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                          RAINBOW TROUT


Whether it is a native fish refusing a seemingly

flawless presentation of a Pale Morning Dun or a

hatchery-raised fish engulfing a wad of power-bait

in the local fishing pond, the rainbow trout is

everyman’s fish. Coupled with its reputation as fine

table-fare, the rainbow’s resourceful ability to reside

in diverse watersheds makes it perhaps the most

accessible and pursued fish in the world today.

Indeed its range is far-reaching, from the islands of 
New Zealand to the northern waters of Alaska, and

from the mountains of New Mexico to Eastern Europe. 

The rainbow possesses the various qualities required to place it in the elite of gamefish. They can be an intelligent and sensitive quarry, especially for the fly fisherman. You may repeatedly consult your fly box trying to find the correct imitation, only to eventually put the fish down with nary a rise. To rid itself of the hook, a ’bow will often leap repeatedly into the air, providing a spectacular display of determination. They also have the endurance to make long, sustained runs followed by a slugfest before conceding. Particularly river-born fish have an inner strength developed throughout their lives from holding in currents that provides an additional advantage when trying to escape the net. The rainbow trout can grow quite large; the current fly-caught record is over thirty pounds. Combine all of these factors with the inherent spotted, rainbow-hued beauty of this specimen and it is understandable why it is considered such a prized fish.

Contrary to other trout species – brown trout, for example – the ’bow is definitely a fast-water, current-loving trout, seeking out highly oxygenated waters. Rainbows, while being a delicate fish, can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, from the low 30s Fahrenheit up to the mid 70s. The rainbow can live past ten years of age; the subspecies from Eagle Lake, California is one of the longest living strains, reportedly achieving ages of over 11 years. There are numerous rainbow trout subspecies, having names such as Kamloops, Kern River, McKenzie River, Eagle Lake, and McCloud River rainbows, to name a few.  Rainbows can also breed with other members of the trout family, such as cutthroat and golden trout, at times creating unusually brilliant hybrids. The life cycle of the wild rainbow trout begins in a female-dug redd, usually in a tail-out or riffle of a stream. The spawning act lasts mere seconds, as the male and female deposit eggs and milt simultaneously into the redd, followed by the female finning loose gravel over the area. The spawning season is typically in the spring; indeed, this spawning cycle, depending on your regional location, often defines the fishing season for many fly fishermen.

The adaptive abilities of the rainbow trout are further exemplified by its ocean-going brethren, known as steelhead. Explaining the steelhead’s anadromous behavior – meaning migrating up rivers from the sea to breed in fresh water – can be a complex task.  The instinct arguably evolved during early geological times as the fish adapted to periods of glaciation and subsequent tributary availability.  Whatever the origins of motivation, this tough, hard-nosed fish has been documented to travel thousands of miles to return to its original freshwater birthplace to start a new life cycle.  Steelhead are predominately silver, although they frequently develop the stream rainbow’s signature red band as more time is spent in freshwater.  The passion and zeal with which steelhead are pursued by dedicated enthusiasts is rarely matched in the fishing world.  Whether in freshwater or salt, the rainbow trout is worthy of its fame and notoriety.

Click an image to enlarge

Don Muelrath
Fly Fishing Adventures

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