October 28, 2020
You say: “A trout is a trout is a trout.” Well not so fast, my fish-loving friend. Did you know that trout are part of the salmonid family? They are closely related to salmons and chars. In fact, many chars are named “trout,” even though they are technically chars. So you see, sometimes a trout isn’t even a trout.
It’s the same for speckled trout, a popular inshore species found in brackish waters along the southern and eastern coasts of North America. Even though they bear the name “trout,” they are technically in the drum family (along with red drum, known also as redfish, and black drum).
So we understand the confusion of identifying trout. We’ll take a look at them all, even if they aren’t technically trout.
Starting us off, brook trout aren’t really trout – they are part of the char family. But they are smaller than other chars, typically weighing one to two pounds. Their markings help to distinguish them: a marble pattern of browns, blacks, gray, and yellows along their body. Brook trout are native to the United States, from Georgia to the Midwest. Anglers will fish clear lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds for this trout (that’s not technically a trout).
Don’t be surprised when the brown trout you catch isn’t brown. They are typically a yellow or silver color with red and brown dots along their body from head to tail. They are native to European lakes and rivers, introduced to North America bodies of water from Georgia to Canada. Brown trout thrive in cold waters and have a diet of insects and plankton. Depending on where you’re fishing, brown trout can grow as large as 18-inches long.
Anglers in western North America enjoy fly fishing and casting for cutthroat trout. Named for the dramatic red and orange coloration on the lower jaw and near the gills, cutthroat trout are prominent near the rivers and tributaries of the Rocky Mountains. There are several subspecies of cutthroat trout found throughout the United States, many of them official state fish for western states. Because they are so widespread, averages vary depending on your fishing location.
Dolly Varden Trout
Technically Dolly Varden are part of the char family, but many anglers associate them as trout. Named after a colorful Charles Dickens character, Dolly Varden are typically found in the Pacific Northwest near Washington, Canada, and parts of Alaska. They thrive in cold mountain lakes, rivers, streams and tributaries feeding on insects and smaller fish. They are sometimes classified as bull trout because of their similarities.
The smallest of the trout family, golden trout (also known as California golden trout) have a very distinct appearance. They are brown on top and yellow on the bottom, with red and orange stripes over black dots down the middle. A subspecies of rainbow trout, they live in western North America mountainous areas in cold freshwater lakes and rivers. They enjoy feeding on small insects and rarely grow to more than 12 inches long.
The easiest way to identify a lake trout is by its size. They can grow to be over 70 pounds, depending on the body of water. Lake trout are found throughout North America, from the Rocky Mountain rivers and tributaries to the Great Lakes and northeast bodies of water. Their coloration varies from brown to silver with tan or cream colored spots across their body. Although named a trout, the lake trout is technically in the char family.
Rainbow trout are a west coast species, native to Alaska, southern Canada, Washington, and Oregon. They have been introduced to other freshwater locales such as the Great Lakes and other midwestern bodies of water. Identified by the colorful red or pink stripe that runs along their body, rainbow trout typically average between one to five pounds. They thrive in moving waters: either rivers or tributaries. Pacific coast rainbow trout with access to the ocean often migrate to the saltwater for adulthood, leading us to the next species of trout: steelhead trout.
The name “steelhead trout” can be very misleading. Great Lakes anglers call a certain species steelhead, but it’s very different from the steelhead trout of the Pacific coast. We’ll focus on the Pacific version for now. This is a trout that can thrive in both saltwater and freshwater environments. They typically start off as rainbow trout, move to saltwater for adulthood, then migrate back to freshwater for spawning season. This is the species that’s known for swimming upstream, a difficult feat that not many survive. Oftentimes, steelhead and rainbow trout are interchangeable names for the same species.
There’s an exception to every rule. The spotted seatrout is the exception to the all the other trouts. It’s not a freshwater species and thrives in brackish or saltwater environments. If you’re visiting the Gulf of Mexico, you may be confused when locals say you can catch trout in the nearby inlets, bays, and canals. It’s the spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout or simply “specks,” they are referring to and are very popular from Texas to Florida.
Trout Fishing Trips
As you can see, there’s no limit on the variety of trout available to anglers. Everything from salmon to char and even drum species are considered trout, all calling your name to a great day of fishing.
No matter what kind of trout you’re after, it’s an adventure luring them to the line. Across the country anglers are targeting trout throughout the year, and you don’t need any previous experience to get in on the action. Go fishing with an experienced friend, or hire a professional guide who can teach you what you need to know for future outings. Search FishAnywhere.com for a nearby guide who can get a fish at the end of your line, even if it’s technically not a trout it will still be a great day of catching a trophy!
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