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Cutthroat Trout – Oncorhynchus clarki

Cutthroat trout are the most widely distributed of all the western trouts of North America proven by the many names that refer to rivers, states, or drainages where unique forms occur. Anadromous (sea-run) forms of the cutthroat trout normally do not exist more than 100 miles (161 km) inland. They are known from the Eel River, California north to Prince William Sound, Alaska. Inland non-anadromous forms occur from southern Alberta, Canada to as far south as New Mexico, as far east as Colorado and most of Montana and west as far as Alberta and eastern California. A small, disjunct population which may have been transplanted to other locations, including the east coast of Quebec, Canada (1942), where it began to appear in fishermens catches in 1966.

This is a highly variable fish, in coloration and size. The characteristic that gave the cutthroat its name is the yellow, orange, or red streak in the skin fold on each side under the lower jaw. The color of the body ranges from cadmium blue and silvery (sea-run) to olive-green or yellowish green. There may or may not be red on the sides of the head, front part of the body, and the belly. In some specimens they may be a narrow pink streak along the sides, but not as broad as in the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The body is covered with black spots, which extend onto the dorsal fin, adipose fin, and the tail. Some are literally covered with spots, while in others the spots are sparse and larger, being more numerous on the posterior part of the body. On the tail, the spots radiate evenly outward as they do in such species as the rainbow trout, golden trout (O. aguabonita), and Arizona native trout (O. apache). While all of these species are very similar and closely related, only the cutthroat is slightly forked and all the fins are soft-rayed.

The largest form (or subspecies) of O. clarki was once the Lahontan cutthroat, which was native to the Lahontan drainage system of Nevada and California, including Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and the Truckee River. These specimens had an average weight of about 20 lb. (9.07 kg) and in 1925 a 41 lb. (18.59 kg) Lahontan cutthroat was recorded from Pyramid Lake. In 1938 water was diverted from the Truckee River and the Lahontan became extinct except for populations maintained by stocking, none of which attain the large sizes they once did. The smallest cutthroat occurs only in the upper Silver King Creek, California and does not exceed 12 in. (30 cm). Coastal anadromous cutthroats have been recorded to 17 lb. (7.71 kg) but average under 5 lb. (2.26 kg). Most inland forms do not much exceed 5 lb. (2.26 kg).

It hybridizes freely in nature with rainbow, golden trout, and other close relatives. The flesh varies from white to red and is highly regarded.