North America is home to many types of trout. Some of these species are commonly found throughout large areas, while others may be confined to a single river system.
Let’s take a look at these different species, from the anglers’ favorites to the lesser-known species that many have never heard of.
North American Trout Species
Trout belong to the Salmonidae family of fish, and the Salmonidae family can be found worldwide.
This family of fish makes up all true trout, char, whitefish, graylings, and of course, all salmon species.
1. Rainbow Trout
The rainbow trout is one of the most commonly found trout species in North America thanks to artificial propagation, and today are one of the most popular types of trout targeted by anglers.
The native range of the species includes waters and tributaries of the pacific basin.
Starting at the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, the range extends across Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and continues down the western coastline to Mexico.
The rainbow trout is anadromous, and the fish spends a significant portion of its life in the saltwater of the Pacific and travels to freshwater tributaries for spawning.
Rainbow trout that are anadromous are known as steelhead trout, while rainbow trout that live mostly or entirely in freshwater is not referred to as steelhead trout.
Steelhead trout and rainbow trout are the same species, but the fish live two different lifestyles, and the anadromous and freshwater lifestyle difference is the reason for the name distinction.
Thanks to Artificial propagation, the rainbow trout can be found throughout suitable bodies of water in the United States and Canada, most notably the great lakes.
Some of the waterways stocked with rainbow trout need continuous stocking to provide anglers with fishing opportunities due to the fish not reproducing.
Some stocked rivers have self-sustaining populations, and stocking is not required.
2. Brown Trout
Many anglers may be surprised to learn that brown trout are not a native species in the United States.
Brown trout are one of the most targeted game fish, and many anglers target them when trout fishing and fly fishing.
The brown trout is native to Europe and was introduced into Canada in the 1930s.
Over time the trout was introduced throughout about half of the United States, with the most populated areas consisting of the Great Lakes region, the northeast, and western states.
The brown trout has also been introduced in South America in the countries of Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
Other parts of the world that now harbor brown trout are Australia, Kenya, South Africa, northern India, and New Zealand.
New Zealand today is well-known for producing trophy-class brown trout, and anglers travel from around the world to fish for them.
3. Brook Trout
The brook trout is one of the more popular types of trout and makes a great sportfish.
The brook trout is a very pretty fish, with an olive-green body and golden markings on its back and dorsal fin.
The fish’s flanks have red spots that have blue rings around them.
The fish will have a bright orange belly and feature white on the leading edge of their lower fins during the spawning season.
Brook trout are not anadromous like rainbow trout and are solely freshwater fish.
The brook trout has a relatively small native range which consists of the Great Lakes region, the Northeastern portion of the U.S., and the Appalachians.
The fish is also widespread throughout several regions of Canada as well.
Artificial propagation of the brook trout has spread the species well outside of its native ranges.
Today most states in the continental U.S. have brook trout in at least one body of water, and they were even introduced onto two Hawaiian islands.
In many western state waters, the brook trout is considered an invasive species and has caused negative effects to native fish species.
The brook trout has also been introduced abroad and planted in bodies of water in Europe, South America, and New Zealand.
The brook trout is the state fish of Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, and Vermont.
Talk about a popular fish.
4. Tiger Trout
Since we discussed brook and brown trout, it’s only right we talk about the tiger trout next.
The tiger trout is the hybrid offspring of interbreeding between brook trout and brown trout.
Tiger trout are sterile and cannot reproduce, making them an excellent choice for stocking without causing long-term damage to the body of water they are introduced to.
Tiger trout are some of the most beautiful trout you will catch, with bodies covered in dark worm-like marking over gold scales, orange bellies, and fins.
Since the tiger trout is a hybrid, they have no set native range, with the exception of any body of water that harbors both brown and brook trout.
Fish hatcheries selectively breed tiger trout for stocking programs, and the fish can be found in bodies of water throughout much of the United States.
5. Lake Trout
The lake trout has a much narrower distribution compared to other trout species like the brook trout and brown trout.
Surprisingly, the lake trout technically isn’t a trout at all; the lake trout is a char, which is very closely related to trout and other salmonids.
Lake trout live in oligotrophic lakes, which are lakes with very deep and clear water with high oxygen content.
The lake trout can be found in lakes in Alaska, Canada, and the northern regions of the United States, including the Great Lakes.
The lake trout has a dark green or olive-colored body with cream-colored spots from tail to head and a creamy white belly.
Lake trout that live in dimictic type lakes will go pelagic throughout the summer months and live at depths of 65-200 feet in depth.
The Pelagic nature of lake trout in most lakes is due to their preference for cold water and is one of the reasons they are not found in small or shallow bodies of water.
The lake trout is the largest of the char family, and the largest lake trout recorded weighed 102 pounds.
Lake trout weighing 15 to 40 pounds is not uncommon, and the world record lake trout to be caught on a rod and reel weight 72 pounds and was 59 inches in length.
6. Cutthroat Trout
The cutthroat trout is a trout species inhabiting the western United States.
This trout species has evolved in geographic isolation and has 14 different subspecies.
Each subspecies of the cutthroat trout inhabits a different drainage basin throughout the overall species range.
The cutthroat trout inhabits waters in the Pacific Northwest, starting in Alaska, and reaches as far south as the Cascade Range and Northern California.
The fish can also be found in the Great Basin and spread throughout the Rocky Mountains.
The cutthroat trout has the second-largest native range in North America, with the number one spot belonging to the lake trout.
The Cutthroat lives in shallow rocky rivers and streams with high levels of oxygenation, and they can also be found in moderately deep and cold lakes.
The subspecies known as the Lahontan cutthroat trout evolved in what once was Lake Lahontan, a giant Pleistocene lake in Nevada during the ice age.
Today, the remnants of Lake Lahontan are the Pyramid, Walker, and Tahoe lakes which were formed about 7,000 years ago.
The cutthroat thus evolved in what can be described as an inland ocean-like environment.
Pyramid Lake produces massive cutthroat trout, with the largest recorded fish caught weighing 41 pounds.
The cutthroat trout or its subspecies are the state fish of Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
7. Bull Trout
The Bull trout is another case of “a trout that isn’t a trout,” and is technically a char.
Bull trout are also one of the rarest in the trout family in all of North America.
If you want to attempt to catch a bull trout, you will have to go to the Yukon, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Western Montana, or Idaho.
There are also isolated populations of bull trout in the Jarbridge River in Nevada and isolated locations east of the continental divide in Alberta.
The bull trout also lived in California, but the species is believed to be locally extinct there today.
One of the reasons for their narrow and particular range is due to the fishes’ strict habitat requirements.
Bull trout need to live in cold water that is 55 degrees or cooler, with deep pools, clean water, gravel, complex cover systems like snags, cut banks, and connecting tributaries for spawning migrations.
8. Gila Trout
The home of the Gila trout is the Southwestern United States.
The range of the fish is very small and is only found in the Gila River and its tributaries in Arizona and New Mexico.
It is also found historically in Arizona’s Verde and Agua Fria basins.
Five streams in the Gila National Forest are home to the Gila trout, and the Main and South Diamond Creeks in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area also are home to the fish.
Gila Trout are endangered and have only recently been opened for recreational angling due to population rebounds.
Hybridization with stocked trout like the rainbow trout is one of the major concerns for the continuation of the species, along with habitat destruction.
By the time the Gila trout was as threatened in 1967, the trout range had gone from several hundred miles of stream to only 20 miles in the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas.
After being listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, efforts were made in the name of conservation to bring back Gila trout habitat as well as introduce the fish into more streams.
9. Apache Trout
The Apache trout is the only native type of trout species in Arizona alongside the Gila trout.
Apache trout have a range that spreads throughout the coniferous forests and marshes of the White Mountain range.
The fish is also native to the upper Salt River and Little Colorado River.
The Apache trout have been stocked in other bodies of water, such as the Pinaleno Mountains and the northern rim area of the Grand Canyon.
Like the Gila trout, the Apache trout is Critically threatened, and conservation and species management efforts have been ongoing since the 1940s.
The main threat to the apache trout is hybridization with non-native rainbow trout, which could spell the end for the species over time.
Fishing for the Apache trout is banned in most areas where they are found, while some select areas allow for only catch and release fishing of the species.
The Apache trout is the state fish of Arizona.
Time for another one of those cool hybrid trout species or char species? Confusing, isn’t it?
The splake is a hybrid of a brook trout and a lake trout, which are actually both char, and technically not trout.
Unlike many other hybrid fish species, the splake is actually capable of reproducing successfully, but splake reproduction itself is extremely rare.
There are only a few known cases in which the splake has reproduced naturally, and in each case, only a handful of progeny was produced.
Due to the splake’s extremely low levels of reproduction, it has become a popular fish for stocking programs in many bodies of water in Canada and the United States.
The splake is considered easier to catch than other salmonid species and is another reason they are popular in stocking programs.
11. Golden Trout
The golden trout is possibly the most beautifully colored type of trout there is, with stunning bright colors and gorgeous markings.
Golden trout have a bright golden yellow coloration with a brown-colored back.
The fish has a bright orange/red band with dark blotchy vertical marks running along its flank.
Fish appearance can vary, but golden trout have black spots that cover either the rear third of their bodies or all the way across the body from tail to head.
This trout has a very narrow natural range and is found in the Southern Sierra Nevada range, with species present in the Golden Trout Creek and the Kern River’s South Fork.
The golden trout has been introduced into hundreds of lakes and streams outside of their native range.
Unfortunately, most planted golden trout populations could not take hold in the non-native waters, or they became hybridized with rainbow trout.
The golden trout has a critically endangered status by the IUCN.
The introduction of the brook and brown trout into their native waters has been a detrimental blow to the golden trout due to out competition by the non-native species.
Efforts are now being made to restore the backcountry habitats that have been lost.
12. Redband Trout
The redband trout is a subspecies or technically several subspecies of the rainbow trout.
There are three redband trout subspecies, to be exact, and they have a native range in 3 separate basins.
The three subspecies are the Columbia River, McCloud River, and Great Basin redband trout.
The Columbia River subspecies can be found in the Columbia River and its’ tributaries in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.
The McCloud redband trout can be found in the McCloud River and Pit River, tributaries of California’s Sacramento River.
And finally, the Great Basin subspecies can be found in these seven isolated basins:
- Chewaucan Basin
- Warner Lakes Basin
- Goose Lake Basin
- Catlow Basin
- Harney-Malheur Basin
- Fort Rock Basin
- Upper Klamath Lake Basin
Nearly all of these basins are located in Oregon, with the exception of the Goose Lake basin in Northern California.
The Goose Lake Basin also extends into the very Northwestern tip of Nevada and part of Oregon.
The redband trout looks very similar to the rainbow trout, but some features are different.
The dark spots on the Redband trout are larger and more rounded compared to the rainbow trout.
The lateral line area coloration is also more of an Orange/red compared to the rainbow trouts’ pinkish coloration.
Redband Trout also have prominent white tips on the fins.
13. Dolly Varden Trout
The Dolly Varden trout was only recently recognized as its own species, and scientists always considered them to be the same species as the bull trout.
In the northern portion of the range of this species, they were thought to be the same as the Arctic char due to having a very similar appearance.
The Dolly Varden trout has a range that starts in the Puget Sound and extends north through the coastal areas of British Columbia up to Alaska.
They can be found around the Aleutian Islands of Alaska across to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia.
The range of the Dolly Varden Trout is very similar but smaller than the rainbow trout, and doesn’t extend as far south.
Like the rainbow trout, the Dolly Varden trout is semi-anadromous and spends portions of time in the saltwater of the Pacific ocean and freshwater tributaries.
The unique name of the fish comes from a character in the Charles Dickens book Barnaby Rudge.
Author Peter Moyle first penned the name in his book Inland Fishes of California, where he compared the red dress worn by the character to the bright red belly of the fish.
14. Cutbow Trout
The cutbow trout is another hybrid type of trout that is the result of interbreeding between a cutthroat trout and rainbow trout.
Being a hybrid, this fish only lives in waters that the two-parent species bot inhabit.
While this hybrid species can be difficult to identify, the main differences are the white-tipped fins and a combination of red, orange, and pink colors on the gill plate.
Unlike other hybrid species, the cutbow trout can reproduce and do not have reproduction setbacks such as the splake.
Their ability to successfully reproduce is detrimental to the pure strain cutthroat trout, which are at risk of genetic pollution of the species.
Cutbow trout appeared after stocking programs began introducing the rainbow trout into non-native inland waters and are to this day used in stocking programs.
15. Mexican Native Trout
The Mexican native trout, as the name suggests, is a type trout that has a native range in Mexico.
This species of trout is also known as the Mexican golden trout and like the golden trout, is incredibly beautiful in appearance.
These trout are considered subspecies of the rainbow trout, just like the golden trout.
Due to being similar to other trout species, they were considered to be the same species for a long time and didn’t get recognized as a separate species until 1964.
The Mexican native trout has 13 different localized subspecies, all of which call a different river system home.
The Mexican golden trout is sometimes considered a Mexican native trout but is actually a separate species with a very small range.
The range of the Mexican golden trout consists of the high elevation headwaters of the Fuerte, Sinaloa, and Culican rivers, all of which are mountain stream tributaries and rivers in the Sierra Madre Occidental.
What Is The Most Common Trout?
Rainbow trout and steelhead are probably the most common trout in the United States.
This is due to their fairy wide native range along the Pacific coastline from Alaska to Mexico.
They are also stocked throughout inland lakes, rivers, and streams around the nation to provide anglers with more fishing opportunities.
If you are like me, you might not have known that so many trout existed in North America.
Trout are one of those species that has evolved in isolation in many cases, and this is one of the main reasons for the wide range of species and subspecies.
Mix in interbreeding and trout hybrids, and you end up with a huge family of trout swimming in lakes, streams, and rivers throughout nearly all biomes in North America.