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The Universal Guide to All the Trout Species in the United States

Trout Species In The United States

Here are all the trout you can catch in the United States.

Is there any fish that is more beloved in North America than the trout? We'd say there are a few close contenders, but this is one of the most iconic fish in the world and a favorite target of fly fishing enthusiasts everywhere.

But are you familiar with every species of trout in the United States? You never know, there might be a few sport fish subspecies you may not have heard of before.

That's why we've compiled this definitive trout species guide for the United States.

Now you'll know what to target on your next big trout fishing expedition!

Brown TroutTrout Species In The United States

Many U.S. anglers are completely unaware 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 1830s and are now common across much of the United States.

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 is marked with spots giving the fish its iconic appearance. The brown is one beautiful fish. No wonder it has been introduced all over the world!

Brown trout feed mostly on aquatic insects and can grow to a decent size. The International Game Fish Association recognizes a 42-pound, 1-ounce specimen from New Zealand as the all-tackle world record for weight. But 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. For the non fly anglers, they respond well to inline spinnerbaits and small spoons.

Rainbow Trout, aka: Steelhead

Trout Species In The United States

An incredibly common 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) is normally the smaller of the two. You'll find them in mountain streams across the U.S. and as far North as Alaska. They were originally native to the Pacific Northwest states of California, Washington and Oregon, but they've been successfully introduced across the country.

The other variation is the steelhead trout. The main difference here is that the steelhead are like salmon. They are anadromous. That means they spend much of their life in the ocean before migrating back to freshwater streams to spawn.

Just remember, if you have a fish that never leaves freshwater, you've got a rainbow. Although you'll still sometimes hear the steelhead name used for fish that never see the ocean.

This is a beautiful fish as well. Their color varies wildly. Most specimens are going to display black spots over much of their body. The main color is usually a green or greenish brown color with hints of pink and red mixed in there.

If you start getting into all the subspecies such as redband trout and the like, you'll see even more variation with some fish having heavy black bands. One treasured color subspecies mutation is golden trout. Steelhead appear similar but will also sometimes have more of a bronze or silvery coloration.

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

Cutthroat Trout

A native fish, Oncorhynchus clarkii gets its name from the distinctive red spot under and behind the jawline. This one displays a lot of variation in the color of its body. It might be green, gray or silver. Like the rainbow, you'll also see a rare gold one on occasion, too.

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

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

There are several subspecies of cutthroat living all over the U.S. and we simply don't have space to detail them all in full. However, some of the more common and popular ones you'll hear about are the Yellowstone cutthroat, the coastal cutthroat and the legendary Lahontan cutthroat. That last one is list as federally threatened.

The Lahontan cutthroat is the largest of all the subspecies and is responsible for all the biggest fish in the IGFA record book. More specifically, Pyramid Lake, Nevada has produced a near clean sweep of almost every record category. The all-tackle records for both weight and length were caught there.

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

Dolly Varden Trout

Here's a species that's a little more obscure than the others we've named so far. That's because Salvelinus malma has a much more limited native range.

In the U.S., you're only going to find them in the extreme Northwestern part of Washington and parts of Alaska.

As you may have already guessed by the name, technically this is a char, a member of the salmon family. But no one is going to change the name at this point (You'll see more examples of this later in this story).

The color 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 insects and other fish species. They also eat the eggs of other species. This led to this fish gaining something of an undesirable reputation that persists to this day. In the 1920s, there were even bounties on it.

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.

Bull Trout

Salvelinus confluentus is another char that so closely resembles the Dolly Varden it took until 1980 before the bull trout was finally classified 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.

It didn't help that this fish can spawn with non-native brook trout either. 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.

Just remember that bull trout and Dolly Vardens both have lighter-colored spots and you should be fine.

The video above details more of the plight of the bull trout and what they're currently doing to try and save them. The good news is more habitat is being protected for this fish to make a comeback.

Because you can't keep them, 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

Trout Species In The United States

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. They were later introduced all over the American west and even Europe later. These days, they are considered something of an invasive species in areas they are not native.

As we already mentioned, their ability to spawn with bull trout has resulted in hybrids that are having a negative effect on bull populations.

Brook trout are hardy and live comfortably in lakes, streams and rivers, although they prefer clear, cooler waters. You can catch them with a variety of fishing techniques, from casting with inline spinners and spoons to live bait. Of course, the most popular way to catch them is through fly fishing.

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 is marked with light-colored dots that are usually 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).

The world record for a brook trout is a 14-pound, 8-ounce fish caught on the Nipigon River in Ontario all the way back in 1915. The crazy thing about that fish is the fact that it wasn't weighed until five days later. Experts think it may have weighed as much as 20 pounds while alive!

This has led to some debate on whether the fish, which was caught by Dr. J.W. Cook, was really a brook trout. Some think it could have been a brown.

Unfortunately, the original mount was lost in a fire, so a genetic test can't be done to find out for certain. As a result, many people think this record is unbreakable.

Tiger Trout

As we just mentioned, the tiger trout is a hybrid of brown trout and brook trout. However, unlike some hybrids, this fish is sterile.

Tigers are extremely colorful with red bellies and a brown, grey or silver body. The body is overlaid with distinctive bar and stripe patterns that vary from fish to fish.

Personally, I think some of the patterns are closer to a leopard's spots, but I didn't get to name them. To be fair, "tiger trout" rolls off the tongue a little better.

You might think a sterile hybrid like this would be loathed by biologists and wildlife agencies, but 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 useful in controlling other fish populations.

Anglers love tiger trout because they're aggressive and fun to catch. Tigers can be found almost anywhere brook trout and lake trout are. But some of the biggest fish have been found in the Great Lakes region. Lake Michigan produced the IGFA all-tackle world record in 1978 when a 20-pound, 13-ounce giant was caught by Pete Friedland in waters on the Wisconsin side of the lake.

Splake Trout

The splake is another hybrid. This one is the result of a pairing of a brook trout and lake trout. While splakes have occurred naturally in the wild, for the most part, this fish is a man-made creation.

Fish hatcheries have been producing splake for decades now. They are feisty, fast-growing and can be caught using a variety of fishing methods. Ice fishing is popular for this species in 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. Splake 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 always reproduce in a natural setting either. Which is why it's usually known as a hatchery fish. This is a mid-size trout species. The IGFA all-tackle world record is a 20-pound, 11-ounce fish that was pulled from Ontario's Georgian Bay in 1987.

 Lake Trout

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

One thing is for sure, anglers prize this fish for the fight, size and because they're great eating. 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 light speckled pattern over most of the body gives this fish an iconic look.

Unlike many of the 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 that was estimated to be 46 years old. The fish was first tagged back in 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+ 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 for.

Gila Trout

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

This trout is characterized by a body that is mostly golden in color and marked with black dots. It eats mostly 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 back in 2011.

Apache Trout

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

Like the gila trout, this one is also considered endangered. Mostly because this species can and does spawn with cutthroat and rainbows.

Biologists have been working for years to re-stock this fish from hatchery stocks. Because of this fish's endangered status, you might have a really hard time finding a place to target them. Many streams with them are closed completely and others may have 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.

Now then, who's ready to do some fishing and catch a few of these trout species?!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis Youtube channels



The Universal Guide to All the Trout Species in the United States