The rainbow trout may be native to lakes and rivers of North America and freshwater bodies west of the Rocky Mountains, but their value as a hard-fighting game fish and a tasty meal have elevated its popularity among anglers.
If there’s a fish species that truly reflects the relationship between man and nature, it has to be the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Revered worldwide as a remarkable game fish, some anglers love or vilify them as an invasive and aggressive fish species, especially when hooked. Sometimes known as steelhead trout, many anglers love the rainbow trout not just for their eye-catching and flamboyant patterned skin but also for their incredible ability to swiftly swim upstream.
Rainbow trout are common and widespread in the United States and across the world. They are one of the most endangered fish species in the U.S. largely because they’re affected by water pollution. In other words, they can only survive in non-polluted freshwater bodies. Although they’re native to rivers, streams, and freshwater bodies west of the Rocky Mountains, they’ve been introduced into other rivers and streams throughout North America.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a look at the rainbow trout; what makes it so popular, where to find them, and how to catch them.
The true origin of rainbow trout is in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. They were probably brought to North America over two centuries ago and are very common in Alaska but can be found in most freshwater bodies across the U.S. Belonging to the salmon family, this brightly-colored fish are resident to freshwater bodies but can also spend time at the sea before returning to the freshwater to spawn. These types of rainbow trout are usually known as steelhead trout.
They have a streamlined body but their coloration and size may vary depending on their age, habitat, sex, and degree of maturity. Given that they’re an important food source for humans, rainbow trout are sometimes cultivated for commercial purposes. But despite the increase in demand, their number is still stable in the wild although they’re enlisted as endangered in some areas.
The rainbow trout derives its name from the gorgeous colors that appear on its skin. However, these colors may vary depending on their habitat, age, maturity, and sex. Its long and skinny body comes in a variety of colors such as olive, brown and black, blue-green, and dark blue.
For example, the dorsal side of an adult rainbow trout is typically olive green, brown or blue-green in color. On the other hand, juvenile rainbow trout have about 13 dark spots on their sides, which will fade as they grow older. Again, freshwater rainbow trout are generally lighter in color than their counterparts in saltwater habitats. They all, however, must have a reddish stripe running the length of its entire body and a silver underside that fades to pearl white, as well as small black spots on their backs, fins, and tails.
You can also identify them with their seven fins that include a pair of pelvic fins, a pair of pectoral fins, an adipose fin, and a dorsal fin. Again, rainbow trout has no lower teeth at all but has sharp teeth on the roof of its mouth. They also have strong and muscular; torpedo-shaped bodies with partially forked tails.
A unique feature of the rainbow trout is the unwavering desire to spawn in the same stream that they were hatched. When it comes to spawning, a rainbow trout will begin spawning at the age of 3 or 4. It’ll look for a secluded cove or inlet. The female trout will dig a hole in the gravel in preparation for laying the eggs. The male rainbow trout will fertilize them after which the female will bury the eggs to protect them during incubation before leaving.
In most cases, the eggs will hatch after 21 days provided that the water temperature is cool enough. While a mature female rainbow trout can lay 200 to 8000 eggs, only a handful will survive to become adults.
The average lifespan of a rainbow trout in the wild is 4 to 6 years. But the maximum recorded lifespan of a rainbow is 11 years.
Given that they’re members of the salmon family, rainbow trout can be quite large. Averagely, a rainbow trout can reach 16 inches in length and weigh 2 to 8 pounds. But can grow as long as 4 feet and weigh up to 50 pounds although the largest rainbow trout ever caught weighed 48 pounds.
In terms of behavior, their social behavior will generally vary based on their age and maturity. For example, juvenile rainbow trout usually congregate in schools as a way of protecting themselves from predators and become more solitary in adulthood.
Although they are spread in various parts of the world, rainbow trout are generally found along the coastal seas of the North Pacific. You’ll find them in most freshwater bodies such as rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as freshwater bodies west of the Rocky Mountains. In North America, they’re abundant in California, Alaska, and Canada. They, however, have been introduced outside their native range and can be found in various regions all across the United States.
Rainbow trout prefer cool (55-60 degrees) and clear freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes. However, some will leave their freshwater habitat by following a river out to the sea. These migratory rainbow trout are known as steelhead trout and will generally acquire silver marking after spending time out in the sea, although they’ll return to spawn in the river. In essence, they live in fast-running freshwater streams with natural cover and gravel bottoms but can perfectly adapt in saltwater when necessary.
Other different ecosystems that you’ll find rainbow trout include creeks, ponds, coastal seas, and estuaries.
In terms of seasonal habits, we’ll look at the best time to catch rainbow trout.
The best time to catch rainbow trout in fall is early in the morning and by mid-to-late afternoon. This is because they tend to be more active when the water temperatures are warm (45-55 degrees). They tend to be more active during the fall in anticipation of the upcoming winter.
The best time to catch rainbow trout in winter is in the mid-to-late morning or late in the afternoon. Generally, rainbow trout will be more lethargic in winter and may not feed as much and will mostly survive on conserved energy.
This is the spawning season for rainbow trout and they’ll feed more actively in the mid-late morning when the water temperature is a bit warmer. This is probably the best time to go out there as the rainbow trout will be hungrier and will bite more to compensate for the lost energy during spawning.
This is also a great season for rainbow trout fishing, especially at night. The moon is strong and there are a lot of insects that are delicious to the rainbow trout.
Rainbow trout are carnivores that will never feed on water plants. Although they primarily eat invertebrate larvae and terrestrial insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and ants, they’re also predators that will feed on various fish species. In most cases, they’ll save energy by opening their mouth and remaining stationary in fast-flowing streams to eat insects and fish that flow or swim downstream.
Despite being predators, rainbow trout are not very aggressive and will generally target crayfish, crustaceans. Salmon eggs, snails, salmon, minnows, mollusks, shrimps, worms, and even decomposing carcasses.
Rainbow trout love fast-running streams but can also seek refuge from predators or strong currents. As such, you’ll most likely catch them in areas with cover such as in sunken trees, overhanging branches, and in both natural and artificial structures.
Overall, you can find rainbow trout in freshwater rivers, streams, lakes, and dams but you’ll mostly in fast-running water. You can focus on areas where there are current shifts such as areas where two rivers or streams meet. You can also target areas near rock piles or pockets of water where the rainbow trout are likely to be resting at facing upstream. You can also cast upstream and let your lures drift toward eddies or calm areas.
Although there are various fishing methods that will work successfully in catching rainbow trout, here are important issues to keep in mind.
Realistic Colors – Rainbow trout love clear, brighter waters so using baits and lures that look like their prey is the best way to go.
Vibration Matters – Whether you’ve decided to throw soft baits or any type of lures, vibration should be central to your plans. You want something that can act like a wounded real-life prey to attract rainbow trout into action.
Flash and pop – You should add a brighter object to your line or lure that can elevate the curiosity of rainbow trout and will work tremendously well in attracting them to your line.
Scent attract bites – You shouldn’t be afraid to add some scent and attractants to your baits and lures as they’ll attract rainbow trout to your line.
When fishing for rainbow trout, it’s best to go with a very light line. The idea here is that rainbow trout have good eyesight and will be scared away by a very visible line. You should also use an ultra-light rod and reel if you’re fishing in stiller waters but can consider a heavier rod if you’re fishing in waters with heavy currents.
You’ll also need a rod with a soft tip. This is because rainbow trout usually shake their heads aggressively, so you need something that can absorb these shakes. As such a 21-pound test line is ideal for rainbow trout in all situations.
When it comes to the line, braided line can be ideal though this can depend on your personal preferences. But if you use fluorocarbon or a monofilament line as your mainline, a leader may not be necessary.
They eat various types of lures including plugs, spoons, soft plastics, jigs, and spinners as long as they’re within 1-inch to 3-inch range. In terms of color, go with yellow and green if you’re fishing in clear waters to entice the rainbow trout to hit the line.
Given that rainbow trout are low in mercury, they’re among the best fish species to eat and are approved as the best choice by both the FDA and EPA. In addition to being sumptuous, they’re a great source of proteins, omega3 and other nutrients that are very essential especially for pregnant women and children. Better still, its health benefits are abundant and should be a crucial part of your diet. Here’s a proper place to start with.
Rainbow trout are unquestionably one of the most popular freshwater game fish in the United States. Even though they won’t fight you like a salmon, bass or northern pike, they’ll make up for this in their sumptuous taste. But because they present a great challenge to catch, you’ll need patience, skills, and sometimes a fair share of luck.
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