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5 Charts That Explain the Differences Between Trout and Salmon [PICS]

Sea Grant New York

Here are five charts to help you properly identify the various trout and salmon species you may encounter this year.

Proper trout and salmon species identification is necessary to avoid potentially running afoul of fishing regulations and for getting the most enjoyment from your angling experience.

Some states have different length limits for different species. For example, in Wisconsin "Category 4" streams require brown and rainbow trout to be a minimum of 12 inches long, while brook trout must be a minimum of 8 inches in length. Confusing a 10-inch brown or rainbow trout with a brookie could get you in trouble.

The charts below do more than just show pretty images of picture-perfect trout and salmon (although they do that too). Fish color can sometimes vary from what may be shown in a picture.

It would behoove every trout or salmon angler to learn the other main physical differences between fish, in addition to coloring. Anal fin rays, tail shapes and markings, interior mouth colors, teeth placement, etc., all help accurately identify just what fish you may have in your net.

Here are five charts showing and explaining the differences between the species. Follow the links associated with the images to go directly to the sources where you can acquire each chart or enlarge and print it from your computer.

The following chart, "Salmon and Trout of Lake Ontario," comes via Sea Grant New York. It is a beautiful illustration that is published in an online pdf format or as a brochure from Sea Grant. The address and phone number are on the chart if you care to contact them directly for a brochure.

This is one of the more attractive and informative identification charts you'll find. The species listed include atlantic, chinook, coho and pink salmon; and brown, steelhead/rainbow, lake and brook trout.

salmon 2
Sea Grant New York

The Washington State Hi-Lakers trout ID cards are one of my favorites. Hi-Lakers is located in Bellevue, Washington.

It is "a membership organization that brings together people who enjoy high lake fishing and hiking. The Hi-Lakers are dedicated to promoting quality high lake fishing, and to preserving the environment and experience of mountain lakes and the surrounding country."

They've put together this excellent, laminated, field-ready chart showing eight western trout species complete with primary identification information. You can order a copy via Paypal for a $5.75 total. The cards measuring 4-1/2 inches x 6-1/2 inches, "the perfect size to slip into your vest or pack."

Washington State Hi-Lakers

The "Identifying Wisconsin's Trout and Salmon" chart is designed for anglers in the Great Lakes region, but of course is useful for anglers wherever the fish shown are found.

This chart is found in the "Guide to Wisconsin Trout Fishing Regulations," which can be acquired just about anywhere fishing tackle and licenses are sold in the state, or from the Wisconsin DNR. DNR fisheries personnel are given these very identification forms to help them in their work.

wisconsin trout and salmon
Wisconsin DNR

The Windsor Nature Discovery posters veer from my earlier recommendation that a good ID chart should include physical descriptions in addition to accurate imagery.

In my opinion, these charts are really more art/illustration pieces than truly practical identification guides. But they do highlight many of the dramatic color and pattern differences between trout and salmon. And by golly, they are beautiful!

Imagine these posters framed and hanging in an office or rec room. They are, according to the website, offered for purchase "laminated or on gallery paper." They also offer all posters in Honey Oak frames behind plexiglass.

There are several varieties of fish identification poster charts available from Windsor Nature Discovery. The one shown here is their "Trout of North America" chart.

Nature Discovery

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife publishes some of the most practical fish identification information of any state wildlife agency. Their black-and-white "Trout and Salmon Identification Guide," for example, is excellent. But I really like their "Pacific Salmon ID" chart, shown below.

Unlike many ID charts, this one shows photographs of the fish rather than artist renderings. We can see how challenging it can be to differentiate between five separate salmon species when their color phases are so remarkably similar.

This chart is available online and also serves as a link to even more detailed information on the various species.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Proper fish identification is the responsibility of every angler. These trout and salmon charts will be of practical use in helping anglers make confident and accurate identifications.

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5 Charts That Explain the Differences Between Trout and Salmon [PICS]