Monday, October 06, 2008

Why Cutthroat Trout are Important

"These trout are from 16 to 23 inches in length, precisely resemble our mountain or speckled trout in form and the position of their fins, but the specks on these are of a deep black instead of the red or gold of those common in the U' States. These are furnished with long teeth on the pallet and tongue and have generally a small dash of red on each behind the front ventral fins; the flesh is of a pale yellowish red, or when in good order, of rose red"
- Meriwether Lewis
Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
June 13, 1805

I recently purchased Patrick Trotter's expansive work titled "Cutthroat - Native Trout of the West" which along with Les Johnson's "Fly Fishing for Coastal Cutthroat Trout" are the best and most definitive narratives on these wonderful trout.

Why are these trout so important beyond their appeal as game fish? These trout and especially the coastal sub species oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii are an indicator of the over all health of the watersheds they are native to. Of course I am not degreed as a fish biologist but this scenario has proven to be true on the north Oregon coastal streams for all the years I have been pursuing them with a fly. When the cutthroat populations in these streams are down so too will be the other salmonid species in that watershed and this is true currently along the coast.
The cutthroat trout are the one species of trout that are prevalent through the western US and is not likely to be found in a wild state east of the Rockie Mountains. Several sub species are, unfortunately, now extinct but at one time cutthroat trout ranged as far south as the Pecos River and Rio Grande rivers in southwest Texas.

The cutthroat trout, which were so plentiful at one time, are most prone to man's intrusion into their habitat.Their spawning gravel is silted over by bad logging practices and the woody structure that provides them sanctuary has been carelessly removed by state fish and wildlife agencies. They do not adapt to being removed and relocated in other waters and perhaps that is why we do not see them in the eastern US.
While some elitist anglers might show them a certain amount of disdain because of their aggressiveness while casting flies at the more "desirable" species of rainbow or brown trout I have a special affection for cutthroat trout. We cannot, in good conscience, allow this to happen! We cannot just give lip service any longer! These fish are too important to see them slowly disappear as some species of cutthroat trout have done.
Cutthroat trout are important because we seem to have over looked them for so many years that now, as their numbers decline, we cannot ignore or over look them any more.
When ODFW regional biologist Jeff Ziller recently scoffed at them by saying "They are only cutthroat trout after all" in a meeting one has to become alarmed at this attitude. They are important because they are the only wild trout that occurs exclusively in the West.
We cannot easily dismiss them as unimportant and non-vital. We do that with enough coldwater fisheries we will one day be wondering what happened.
ODFW feels that a child will get more interested in angling by being allowed to kill a wild trout! They have said this and it is undeniable! It is a matter of public record in fact.
I would propose that instead of teaching children that these trout are so inconsequential that the child's self worth will surely be boosted by killing them that maybe we should teach them just how special any wild salmonid is.


  1. Ziller said that? That is unfortunate and I take exception too!

  2. Shane,

    Great post. I just so happen to be reading the Trotter book (it's under my elbow as I'm typing). Great book. It has also had me thinking about not only cutthroat in particular but threatened, endangered and extinct species in general (I've been putting some notes together for a blog post). You've given me a couple of thoughts. Thank you.

    -scott c