True Natives

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August 7, 2011 by Art of the Angle

True Natives

I wanted to write this article to help clear up some misconceptions about the use of the word “native” when referring to trout found along the eastern seaboard.
I was taking a break one fall afternoon on one of my favorite North Carolina streams when I overheard a “professional” guide tell one of his clients; …yup, and the native browns and rainbows are just as pretty”.  I thought to myself…”he just had a slip of the tongue”.  Nope.  I decided to strike up a conversation with him as his client fished just out of earshot.  I asked him if he really thought that the rainbow and brown trout were natives.  He truly believed they were.
I explained that the only trout “native” to these waters or east of the Rockies for that matter is the brook trout.  Not to get too technical but the brook isn’t even a true trout, it belongs to the char family. 
The rainbow that we catch in our eastern waters are salmonoids. In fact, the rainbow most commonly stocked is the Oncorhynchus mykiss.  It is the result of a cross breed of the McCloud River steelhead and the McCloud River redband trout from California. 
The only true trout is the brown trout, Salmo trutta.  Since I had his attention, I also explained that there were two strains of brown trout, Lock Leven from the high mountain lakes of Scotland and the von Behr or German brown trout. 
The Lock Leven strain is wider in the shoulder with a longer, more narrow head and they lack the red spots. 
There is one other trout found in some of the creeks on the easter seaboard called a tiger trout.  In some creeks, they occure naturally when there is a cross breeding between a brook trout and a brown trout.  The offspring are called “tiger” because of the striped markings on its sides.  It is a mule fish meaning it is sterile and cannot reproduce.  Even though this trout is born and bred in the creeks, it is still not considered a native trout.  There are some northern states that have stocking programs in place specifically for the tiger trout.

Most folks assume that since a trout placed in a stream reproduces that the offspring are classed as native.  They are not, they are classed as “wild” like all hold over fish (stocked fish that survived the year).

So there you have it, a crash course in very basic ichthyology.  It won’t get you through biology class but at the very least you can impress your nerdy friends…maybe.

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