Cutthroat Trout of the American West

Native Cutthroat Trout Poster by Michael Carl

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Lahontan Cutthroat trout shows black spots above lateral line

Cutthroat trout are usually recognized by numerous black body spots and yellow to red slashes of pigment under each side of the lower jar (See the photogragh below for the signature red slash).

Identifying Subspecies of Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout display spotting over tail.

Lahontan cutthroat tend to be dark olive to reddish yellow and the spots are larger and fewer - as evident in the photo above. Pauite cutthroat trout have coppery, greenish, or yellowish bodies. Cutthroat trout in general have larger mouths and more slender bodies than rainbow trout.

Yellowstone Cutthroat trout caught fly fising in Wyoming.

Life History

Stream resident cutthroat trout may live their entire life in less than 20 meters of stream. River resident cutthroat, however, move with flows and availability of food. In lakes, cutthroat trout roam over a wide range and will travel extensive distance to spawn in upstream tributaries. Cutthroat trout in Pyramid Lake traveled 160 km upstream via the Truckee River into Lake Tahoe to ultimately spawn in tributaries to the lake as well as the Truckee River.

Cutthroat trout red spawning color

Similar to other trout, stream resident cutthroat trout feed primarily on the drift - consuming a mix of terrestrial and aquatic insects. Cutthroat trout are opportunistic feeders, so whatever happens to be most abundant in the drift will be the most abundant in their bellies. Lake dwelling cutthroat trout feed on insects taken at the water's surface or zooplankton. However, if neither is available cutthroat trout will feed on insect larvae, crustaceans, and snails off the bottom.

Coastal Cutthroat Trout

Coastal Cutthroat or commonly called speckled trout

Coastal cutthroat trout,Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii, reside in the coastal streams of North America from the Eel River in northern California to south central Alaska. These native trout prefer small coastal streams, rivers, and lakes and are closely associated with the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Sea Run Cutthroat caught fly fishing a California stream

Of all the subspecies of cutthroat trout in North America, they are the only one's with an anadromouslife history. They exhibit complex life history that includes resident, river migrant, lake migrant, and marine migrant forms. Coastal cutts, sometimes referred to as “sea-runs” can be found in the estuaries and lagoon systems of northern California. Coastal cutthroat trout spawn in small headwater streams, typically above the spawning grounds of other Pacific salmon.

Cutthroat Trout - California Range Map

Cutthroat trout California Range Map

Range Map Provided by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Biology at UC Davis