This is a beautiful wild brook trout underwater in a spring fed stream. You won't find these colors on a stocked fish. There is a slight amount of grain in the shot which should be expected for a low light situation like this. - trout species in us
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The Definitive Guide to All the Trout in the United States


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No fish entirely symbolizes America like the trout. Variations of this bedazzled wonder swim through every corner and crevice of the country, from the Pacific Northwest's far reaches to the steamy South, New England, and all the places in between.

We have put together a guide for every species of trout in the United States. So buckle up, get reading, and then make a plan for your next big trout fishing expedition.

Brown Trout

closeup of a hand holding a brown trout - trout species in us

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Few U.S. anglers realize that the brown trout (Salmo trutta) is a non-native species. This species is a European native. They were first introduced to North America in the 1860s and are widespread across much of the United States.

A few names, including brown trout, brownies, and german brown trout, refer to brown trout. There are two variations of brown trout: The freshwater variation and Salmo trutta morpha trutta, also known as the "sea trout." These trout are usually, as the name implies, brown in coloration. But white and silver specimens are not uncommon. The body features spots that give the fish its iconic appearance. The brown is one beautiful fish. No wonder it has been introduced all over the world!

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Brown trout feed mainly on aquatic insects and typically weigh around ten pounds but can occasionally get much larger. The International Game Fish Association recognizes a 42-pound, 1-ounce specimen from New Zealand as the all-tackle world record for weight. The Montana state record for brown trout was broken in 2021 when a man, fishing with his daughter, caught a brownie weighing 32.43 pounds, measuring 37 inches in length with a 28.5-inch girth. The U.S. holds the record for length on a 97 cm fish caught in Milwaukee Harbor, Wisconsin, by Eric Haataja in 2011.

You can catch brown trout on a variety of fly patterns. The non-fly fishing anglers know brown trout respond well to inline spinnerbaits and small spoons.

Rainbow Trout (or Steelhead)

Hand holding a steelhead trout that was caught fly fishing and is about to be released - trout species in us

DecHogan via Getty Images

Perhaps the most easily recognizable species of trout is the rainbow trout. A prevalent species, this one can cause some confusion with novice anglers because there are two different variants with different names. The regular rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) usually is the smaller of the two. You'll find them in mountain streams across the U.S. and as far North as Alaska. They are only genuinely native to the Pacific Northwest states of California, Washington, and Oregon. Still, they've been successfully introduced across the country.

The other variation is the steelhead trout. The steelhead is like salmon. They spend much of their life in the ocean before migrating back to freshwater streams. Remember, you've got a rainbow if you have a fish that never leaves freshwater. However, you'll still sometimes hear the steelhead name used for fish that never see the ocean.

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The rainbow trout is also a beautiful fish. Their color varies wildly. Most specimens are going to display black spots over much of their body. The primary color is usually green or greenish brown, with hints of pink and red. Look into subspecies, such as redband trout. You'll see even more variation, with some fish having heavy black bands. One treasured color subspecies mutation is golden trout. Steelhead appears similar but will sometimes have more bronze or silvery coloration.

Both species are popular for fly anglers, but any fisherman can catch them on live bait and artificial lures. Sometimes you can even catch them ice fishing if you're in the right place. The IGFA recognizes a 48-pound beast caught in Canada as the all-tackle world record.

Cutthroat Trout

a Cutthroat rests on the bottom of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier National park, Montana - trout species in us

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The native cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) gets its name from the distinctive red streak under and behind the jawline. There is a lot of variation among cutthroats in coloration and size. The color of the body ranges from cadmium blue and silvery (sea-run) to olive-green or yellowish green. There may or may not be red on the sides of the head, the front part of the body, and the belly.

Cutthroats are a favorite of dry fly fishermen. However, anyone can readily catch them on a variety of artificial lures. In the video above, you'll see trolling crankbaits is an effective technique.

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They are found mainly in Western states like Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and New Mexico. Part of their native range includes parts of Northern California and regions of Washington and Oregon.

There are several subspecies of cutthroat living all over the U.S., including the Yellowstone cutthroat, the coastal cutthroat, and the legendary Lahontan cutthroat, listed as federally threatened.

The Lahontan cutthroat is the largest of all subspecies. It is responsible for all the biggest fish in the IGFA record book. Pyramid Lake, Nevada, has produced all-tackle records for weight and length.

The weight record, a 41-pounder, was caught on Pyramid in 1925. A lucky angler set the length record in November 2018 with an 85 cm fish. That lake is also home to numerous line class and tippet world records.

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Dolly Varden Trout

Koppi river. Khabarovsk region, far East, Russia. - trout species in us

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Is it a trout? Is it a char? Technically this is a char, a member of the salmon family. Trout are also part of this extended family. We should mention that "trout" describes many members of both trout and char. But given its long association with the trout name, we're including char in this guide. (There will be more examples of this later).

The Dolly Varden is a little more obscure than the other species discussed thus far. That's because Salvelinus malma has a much more limited native range. In the U.S., you can only find Dolly Varden trout in the extreme northwestern part of Washington and parts of Alaska.

Named after a feisty fictional character known to wear brightly colored outfits from a Charles Dickens novel, coloring on a Dolly Varden trout can vary wildly based on location. Dolly Vardens have light-colored spots that can be pink, red, white, or even yellow speckled over a light-colored brown, green, or grey-blue body. This species is anadromous most of the time, but it can survive in a landlocked setting too.

The Dolly Varden prefers the cold waters of mountain lakes and streams, where they feed on various aquatic species. They also eat eggs of other species, leading to Dolly Varden's undesirable reputation. Usually, it's tough to find a Dolly Varden over 10 pounds. IGFA's all-tackle world record is a 20-pound, 14-ounce fish caught by Raz Reid on the Wulik River in Alaska in 2001.

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Bull Trout

a Bull Trout caught and released in the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier National Park, Montana - trout species in us

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?Salvelinus confluentus is another char. It so closely resembles the Dolly Varden it took until 1980 before scientists finally classified the bull trout as a separate species. Once again, this fish has a limited range.

In the U.S., you'll mostly find them in Washington and Oregon. There are populations in Idaho and Montana too. Like the Dolly Varden, this species gained a bad and undeserved reputation for eating other, more desirable species.

Bull trout can spawn with non-native brook trout. They also require waters that are cold and clear to spawn. Now the species is considered threatened, and there are often heavy fines for not releasing one.

So, how do you tell a bull trout from a char? Remember that, usually, true trout have dark spots (brown to black) on a light body. Char has light spots (white or yellow to red) on a dark body.

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This video details more of the plight of the bull trout and what they're currently doing to try and save them. The good news is that more habitat is being protected for this fish to return. You can't keep them, so the all-tackle world record has stood for a while now. It's a 32-pounder caught in Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho in 1949.

Brook Trout

A Brook Trout swims in a clear water creek in Shenandoah National Park. - trout species in us

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Since we just mentioned the brook trout as a threat to the bull trout, we should talk about Salvelinus fontinalis too.

Brook trout are native to the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes Region. Humans later introduced them all over the American west and even Europe. These days, they are considered invasive in areas they are not native.
As we already mentioned, their ability to spawn with bull trout has resulted in hybrids harming bull populations.

Brook trout are hardy and live comfortably in lakes, streams, and rivers, although they prefer clear, colder waters. Brook trout are considered an "indicator species," meaning the overall health of a sustaining population within a body of water usually reflects the health of that local ecosystem. A suffering or declining brook trout population indicates something is going on environmentally.

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This fish is generally darker in color than other trout species. It's usually brown or green, and the belly is often a distinctive red or orange. The body features light-colored dots that are generally white or yellow in coloration. This fish can also reproduce with lake trout and brown trout. The result of a lake trout/brook trout hybrid is a splake, and a brown trout/brook hybrid is a tiger trout (More on those later).

You can catch them with various fishing techniques, from casting with inline spinners and spoons to live bait. Of course, fly fishing is the most popular way to catch them. The world record for a brook trout is a 14-pound, 8-ounce fish caught on the Nipigon River in Ontario in 1915. The crazy thing about that fish is that someone didn't weigh it until five days later. Experts think it may have weighed as much as 20 pounds while alive! The error led to a debate about whether the fish Dr. J.W. Cook caught was a brook trout. Some think it could have been a brown.

Unfortunately, Cook lost the original mount in a fire, so we can't do a genetic test to find out for sure. As a result, many people think this record is unbreakable.

Tiger Trout

Tiger Trout swinning at Quantico, VA. - trout species in us

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The tiger trout is a sterile hybrid of brown trout and brook trout. Tigers are colorful with red bellies and brown, grey, or silver bodies. Distinctive bar and stripe patterns overlay the tiger trout's body-each pattern varies from fish to fish.

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Some of the patterns look more like leopard spots to my eye. But I didn't get to name them. To be fair, "tiger trout" rolls off the tongue slightly better.

You might think biologists and wildlife agencies would loathe a sterile hybrid like this. Still, they're a popular fish to rear in fish hatcheries. It helps that they've proven a hit with anglers everywhere they've been introduced and that they've proven helpful in controlling other fish populations.

Anglers love tiger trout because they're aggressive and fun to catch. You can find tigers almost anywhere brook trout and lake trout swim. But some of the biggest fish have been found in the Great Lakes region. A woman caught the world record tiger trout on Loon Lake in Washington. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife verified the catch to weigh 27.42-pounds, with a 35.5-inch length and 28.125-inch girth.

Splake Trout

splake trout on rocks - trout species in us

Bryant Olsen via Flickr

The splake is another hybrid. This one results from a pairing of a brook trout and lake trout. While splakes do occur naturally in the wild, this fish is an artificial creation for the most part.

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Fish hatcheries have been producing splake for decades now. They are aggressive, fast-growing, and catchable through various fishing methods. Splakes are a favorite target for ice fishermen on many northern lakes.

Splakes can be found across the United States and in the Great Lakes. It does retain some characteristics of both parent fish, making it a unique species to target while fishing. Splakes are generally dark with light spots. The coloration varies from green to brown, and the belly may be white or orange.
While this hybrid isn't sterile, it doesn't consistently reproduce in a natural setting. Hence the reputation as a hatchery fish. The IGFA all-tackle world record is a 20-pound, 11-ounce fish pulled from Ontario's Georgian Bay in 1987.

 Lake Trout

Lake Trout Up Close - trout species in us

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Of course, we couldn't leave this prized game fish off the list, even though this is technically a char. Lake trout are usually associated with the northeast part of the U.S., where populations thrive from Maine down to New York. They are also abundant in the Great Lakes Region but are harder to find in the western United States.

Anglers prize this fish for the fight, size, and because they're great for eating. Like so many trout (and char) on this list, coloration varies depending on where you catch them. Many fish are a light grey or olive color. Others may appear silver or almost white. The speckled pattern over most of the body gives this fish an iconic look.

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Unlike many other fish species we've profiled here today, lake trout have an exceptionally long lifespan. Two years ago, the Wisconsin Department of Resources captured and released one estimated to be 46 years old, wearing a tag from 1981!

Lake trout often grow to immense sizes. The all-tackle world record is a 72-pound monster caught in Canada's Northwest Territories in 1995. But we know these fish get much bigger than that.

Three years ago, a Native American tribe in the Northwest Territories gill-netted an 83-pounder. And rumors persist that 100-plus pound lake trout have been caught by commercial fishermen before. If you're looking for a species that probably hasn't maxed out the world record yet, a lake trout is a good one to fish.

Gila Trout

close up of a Gila Trout, a species of fish found in the Southwest - trout species in us

Crissy1982 via Getty Images

Oncorhynchus gilae is a scarce species of trout. Gila trout classifies as endangered, and in many cases, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been quite reluctant even to let people fish for them. This fish is native to the Gila River, which runs through New Mexico and Arizona, so it has a minimal range.

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This trout's body is golden-colored with black dots. It eats aquatic insects, making it a legendary target of fly anglers where they can gain permission to target them.

This trout does not grow very large. The world record is just 3 pounds, 7 ounces, and it was caught from the Frye Mesa Reservoir in Arizona in 2011.

Apache Trout

close up of an apache trout - trout species in us

Amygleich, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This fish is in the same family as the Gila trout and is also found primarily in Arizona. It's a coldwater fish that is usually a golden color. It also sometimes has a distinctive black mark above its eyes.

The Apache trout's ill-advised spawning habits leave them critically endangered. This species can and does spawn with cutthroat and rainbow trout, jeopardizing each species' genetic diversity. Also, the increased rate of American forest fires threatens Apache trout populations.

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Biologists have been working for years to restock this fish from hatchery stocks. Because of this fish's endangered status, you might have a tough time finding a place to target them. Many streams with them are closed entirely, and others may levy heavy fines if you kill one.

Like the Gila trout, this species doesn't grow to especially massive sizes. The IGFA world record is just 5 pounds, 3 ounces. John Baldwin caught that fish in the White Mountain Apache Reservoir in 1991.

This article was originally published on Feb 3, 2020.

READ MORE: 10 TROUT LURES AND SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO FISH THEM

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