Wild vs. native trout- does it matter?

February 11, 2018

High mountain brook trout in the Rockies, enormous rainbows on the Miracle Mile, savage browns in the lower Big Horn River-- I'm sure you've heard about each of these at least a time or two.  Heck, maybe you've even had the opportunity to cast to one or more of them. Who doesn't want to pursue some of the most iconic fish in the world of fly fishing? 


 Wild brook, rainbow, and brown trout prowl our river's lakes, and streams tempting us to test our angling skills against some of America's most famous fish.  Add to the pursuit towering mountain vistas or blue bird sky's framing a tailwater and you've got the pieces for an epic story.  But what if something was missing?

 Westslope cutthroat trout cortesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Region 6 Flickr page.


Wild trout are at the heart of fly fishing's most inspired destinations.  Last week's blog looked at why conservation of wild trout and their habitats are intrinsic to the sport of fly fishing, this week we're going to explore why native trout are equally (or in my opinion even more) important to conserve.  But for many anglers this issue really begins with the question- does wild vs. native matter?  


Wild non-native brook, brown, lake, and rainbow trout can be found in waters throughout the entirety of the U.S.  Bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, or Apache trout?  Well, not so much.  In large part this is an echo from an earlier era in fisheries management when trout (and many other types of fish) were stocked willy-nilly into any water that folks had a desire to drop them into.  The result was an explosion of these famously common trout at the loss of native trout.


How does this look by the numbers?  Today, two species of native trout are extinct- the Alvord cutthroat trout and the yellowfin cutthroat trout.   In addition to the two extinct species the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency charged with recovering threatened and endangered species, lists seven more species of trout as threatened with extinction:

  1. Little Kern golden trout

  2. Apache trout

  3. Lahontan cutthroat trout

  4. Paiute cutthroat trout

  5. Greenback cutthroat trout

  6. Gila trout

  7. Bull trout


Extinction is forever, but conservation of native trout is the answer to this crisis.   Success may mean that waters that are currently home to wild trout may need to be purged of their wild non-natives to make way for a return of native trout.  In fact, my recent book Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters makes the scientific case for exactly this.


At the dawn of the environmental era there were many who wondered if the battle had already been lost.  We quickly learned that was far from true.  Anglers today again find themselves at the forefront of conserving trout and their habitat.  Previous conservation efforts have been so successful that today we have the opportunity to refocus our conservation efforts not just on wild trout, but wild and native trout.  Such a statement is a clarion reminder of the role fly fishing plays in conservation and how each generation of anglers forge a distinct conservation path.


Sportsmen and women will be central to the conservation of native trout just as they have been for wild trout.  The time has come to recognize that the era of native trout conservation has risen!


Want to better understand the need for native trout conservation?  Look no further than Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: Family, Fly Fishing and Conservation!


Until next time,



Twitter- @conservetrout

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

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