Types of Trout You’ll Find in Waters Around British Columbia
With so many species of fish to fish for in BC waters, there is something to catch at practically anytime of year. In addition to pacific salmon, another extremely popular fish that draws anglers to our region is trout. You’ll find this post on the different types of trout helpful if you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, or if you are a local who just wants to freshen up on your familiarity of the main types of trout in British Columbia.
What Makes a Trout a Trout?
“Trout” is a common name for several different species of freshwater fish that belong to the genera Oncorhynchus, Salmo, and Salvelinus. These genera are members of the sub-family Salmoninae (of the family Salmonidae).
How are Trout and Salmon Different?
Trout and salmon are closely related – so much so that some anglers and scientists have difficulties classifying each individual species. To the untrained eye, a trout can resemble a salmon and vice versa. As such, some anglers refer to trout as salmon, which isn’t technically wrong, but generally in the fishing community, a trout is a trout and a salmon is a salmon (a salmon being 1 of the 5 pacific salmon native to BC waters).
However, there is still an ongoing debate among some fishermen on whether steelhead are salmon or not, due to them having similar migration patterns to saltwater – unlike the other trout, most of which are freshwater fish. Just like salmon, there are certain species of trout native to the BC region.
Salmon and trout have many similarities – they are both considered oily fish, they are both regulated in BC, and they both taste great, with trout being slightly bonier and often being cooked whole. And they are all a joy to catch! Because salmon and trout are so similar, anglers are happy catching either one when out on the lake or river.
Salmon vs. Trout – Visual Differences
Salmon and trout look similar, but there are key differences, mainly:
- The tail of a trout is square, or slightly convex, rather than concave, like that of a salmon.
- A trout has a large number of markings below its lateral line, whereas a salmon has very few.
- A trout has a wide tail base, with no noticeable wrist, while a salmon’s tail base in narrow and has a noticeable wrist.
Another way to tell the difference between salmon and trout is by counting the rays on the anal fin. Trout have 12 or less rays, while salmon have 13+
Different Types of Trout
Rainbow Trout are among the most popular target species for recreational freshwater anglers. Several lakes across BC are regularly and heavily stocked with rainbow trout for this reason. They can be caught year-round in streams, lakes, and estuaries. They taste great and are a source of pride to catch given that they can be aggressive, strong feeders.
Rainbow trout come in all sizes, shapes, and colours, and weigh anywhere from 1 to 10 lbs. They are generally characterized by the small spots on the dorsal section, usually above the lateral line, and their bold red stripe running the length of their body. There are four strains of rainbow trout cultured at hatcheries in BC: Fraser Valley, Pennask, Blackwater, and Gerrard rainbow trout.
Steelhead Trout are actually sea-run rainbow trout popular for their size, strength, speed, and stamina. These larger, anadromous rainbow trout can weigh anywhere from 5-25 lbs. when returning from the ocean. There are both winter-run steelhead and summer-run steelhead characterized by their elongated, metallic silver bodies during their ocean phase.
They have small black spots along their back above the lateral line and square tails. Historically, steelhead trout were called steelhead salmon or salmon trout.
Coastal Cutthroat Trout or “coastal cutties” have blue or greenish backs, heavily spotted bodies, and a faint red-orange slash of colour under the jaw, giving them a unique appearance. They are about 10-16 inches long. They have been known to mingle in saltwater every now and then, but they are highly mobile and have irregular lifecycles, making them an elusive, challenging catch.
Westslope Cutthroat Trout have bright orange to red slashes underneath their gill plate as well, and a heavily spotted body (more so on the posterior half of the body), but their colouring is orange, yellow or olive. Their large mouth extends well past their eye. They are generally between 10 and 20 inches in length, although occasionally bigger fish can be encountered.
Bull Trout are lesser known than other fish species on this list, but they are making a comeback. They can be detected by the whitish and pinkish spots along their entire body, and large, broadened heads, oval, snakelike bodies, and white leading edges on lower fins. They often get confused with another trout species – the dolly varden.
Dolly Varden have small heads and oval, snake-like bodies. They have whitish to pinkish spots, and no worm-like markings on the dorsal fin. Dolly varden resemble bull trout and for many years it was believed they were the same fish.
Brook Trout are native to eastern Canada and have recently been brought to BC to stock lakes. They are short in length but girthy and grow to weigh about 1-4 lbs. They are relatively easy to catch with simple spoons and spinners.
Kokanee are actually considered landlocked sockeye salmon, although they are significantly smaller and never make it out of freshwater. They are simple enough to catch but are quite feisty and hard to keep on the line.
If you’re new to fishing, a fish identification guide will help you accurately identify the species of fish you catch in order to stay within your daily catch limits.
Daily Quotas: Wild Origin vs Hatchery Origin Trout
To help protect trout populations in BC, daily quotas of 4 hatchery-origin trout are in place around Vancouver Island. Only 1 over 50 cm is allowed, or 2 hatchery steelhead over 50 cm are allowed.
You must release:
- All wild steelhead
- All wild trout from streams
- All char (includes Dolly Varden)
Note: There is no general minimum size limit for trout in lakes or hatchery origin trout in streams. Learn how to identify a wild trout vs a hatchery origin trout.
Know Before You Go: Be sure you’re aware of the freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations put forth by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) before heading out fishing anywhere in Canada.
Tips for Eating Trout
Trout is usually eaten as a whole fish but can be filleted or chopped as well in a pinch. A fresh, healthy whole trout will be shiny, smell OK, and have firm flesh and clear eyes. The skin of trout is safe and nutritious to consume, unless the trout is really big and old and has lived in polluted water.
For more information on what other types of fish can be found in BC’s lakes, rivers, and coastlines, check out the provincial government’s list of the most common sport fish in BC.
Read More: The 5 Types of Salmon in BC Waters
Looking for a new boat for trout fishing in BC? Van Isle Marina has a wide range of boat services and boats and yachts for sale moored at our docks. We can also tell you our favourite spots for catching fish by boat. Learn more about our boats online, or come see us at 2320 Harbour Road in Sidney, British Columbia near Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.