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What is a Cutthroat Trout?

Todd M.
Todd M.

Cutthroat trout is a species of trout that is native to various cold waterways of western North America. The scientific name for the species, Oncorhynchus clarkii, is a reference to Captain William Clark of famous Lewis and Clark expedition. Nearly all subspecies of cutthroat trout are freshwater trout with the exception of the subspecies O. c. clarkii that migrates to the Pacific Ocean. The strong fight that the cutthroat trout puts up when hooked makes it a popular gamefish for anglers.

Proper identification of these types of fish can be difficult because of the different colorations and sizes amongst the 14 different cutthroat trout subspecies. Cutthroats received their common name from the bright red and orange streak that can be found directly below the jaw of most subspecies. The backs of these fish are covered in black or brown spots that are arranged in an increasingly dense pattern towards the fish's back. Cutthrout trout can be found with colorations ranging from olive and silver to yellow-green.


The size of a cutthroat trout is determined by its habitat. Different subspecies of these fish can be found in various cold water habitats in western North America and are particularly abundant in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Basin. Cutthroat trout that make their home in small bodies of water like bogs and ponds are typically from 6 to 16 inches (about 15 to 40 centimeters) long. Cutthroats that are native to large mountain lakes can reach a length of 24 inches (about 60 centimeters) or more.

Cutthroat trout do not jump out of the water when they are being reeled in, but this aggressive fish is famous for putting up a particularly strong fight as a gamefish. These fish can be caught using the same angling methods that are used for most North American trout. Light tackle is appropriate when fishing for all but the largest cutthroat trout. Cutthroats prefer to feed on flies and small insects, which makes them a popular target for fly fishermen. They will also strike spinners, spoons and baited hooks.

This species of trout is more sensitive to changing water conditions and harvesting than most other types of trout, and some subspecies have become endangered due to overfishing and pollution. There are three cutthroat trout subspecies that are listed as being threatened with extinction, as well as two subspecies that have become extinct. The threatened subspecies of cutthroat trout include O. c. henshawi, O. c. seleniris and O. c. stomias.

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