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Rainbow Trout

Updated on December 18, 2015

Rainbow Trout of North America

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), is one of the most respected and sought after game fish of North America.

The species occurs in both freshwater and saltwater. Sea run rainbow trout, called steelhead are anadromous; they return to their original hatching ground to spawn.

Rainbow trout are named for the reddish stripe along their sides. Mature males who are ready to spawn have the most pronounced red striping while the females are much less dramatic in coloration. The body is usually dark on top with silver flanks and lighter undersides.

rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss

Rainbow Trout

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), occur as both freshwater resident and sea-run races.

These colorful trout are native to western North America from the Aleutian Islands to northern Mexico, but have been widely introduced to waters throughout North America and the rest of the world.

A typical life cycle of this species begins with a stream for spawning followed by a larger body of water for maturation.

Rainbow trout prefer cold, clear, swift-moving water to live in. They are commonly found in water around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, but can tolerate temperatures up to 75 degrees. They cannot tolerate low oxygen levels.

Rainbow trout are voracious feeders willing to strike a wide variety of lures, baits, and flies. Weighted spinners and wobbling spoons are preferred by many anglers. Fly fishermen often use streamers, muddlers, and egg patterns in black and red.

A colorful variant of the rainbow trout is the golden rainbow trout. Golden rainbows have golden-yellow bodies, pinkish lower fins, and a reddish lateral stripe. Golden rainbow trout lack spots on the body or fins. This unique form of rainbow trout originated in West Virginia's hatchery system. Through selective breeding, an all-gold strain was established.

Both wild and farmed rainbow trout is popular in Western cuisine for its tender flesh and distinctive flavor. Cooks should avoid overcooking rainbow trout. It has the best texture and flavor when the flesh becomes opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Wild rainbow trout have a reputation as being the best table fare. Red, Pink or orange meat indicates either an anadromous steelhead or farmed trout given a supplemental diet with a high astaxanthin content.

Steelhead Rainbow Trout
Steelhead Rainbow Trout

Steelhead Trout

Sea-going rainbows, known as steelhead trout, are anadromous: they return to their original hatching ground to spawn.

Steelhead survive after spawning, usually returning to the ocean to start the anadromous cycle once again.

Steelhead meat is said to be more flavorful than meat of wild or farmed freshwater rainbow trout.

redband trout
redband trout

Redband Trout

Redband trout are a subspecies of rainbow trout, historically found east of the Cascades. The redband's current distribution is limited as environmental factors have resulted in population declines. These unique trout typically reach about 10 inches in length.

Rainbow Trout Aquaculture

About 500,000 metric tons of rainbow trout are raised each year in aquaculture facilities in the United States and Europe.

In the USA, some 1,000 trout farms produce approximately $80 million of trout annually, mostly in Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

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    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 6 years ago

      love to fish for rainbows, gotta sneak up on em though....RWJR