arctic region, into Alaska, and down into the northern portion of Washington. Beyond North America, the Dolly Varden has made it across the sea and now populate rivers in Japan and Siberia.
This species of Char/not trout looks like all the others. One of the most tell-tale characteristics is that Dollies do not get over 10 pounds (usually). They do not feature the worm-like marks found on brook trout, either and the forks are not as deeply forked as the lake trout. Besides that, there are not too many defining characteristics. This is why the not-trout species were not correctly identified for so long.
When it comes to rare fish in North America, Bull Trout come at the top of the list. This species of fish only lives in cold, big drainages and rivers found in the Pacific Northwest. Chances are, you will not see the bull trout unless you are looking for them. Your best bet to catch one is to fish in Alberta, Washington, British Columbia, or Oregon.
Bull trout are very similar to Arctic char and Dolly Varden. This species was called “Dolly Varden” until the later part of the 1970s. One of the best ways to tell if you have caught a bull trout is their limited presence and bigger size. If you catch a trout that is 12 pounds or more, and if it does not have a very forked tail, you have likely snagged a bull trout.
A tiger trout is created by the cross of a female brown trout and a male brook trout. The offspring of these two do not look too much like either of its parents – or any other fish. They feature a work-like pattern across most of their body.
They are also much thicker than most trout species found today and tend to throw their bodies around, putting up a significant fight at the end of your rod. This makes them a favorite option for most sporting anglers.
You might never encounter a tiger trout in the wild, though. While they do live throughout the US, they are sterile and do not produce eggs. Your best bet for catching this type of fish would be to visit a stocked watershed. If you are lucky enough to find one, you probably will not forget it anytime soon.
Splake is a mix between a female lake trout and a male brook trout. This species will eat other fish earlier than similar species of trout and grow faster because of this. They are often called “Wendigo trout,” which was derived from the beast out of Algonquian folklore.
While splake can reproduce in the wild, this has only occurred a few times. Most splake will be bred and used in stock lakes and ponds. The most significant breeding program today is located in Ontario, which is where the government stocks them in the Georgian Bay, along with a few smaller lakes.
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Palomino is also known as the Golden Rainbow Trout. not to be confused with the native California Golden Trout. This one is a hybrid bread in captivity originally in the 1950s from a random mutation found in one rainbow trout in a hatchery. The fish was bright yellow/gold color and obviously stood out from the other fish. These bright colors make them a prized catch for any trout fisherman. It is like finding the Willy Wonka golden ticket.
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This trout gets it’s name from the exclusive location it lives in. The Gila River in Southwest United States is home to these once endangered and still threatened species of trout. Gila Trout can grow to about 17-18 inches and are yellowish-brown, gold or copper. The trout populations for this species were reaching extremely low levels only a decade or two ago. Thanks to recovery efforts the species is increasing in stocks each year and we hope they continue to thrive.
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Found in the high elevation streams and rivers of Arizona. Apache Trout have an olive-yellow body, with a yellow or golden belly. They can grow up to 20 inches long, but most grow only to 9 inches because of the smaller streams in which they live. They are one of two native species in Arizona and also the state fish. They are a prized catch for any fly fishing enthusiasts looking for an uncommon type of trout.
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Salmo marmoratus (marble trout) is a species of freshwater fish in the family Salmonidae. It is characterized by a distinctive marbled color pattern and high growth capacity. The marble trout is found in only handful drainages and rivers of the Adriatic basin in (going from north to south) Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.
Steelhead are actually sea run Rainbow Trout. Steelhead trout are anadromous, meaning they travel to saltwater (or the Great lakes) after being born in freshwater rivers and streams. Once these fish are ready to breed, they return to their original freshwater environment origins.
Where to Find Trout
Usually, trout live in colder water environments like limestone creeks, deep water lakes and high altitude mountain streams. They are typically found in moving water and run up and down creeks and rivers. You can also find trout in lakes, which is where another species got its name – the Lake trout. Trout is one of the most stocked species, too, which means they are raised in hatcheries then dropped into lakes, streams, and other bodies of water each season.
Because trout are an accessible food source for wildlife, you will find them in the woods where you find other animals, such as bobcats, bears, and other fish species. The more remote a lake or river is, the more likely you are to find trout present.
Now that you know where to find trout, you should learn about the different options you may encounter.
Stocked vs. Wild Trout: How to Tell the Difference
While knowing the most common types of trout is essential, it is also necessary to understand how to tell the difference between wild and stocked trout.
A stocked fish was born and raised in captivity, and it is often referred to as a hatchery. The reason that these fish are bred in captivity is to use them to stock ponds and rivers to provide anglers with the opportunity to catch trout in areas that can not support a healthy population of trout otherwise.
Many lakes in the United States rely on stocked fish to attract fishers and other recreation enthusiasts.
Wild fish refer to trout that are born in the stream and that have no type of human intervention in their life. Keep in mind, the terms native and wild are sometimes misused when identifying the fish. Wild fish are those that are not born in captivity. In contrast, ‘native’ refers to a species that occurs naturally in a specific water system.
If you want to know how to identify a stocked fish versus a wild fish, there are several methods you can use. Here you can find some of the best ways to tell what you have caught.
When you are trying to tell if you have caught a stocked or wild fish, the first thing to look at is the coloring. Stocked fish are usually fed on a diet of all pellets, while wild fish will consume a more diverse diet. Also, stocked fish do not get the proteins and minerals available in insect larvae or freshwater shrimp that will impact the pigmentation of wild fish.
Another reason for this is because stocked fish are going to be raised in a protected environment. For the stocked trout, survival is not dependent on specific colors, which means that natural selection is not a factor of their growth and development.
Damaged Skin or Fins
As mentioned above, stocked fish are raised in a confined space with hundreds of other fish. As a result, it is much more common to see fish with shredded tails and fins or larger scrapes on their bodies.
The features are seen in freshly stocked fish and are the result of years in captivity where the fish scraped against cement walls and were nipped by the other fish in the small living area.
While the skin and fins will regrow over time, you will notice some injuries that remain apparent. There are some situations where the fins are clipped, which is used for identification purposes. If you happen to catch a fish that has an adipose or dorsal fin that appears to have been clipped with a sharp object, there is a good chance you are dealing with a “stocky.”
Fat Content on the Fish
Because of the diet, the fish has, and their living conditions, trout that are stocked typically have a disproportionate distribution of fat on their bodies. Since stocked trout are raised in a holding pond, and people feed them, they do not spend their energy swimming upstream or looking for food like wild trout.
Also, rather than eating a more balanced diet that includes bugs or other fish, stocked fish are given high-fat pellets. The goal of this food is to help the fish grow as large as possible, as quickly as possible. If you catch a fish that looks to be a young trout, but that has more fat around the stomach area, you likely have a stocked fish.
As described above, the eating habits for wild versus stocked trout are extremely different. While the stocked fish will start to look for food for themselves a few weeks after being introduced into a new stream or river, they are used to receiving food in pellet form. This is why their feeding habits (at least for the first few weeks after being stocked) will be very different from trout that spent its entire life hunting for their food.
In some cases, a stocked trout will not eat flies or any other type of tackle besides corn, eggs, or power bait after they are put in the new environment. Once a few weeks have passed, the eating habits of the fish will change, and they will learn how to find food on their own.
In many cases, because of the years they spent in captivity, having food provided, they are easier to catch than wild fish.
Local Regulations and Location
In most areas, trout stocked in ponds, rivers, or lakes will be marked by the fish and game commission for that state. Usually, these notices are found attached to trees or on signs around the water you are fishing in. If you catch a fish with any of the above characteristics, but you still are not sure if you have a stock or wild trout, just look around. If you see these signs or notices, you have your answer.
Keep in mind that even though a body of water is stocked, it does not mean no wild fish are living there. If the water seems like it is clean enough to house wild fish, there is a good chance it will have a mix of both. By using the features mentioned above, you should be able to figure out what type of trout you have caught.
If you have never been trout fishing and you do not know the rules and regulations in the area, take time to learn what they are. There are many areas where having a fishing license is required, and if you do not acquire this before fishing, you could face severe consequences and fines. Be sure to obtain this needed documentation to ensure you do not have a negative experience.
Trout fishing can be a fun and rewarding experience; however, if you want to get the most out of it, learn more about the fish, where they live, and how to tell if you have caught a stocked or wild fish. All these features are described above and will make your experience great.