Fly fishing for trout is my passion, and I am blessed to live near a world-class tailwater fishery. Gunpowder Falls provides a year round opportunity to fish for wild brown trout.
I’ve also had the opportunity to fish all across the United States. In 2012-2013 I used fishing licenses in 17 states, and caught a wide variety of fish–stocked, wild and native; rainbows, browns, brook, and a variety of cutthroat trout. For me, it is not just about the fish or the rivers, but the wild, beautiful natural places trout fishing takes you.
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbows are some of the most common trout in the US, although they are native only to the west coast (west of the continental divide). Because they are easy to raise to stockable size and cheaper than any other trout species to stock (plus they tend to fight pretty well), they are found in almost every state.
I caught this guy on the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels, Texas. Rainbows are clearly not native to Texas. This is actually great coloration for a stocked trout-many suffer poor coloration and damaged fins or missing scales from overcrowding in hatcheries.
I prefer fishing for wild fish over stockies, and native fish above all. To me, ‘wild’ means they were born in the stream rather than a hatchery, while ‘native’ means their ancestors were in that particular stream before men intervened. Wild/native trout are unquestionably more beautiful. Unfortunately, native trout make up only an extremely small minority of the trout in the US.
Note the vivid colors–this is why they are called ‘rainbow’ trout. This little fellow was caught in the upper Kern River in the southern Sierras in California, and required several miles of hiking. It is still not 100% sure he is native due to all the stocking downstream, but he certainly is wild. The purple spots down his lateral line are called ‘parr marks’, and they mean he is not sexually mature.
Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Brookies are the main trout species native to the eastern half of the country, and as some folks are quick to point out, they are not really a trout at all. Scientists call them a ‘char’, not a trout. I still call them trout. This is the first trout I caught on a fly rod, and thus my ‘first love’ among the trouts. Brookies still hold a special place for me.
This little guy is typical of mountain headwaters brook trout. They prefer colder, cleaner water than rainbows, and are harder to raise in hatcheries. They are often outcompeted when brown or rainbow trout are introduced to their habitat.
Note the red spots with light blue halos–this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of brookies.
This pretty little fish is catching his breath after I released him back into the North Carolina mountain stream where I caught him. The white fore edges of his fins and the worm-like ‘vermiculation’ on his back are also typical of brook trout.
Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)
There are quite a few subspecies of Cutts. Lewis and Clark used a variety of methods to fish for Westslope Cutts, and described them in great detail. They are the native trout of America’s Rockies, as well as sharing the coastal northwest with Rainbows. Most cutthroats you catch will be wild and native, as they seem to be tough to stock.
Like most Cutts, the coloration on this lively trout is more muted than rainbows or brookies. You can only barely make out the signature orange/red slash below his jaw for which cutthroats are known. He’s about to go back into the Soda Butte in Yellowstone NP where I raised him on a hopper.
The red slash on this Cutthroat is easier to see. This Colorado River Cutthroat has almost been completely competed out of his home on the Fryingpan River in Colorado by introduced browns and rainbows. I was lucky to catch him. Notice his more widely distributed, larger spots.
Based on where I caught this feisty little guy–Taggart Lake in Grand Teton NP–the ranger said it has to be a native Snake River Cutt, since nothing has ever been stocked up there. The coloration doesn’t look like other pictures I’ve seen on the web, though.
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout are not native to the Americas at all (actually, no trout is native to South America or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, so any trout you find there is the result of human intervention). Browns are the native trout of Europe, and you will still hear them referred to as ‘German browns’ in some parts of the US.
Although not native, browns are some of the most common wild trout in the US. This is because they are very hardy, and can survive in water that is warmer and less pure than brookies or Cutts. They also tend to be more aggressive, and will often outcompete other species. This brown is from Utah’s Flaming Gorge section of the Green River, where browns are only truly self sustaining wild fish despite copious stocking of rainbows. Note the dark brown/black spots on a light brown/yellow background.
This little fellow was caught on Maryland’s Gunpowder, and features bright red spots common to the local trout, as well as a distinct yellow belly.
Like I said before, it is not just about these beautiful fish and the clear, cold rivers they live in. For nearly every fish picture I could show you a gorgeous piece of nature I would never have seen if not for the call of trout. That could be an entire additional blog… here is just one of my favorites: