Where can you find some of the country's rare trout?
The harder a trout is to find or catch, the more fishermen seem to enjoy chasing them. Never mind that most gila or sunapee trout won't break 15 inches on a good day - these trout still manage to capture the imagination of fishermen everywhere. Given fishermen's propensity to exaggerate the size of their catches, it seems odd to plan trips centered around fish barely big enough to fry.
Well, it's not. Fishing for the rarest trout takes an angler back to a time when these trout weren't so rare, a time that is just a memory now. When you set foot on a lake holding populations of aurora trout, it's almost like stepping back in time. Connecting with history is a big part of why rare trout fishing is such a big deal. Oh, and the pictures of course.
Regardless, let's talk about a few of the more rare trout swimming around in our waters and some tips for actually getting one on the end of your line.
Way back in 1923, a group of American anglers were taken up into some backcounrty in Ontario, Canada, and caught some fish that looked just like brook trout, except for one thing - the fish had no spots. After a few years of study and some scientific testing, the new trout were determined to be a sub-species of the brook trout, and dubbed the aurora trout.
Aurora trout are usually colored with deep magenta and orange hues, and catching one of these rare beauties is a feat to be incredibly proud of. Aurora trout are found in just a handful of lakes in Ontario, and can be caught today in their native habitat in Whitepine and Whirlygig Lakes.
Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources rescued some eggs back in the 50s, and have raised aurora trout in hatcheries to help bolster their population. Natural reproduction of aurora trout has been documented in their native lakes to this day, something any outdoorsman can really appreciate.
Catching one of these rare trout means you've got to make your way to Canada. Fishing for aurora is just like fishing for brookies, so there aren't any odd techniques you need to be aware of. However, there are some regulations on these fish. You get to catch one a day, and once you've caught it, you're done fishing for the day, even if you release the fish. This practice is thought to help the fish survive more angling pressure.
The sunapee trout was extinct in the wild for quite some time, before it was rediscovered living in an Idaho lake alongside some brook trout. The sunapee is a strain of the arctic char, an anadromous fish that once spawned in the rivers and lakes of New England. Once the water temperature became too warm in those waters following the last Ice Age, a population of char were left in a few New Hampshire lakes, one of which is called Sunapee Lake.
Sadly, the sunapee trout became over-fished, and hybridized with lake trout, another char species, and pure sunapee trout were thought to be extinct. Then, in 1977, Kent Ball of the Idaho Fish and Game found some trout that resembled descriptions of sunapee trout. After doing some digging, Ball found records of an egg swap between Idaho and New Hampshire, and the identity of the mystery fish was solved.
These days, you can catch sunapee trout if you're incredibly lucky. Ponds in Maine and New Hampshire still have remnant populations of the trout, most notably Long Pond in Maine, and some dedicated fishing may bring you a sunapee. Idaho is also a destination for the fish, although you'll have to do the digging on specific locations yourself. Those who know where the sunapee are tend to remain tight-lipped about the secret.
The gila trout is tied to the rainbow and cutthroat trout, much in the same way golden and redband trout are. The gila is native to the Southwestern United States, and used to roam through hundred of miles of rivers.
In 1967, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finally recognized the gila trout as its own species, not just an odd-looking rainbow or cutthroat, or cuttbow. At that point, the gila trout only occupied around 20 miles of its original habitat.
After years of stocking efforts that have seen the gila moved to over 10 new streams, and back into parts of its natural habitat, the population of these fish is much more secure. If you're dead-set on catching one, head to Arizona or New Mexico. The Gila and San Francisco rivers both hold gila trout, along with Arizona's Blue River and Grapevine Creek. The species is still considered threatened, so catch-and-release with gila trout is strongly recommended.
Have you ever had the chance to catch one of these trout? If so, leave pictures and comments below, and share this list so your fishing friends can see these rare trout themselves!