Trout fishing in North America is practically an art form. Trout are abundant across the continent. There are many types of trout that you’ll find from coast to coast. Some are obviously more popular than others. Many of them tend to live in the same bodies of water and look very similar to one another. It can be hard to figure out which is which if you are new to trout fishing. Also, if you aren’t one hundred percent familiar with the different species.

Trout are very closely related to salmon. In fact, many trout can be easily confused with salmon. Many species of trout and salmon will also share the same range. For that reason, sometimes trout and salmon can be mistaken for one another. There are some signs to help you identify which fish you’re dealing with if you’re not familiar with them all.

Trout are popular among anglers in North America for several reasons. One of the most attractive parts of trout fishing is how responsive and lively the fish are. Trout are often found near the surface. They’re very active, very noticeable, and put up a good fight. It doesn’t hurt that they live in some of the most beautiful bodies of water on the continent, either.

Some trout species are deep water fish, especially if you’re fishing in the ocean, for instance. But trout are infamous for snatching bugs off of the surface of the water. They swim and jump frequently where we can see them. That’s an enticing feature for any angler. This is part of what makes fishing fun. It’s not always just about catching food. It’s about having a good time.

If you’re catching and releasing fish, there’s a challenge to snagging some trout. Lake trout and rainbow trout are very popular and can grow to good sizes. Other trout like golden trout or tiger trout can be very rare and hard to find. Brook trout are popular but small. There’s some sport in reeling one in, but also finding where they live in the first place. Trout fishing really can be an adventure.

If you’re catching fish to eat, then trout have a different level of attraction. Trout species are known to be some of the tastiest fish you can find. Many anglers have a favorite recipe for something like rainbow trout. There’s a reason that restaurants offer specials featuring fresh caught lake trout. It’s not a usual fish for most people, but also very desirable. It’s a nice switch from tuna or catfish.

You will find many different trout species in North America. All of them make for exciting fishing, if you know where to look for them and how to catch them.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are arguably the most popular trout species in North America. They are prized for their beautiful appearance. They can also grow to impressive sizes. The largest rainbow trout ever caught weighed close to 50 lb. They’re also a favorite for people looking to eat when they catch. Rainbow trout are known to be quite delicious.

Among all the game fish in North America, rainbow trout are among the top five. They have been called the most important game fish west of the Rocky Mountains by US Fish and Wildlife.

It’s easy to pick a rainbow trout out of the crowd. They have a distinctive pink stripe down their side against a greenish background. They also have squared tails and many black spots.

Golden trout, steelhead trout, and red band trout are all subspecies of rainbow trout. You can find them all along the Pacific coast from Mexico up to Alaska. They moved east across the United States and Canada and are abundant around the Great Lakes. In fact, rainbow trout have been introduced all over the world.

Fish farms frequently raise rainbow trout. They adapt well to being raised in such an environment. Many anglers prefer to catch wild trout. To that end, you can find them in rivers and streams throughout Alaska. They are also found in Canada and even down through Georgia and Alabama.

Cutthroat Trout

The cutthroat trout doesn’t get its name for its attitude. Instead, like a rainbow trout, the cutthroat has very noticeable color patterns. In this case, cutthroats have prominent red slashes behind their heads. They also have red slashes on their lower jaws. In some fish it can look like their throats have been slit. That makes them a little bit gruesome, but also visually striking and very cool.

Another prominent feature of the cutthroat trout is its length. Their bodies are noticeably elongated. Cutthroat trout will be many times longer than they are wide.

Cutthroats live in the Western United States and Canada. As a result, some people will call them Rocky Mountain trout. Like rainbow trout, cutthroat trout have also been introduced elsewhere. You can find them in the Northeast United States and even as far east in Canada as the province of Quebec.

Cutthroat trout have many subspecies as well. In fact, there are over 10 sub species of cutthroats. Some national parks even have specific subspecies named for them. One example is the Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

Brown Trout

Brown trout are not native to North America. In fact, they were imported from Germany and first introduced to Newfoundland in 1883. You can still find many landlocked brown trout populations in Europe. There are brown trout in lakes throughout countries like Greece and Estonia. They are also prominent throughout the British Isles.

They have a distinctive look that separates them from other trout species. Despite the name, brown trout are not always brown. You can find them in shades of yellow to gold to silver. However, they also have orange and brown spots ringed by silver down their flanks.

Fly-fishing is great for catching some trout, but not brown trout. In fact, brown trout eat much of their food below the surface like catfish. If you’re on the lookout for this species, fly-fishing will not serve you well.

Some populations of brown trout thrive in saltwater. You can find them in the ocean on the west coast. But they also do well in many cool, freshwater rivers and lakes. Brown trout in freshwater are often called river trout or lake trout. This can be confusing because lake trout is an actual separate species from brown trout.

Brown trout resemble salmon more than other trout species. That’s because they are closely related to salmon. They can be found all across Canada and much of the U.S.. Brown trout can go to a size over 40 lbs, though they are more often found at a much smaller size of a round 3 lbs.

Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden trout are often confused with arctic char. They are orange to pink to green in color, and almost never get above 10 lbs. You can find them in the northwest of the United States, around Washington State and up as far as Alaska. They have also been introduced around the world in places like Siberia and Japan.

Unlike many fish, Dolly Varden will migrate to the ocean to feed during the first few years of their lives. After a certain age they remain in freshwater and never go back. It’s believed that this may protect them from ocean predators.

Dolly Varden are prized by fly fishermen especially. They can be very aggressive fish. That means they put up a good fight when you’re trying to catch them. Ironically, they were once considered a problem fish. They eat the eggs of other fish and were unliked by most anglers.

Because Dolly Varden are often mistaken for other trout, it can be hard to tell if you even caught one. Even among experts it can be hard to identify a Dolly Varden sometimes.

You may have noticed the unusual name for the fish. Dolly Varden comes from a book by Charles Dickens. According to the story, some anglers were looking at fish they had caught in the McCloud River. The species were known then as calico trout. The discussion came around to how they felt the fish needed a better name. A teen girl who was with them suggested the name Dolly Varden. She had read the book by Dickens and felt the fish represented the character quite well.

In an ironic twist, it’s likely those calico trout were not even Dolly Varden. For a long time, Dolly Varden and bull trout were considered the same species. It’s very likely that what we now call bulls were the trout these men had caught.

Brook Trout

You can find brook trout in the eastern United States and Canada as well as parts of the Midwest. There is also a significant population throughout the Rocky Mountain area. Brook trout are also called speckled trout, spotted trout, and squaretail.

Brook trout are known as an indicator species. If there are a lot of brook trout in a body of water, then that’s a good sign. It means the environment is healthy. If the water is polluted, then the population will be very low.

As trout go, brook trout are very small. They often only weigh a couple of pounds. Hitting 10 lbs is almost unheard of for a brook trout. They are usually easy to identify from their markings. While the coloring is often yellowish and gold, they have dark, worm-like markings. Their fins also have distinctive White markings on them.

Bull Trout

Bull trout are the rarest species of trout you will find in North America. Most anglers have never had the chance to find one. You only find them in the Pacific Northwest, and even then they prefer large, very cool rivers. Oregon and Washington are the best states to go to try to find bulls. You could also find them in Canada in the lakes of Alberta and British Columbia.

Bulls are often mistaken for Dolly Varden. In fact, bulls weren’t recognized as their own species for many years. If the tail isn’t forked, and it weighs over 12 lbs it’s likely a bull trout. That’s assuming it was caught in this specific range where bull trout live. At their biggest, bulls may weigh over 30 lbs.

Because these are such rare fish, it’s recommended that if you do catch one, you release it. It will preserve the species and is better off for fishing as a whole.

Lake Trout

If you are a serious fisherman, you need to know about lake trout. These are the big guns of the trout world. In fact, some lake trout can top 80 lbs. The largest ever caught was over 100 pounds. Finding lake trout that weigh between 40 lbs and 50 lbs is not uncommon at all.

When you’re not able to use the size to identify the fish, there are other factors. Lake trout have very deeply forked tails. They also have cream-colored spots. All of these features together will help identify these trout.

There are few lake trout populations in the United States. Flathead Lake in Montana is a good spot to look for them. If you are serious about fishing for lake trout, Canada is your best bet. They can be found in abundance in the Great Lakes. Lake Superior is your a great choice for finding lake trout. Beyond that, they can be found in lakes in the Northern parts of most Canadian provinces.

Golden Trout

Golden trout are a subspecies of rainbow trout. You can find them in the Sierra Nevadas throughout Nevada and California. They tend to live in mountain streams and pools, mostly found at higher altitudes. They’re also one of the most rare species of trout in North America. Their limited range and unique habitat means that many anglers will never see a golden trout. But if you live in the area, and want to make a trip, they’re quite a breathtaking fish.

To bolster the population, golden trout have been introduced to other locations. This includes some mountainous areas in Colorado and Montana. They are smaller than other trout species. The largest golden trout ever caught weighed about 10 lbs. Because of their rarity, it’s recommended that if you go fishing for goldens you release them.

Tiger Trout

Tiger trout are a hybrid species. Female brown trout in a male brook trout can reproduce to make tiger trout. Tiger trout are unusual in appearance. They don’t look anything like either of their parents. The name comes from the very clear pattern on their flesh. It is spotty, almost stripe-like. Technically, they look more like a cheetah than a tiger.

Tiger trout are a moderate-sized fish. The largest tiger trout barely exceed 20 lbs. Because they are a hybrid species, you won’t find them readily in the wild. They are stocked in ponds, however. If you’re serious about fishing for tiger trout, you need to head to Wisconsin or Michigan. There are no guarantees that you will find them when you go looking. That said, both of these states had breeding programs and many fish had been released in the past.

Arctic Char

Arctic char are a species of fish that are like a cross between salmon and trout. They’re related to both species, and as the name suggests are found up north. Physically, char resemble salmon more than trout. Their flesh is silvery, sometimes mottled green, with pink along the lateral lines. The orange pink belly of an arctic char is very distinctive. Their fins are also trimmed with bright white.

Northern Canada is the best place to find Arctic char. Alaska also has some, and there are places in Europe as well. They can grow to an impressive size. The largest ever caught weighed over 30 lbs.


Splake are a hybrid species of trout. You need to cross a brook trout in a lake trout to get a splake. You can pick them out of a crowd because they look like a brook trout, but they have the forked tail of a lake trout. They’re also famed for how quickly they grow to full size. Also, the fact they tend to be aggressive in eating other fish as they grow.

You’ll find them in Georgian Bay in Ontario. They are bred by the Canadian government and stocked in this region. Splake can exist in the wild, but they are most often bred by humans. They are a moderately sized fish. The largest splake you will find a way under 20 lbs. In fact, the record largest splake was just over 20 lb.