Types of Trout
Let's take a look at some of the more common species of trout found in North America. Since different types of trout often coexist in one habitat, it's important to be able to identify what kind of fish you just caught. This becomes particularly true in areas where different size or possession limits apply to different species of fish, or where one type of fish may have protected status. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all types of trout, and that different species of trout may crossbreed and create hybrid populations in certain areas. Trout markings and coloration may vary slightly, even within the same species, from one geographic area to another.
The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is native to many parts of North America, as well as to Pacific Ocean tributaries of Asia, and is a widely sought-after game fish. A relatively hardy species, the rainbow is a popular choice for stocking lakes, streams and rivers all over the United States, and many naturally occurring populations are supplemented with hatchery-raised fish. Their natural diet consists primarily of insects and smaller fish. Anadromous rainbows are known as steelhead in North America, and ocean trout in other countries. While they typically grow to 1-2 pounds, the world record rainbow trout weighed a whopping 42 pounds, 2 ounces.
Originally native to Europe and Asia, brown trout (Salmo trutta) have been widely introduced in North America as a game fish, and have established naturally occurring and "holdover" populations in many lakes and streams. These populations are often supplemented with hatchery fish. Like rainbows, brown trout can be anadromous; ocean-going browns are known as seatrout. Brown trout are opportunistic feeders, and their diet includes smaller fish, insects and other invertebrates, and frogs. The IGFA world record brown trout weighed in at 40 pounds, 4 ounces.
The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is another popular game fish, and is native to the eastern United States and Canada. Brook trout are green or brown in color, with lighter marbling and distinctive small red spots along their flanks. Their diet is substantially similar to that of rainbow and brown trout, and like them, some brook trout (called sea-run or "salters") spend part of their lives in salt water. Brook trout have been introduced to a number of areas in North America outside their native range. The largest recorded brook trout weighed 14 pounds 8 ounces.
Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) are native to the western United States, and while they live primarily in rivers and streams, there are some anadromous populations as well. They get their name from vivid red or orange coloration on the underside of the lower jaw. Fourteen different subspecies of cutthroats have been identified, most of which are found in isolated populations within a specific geographic area. All types of cutthroats are popular among sport fishermen, especially fly fishermen. The current world record cutthroat trout weighed in at 41 pounds.
A type of char, the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) is commonly found in high mountain streams and lakes in western North America, and is the provincial fish of Alberta. Bull trout have unusually large heads and mouths compared to other salmonids, which is the basis for their name. They were once known as "Dolly Vardens," although that name now refers to a different fish altogether. Bull trout prefer deep rivers and lakes, and are a popular game fish in Canada. The largest known bull trout weighed nearly 32 pounds.
A subspecies of the rainbow trout, the golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) is native only to Golden Trout Creek, Volcano Creek and the South Fork of the Kern River in California, although they have been introduced to mountain streams in parts of New Mexico as well. They are distinguished by a horizontal red band and ten dark, oval markings on each flank. The largest golden trout on record weighed just over 11 pounds. The golden trout is the state fish of California.
Gila trout (Oncorhynchus gilae gilae) are similar in appearance to cutthroat trout, but lack the distinctive lower jaw markings of the cutthroat. They are native to Arizona and New Mexico, and are currently listed as an endangered species and may not be taken. Efforts are underway to rebuild gila trout populations, which have been depleted due to habitat loss and hybridization with introduced rainbow trout.
The state fish of Arizona, the apache trout (Oncorhynchus gilae apache) is native to streams in the White Mountains of that state, although it has been introduced to several lakes in the area, as well as to the Black and Little Colorado Rivers. While the apache trout is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, ongoing efforts to rebuild native populations by supporting them with hatchery fish have met with considerable success, and fishing for them is allowed under Arizona law. Apache trout are yellow-gold in color, with dark olive coloration on the top of their head and back, and are covered with evenly-spaced dark spots. They have a yellow or gold "cutthroat" marking beneath the lower jaw, and they appear to have a dark line through each eye because of black spots on either side of the pupil. Apache trout as large as six pounds have been documented.