Not All Trout Are Alike

Hatchery Trout

A hatchery trout has spent some part of its life‐cycle in an artificial environment and whose parents were spawned in an artificial environment. Once trout are of desirable size, they are released into another water body for the purposes of supplementing existing populations,  creating new fishing waters, or add trout to the population of other species.

Trout are raised to be catchable. Department of Fish and Wildlife Operations Manual  defines “catchable” trout as six per pound or larger. Catchable trout are used in Put‐and‐Take managed fisheries and at least half are expected to be harvested by anglers soon after planting.

Put-­and-­take management is a technique used in waters that are easily accessible to the general public, where angling demand is high, and where habitat conditions are not suitable to support a naturally producing fishery.

Another planting method is Put-­and-­Grow management. This management technique is used in waters where reproduction capability is limited, but habitat conditions support good growth and survival of juveniles to adults. Hatchery‐produced fingerlings are used in put‐and‐grow managed waters which are usually smaller than catchables.


Hatchery Trout Hold Overs

These are hatchery trout that survive a season after being planted. They adopt the diet and behavior of wild trout during the time in planted waters.


Wild Trout

A wild trout is a trout that was born in the wild and spends its life cycle in the wild, regardless of the origin of its parents or ancestors.  This means wild trout can be nonnative trout or native.  Nonnative trout are species that have been introduced into waters of California from sources outside of California or outside of their historic range. For example, a wild brown trout is not native to California. A coastal rainbow trout is a native California trout (even if it came from a hatchery).

In the early 1970’s, the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC) adopted a Wild Trout Policy that provides for the designation of “aesthetically pleasing and environmentally productive” streams and lakes to be managed exclusively for wild trout, where the trout populations are managed with appropriate regulations to be “largely unaffected by the angling process.

Designated Wild Trout Waters must meet the following criteria:

  • Open to public angling.
  • Able to support with appropriate angling regulations and wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory trout catches in terms of number or size of fish.
  • Domestic strains of catchable-size trout shall not be planted but suitable hatchery-produced wild or semi-wild strains may be planted in designated waters, but only if necessary to supplement natural reproduction.

California Native Trout

California is home to an amazing variety of trout that are native (indigenous) to this state and are part of our natural heritage. There were once 12 indigenous trout of California. However, the Bull Trout from northern California is believed to be extinct.  The remaining list of eleven include:

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Coastal rainbow trout

Eagle Lake rainbow trout

McCloud River redband trout

Goose Lake redband trout

Warner Lakes redband trout

Kern River rainbow trout

California golden trout

Little Kern golden trout

Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki)

Coastal cutthroat trout

Lahontan cutthroat trout

Paiute cutthroat trout


California Heritage Trout  [1]/

A Heritage Trout is not just any trout. They are trout that were historically in California prior to humans and have existed since prehistoric times. As described by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, “[t]he ancestors of today’s trout arrived in what is now the state of California by natural means. As California’s landscapes and climates changed over millennia [sic], its watercourses also changed, and some fish populations became isolated in distinct geographic areas. The isolated populations eventually evolved over thousands of generations into discrete strains, races, subspecies, or species that are uniquely adapted to their surroundings, or habitat. ”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission expanded its Wild Trout Policy by establishing the Heritage Trout Program in 1998 (now incorporated into the Heritage and Wild Trout Program), such that streams or lakes featuring one or more of the state’s native trout, and meeting other specific Wild Trout Water designation criteria, may be designated as Heritage Trout Waters. Heritage Trout Waters are a special subset of Wild Trout Waters to be monitored and managed by the HWTP.

The objectives of the Heritage Trout Program are to:

  • Increase public awareness about the beauty, diversity, historical significance, and special values of California’s native trout and their habitats;
  • Build public support and increase public involvement in native trout restoration efforts;
  • Promote collaborative efforts with organizations and individuals involved with native trout restoration and management; and
  • Diversify opportunities to fish for, observe, and enjoy native trout in their historic habitats.

Additional responsibilities were given to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Heritage and Wild Trout Program with the passage of SB 192 (the Trout and Steelhead Conservation and Management Planning Act of 1979), which has been superseded by SB 384 (2007). SB 384 (Fish and Game Code Section 1726 et seq.) requires the Heritage and Wild Trout Program to conduct a statewide inventory of trout streams and lakes, conduct ongoing evaluations of designated and candidate wild trout fisheries, and annually recommend to the CFGC 25 miles of streams and one lake for designation as a Wild Trout Water.

[1]               CDFW, website May 2008

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