Scientific name- “Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita.“
Golden trout are sometimes referred to as California golden trout. These fish are sometimes confused with golden rainbow trout and palomino trout, but they’re separate sub-species. palomino trout and golden rainbow Trout are a genetic color mutation of rainbow trout. On the other hand, golden trout or California golden trout are a distinct sub-species of rainbow trout which are endemic to a couple of small streams which form on the Kern Plateau in the Golden Trout Wilderness in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Golden trout are also closely related to the little Kern Golden trout and the Kern River Rainbow Trout. Both of these fish are also native to the Kern River system.
Golden Trout Characteristics
Golden trout have a predominantly golden ribs and golden flanks which can vary to an almost copper color. They have around 10 dark oval marks called parr marks along each side with orangish or red lateral lines. Their pelvic fins anal fins, and dorsal fin all have white leading edges. The rear portion of the body in front of the tail is speckled with black spots, as is the dorsal fin. Genetically pure California golden trout have very few spots below their lateral lines. On the other hand, Golden Trout x Rainbow trout hybrids have an abundance of spots above and below the lateral line.
Golden’s readily crossbreed with rainbow trout, so much so that it is a threat to the continued existence of these fish in their pure form.
The golden trout’s native habitat is not very nutrient-dense. Consequently, adults only range from six to twelve inches in length in their native range. Goldens transplanted to mountain lakes grow much bigger. There are several recorded lake caught Golden trout that weighed in at 11 pounds “5.0 kg ” and more.
My First Golden Trout
It was 1980 something. I’m not sure of the exact year. I was on an overnight camping trip along the Uinta River with a bunch of Boy Scouts when I sighted my first golden trout. It was caught by one of the other kids in my scout troop. It was around thirteen inches long. The fish had a deep golden color contrasted with its orange hues and red stripes. I remember it was the most brilliant, impressively colored fish I’d ever seen. Since then, I’ve only ever caught one other Golden Trout in my home state. They’re relatively rare. The high country they live in is also stocked with Brook Trout. Brookies easily outcompete them and the Colorado River cutthroat trout that are native to our mountains.
It’s a shame that golden trout aren’t more numerous where I come from. Along with brilliant coloration, they have much to offer, including offering the angler epic battles. This is especially true when the fish receive adequate nutrition to grow to rod-bending dimensions.
Golden Trout in California
The golden trout or California golden trout is native only to California, just as the name implies. In California, they’re so proud of them that in 1947 their state legislature named them their official state freshwater fish.
Golden trout are native to Golden Trout Creek, “formerly Volcano Creek,” and the South Fork Kern River.
The 1st specimens to be taxonomically described were caught in 1892 by David Starr Jordan, an ichthyologist who was also the 1st president of Stanford University. The fish were caught at the Augua Bonita waterfall on Golden Trout Creek, “then Volcano Creek,” which is near its confluence with the South Fork Kern River.
People have been transplanting Golden Trout into formerly fishless waters further north into the Sierras almost since their discovery. In about 1872, Golden Trout were transplanted from Golden Trout Creek into the headwaters of Mulkey Creek. Although Mulkey Creek is a tributary to the South Fork Kern River, a natural barrier prevented fish from migrating into its headwaters. This area was fishless prior to this time.
In 1876, golden trout from Mulkey Creek were transplanted into Cottonwood Creek, which drains to the eastern side of the Sierras and was fishless prior to this time. Fish from cottonwood Creek were transplanted into Cottonwood lakes. The California Department of Fish and Game used the golden trout from Cottonwood lakes as a broodstock source to obtain eggs and fingerlings to stock throughout California and other states. Source Source
The California state record golden trout was caught in 1952 in Virginia Lake. It weighed 9 pounds and 8 ounces.
Threats to Native Golden Trout
Habitat degradation from livestock grazing, competition from the non-native species, brown trout and brook trout, and hybridization with rainbow trout are the three biggest threats to genetically pure California golden trout in their native range.
Mismanaged cattle grazing eliminates streamside vegetation, compacts soils in riparian zones. This leads to excessive silt loads entering stream beds which cuts down on the viability of aquatic insect. Grazing in riparian zones also eutrophies water with excessive nutrients from manure and urine. Since the formation of the U.S Forest Service, overgrazing has been greatly reduced. Additionally, grazing in sensitive riparian zones has been eliminated.
Competition for space with brook trout and Depredation by Brown are great threats to native golden trout populations. The California Department of Fish and game has been working to remove non-native fish from golden trout territory. They do this by using piscicides and the erection of fish barriers to keep non-native fish out of Golden Trout waters.
Hybridization with coastal rainbow trout is the worst threat to the continued existence of these fish in their pure form.
In 1965 there were up to 15600 pure golden trout in 19 miles of Golden Trout Creek and up to 26,000 of them in 31 miles of the south fork of the Kern River. By contrast, today, there are 400 to 600 pure golden trout in 3 miles of Volcano Creek, which is a tributary of Golden Trout Creek. Source The fish in all the remainder of their native range all have some level of hybridization with Rainbow Trout.
At some time in the 1930s, the California golden trout population in Cottonwood Lakes that the California Department of Fish and Game uses for broodstock also became tainted with hatchery Rainbow Trout genes.
The CDFG is actively looking for isolated populations of pure California golden trout to augment the small population of pure stock in Volcano Creek. They have also concluded that populations of fish with a minimal amount of hybridization and introgression with coastal rainbows will have to be acceptable as they remove severely hybridized fish and search for broodstock to move forward with.
Other Places Where Golden Trout Were Stocked
Today besides California, Golden Trout have been stocked in Nevada, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado in the United States and Alberta, Canada.
Golden Trout Wyoming
The Wind River Mountains produce trophy size golden trout on a consistent basis. The following quote is from an August 8th, 2019 Wyoming Game, and Fish press release.
“Wyoming Game and Fish Department sampling and angler reports during July 2019 indicate golden trout fishing within the Popo Agie Wilderness is the best in recent memory. The golden trout populations in Leg, Thumb, Windy, Upper Saddlebags, Lower Saddlebags, Lower Tayo, and Coon lakes are all doing exceptionally well. Larger, 16- to 19-inch golden trout have been observed, particularly Upper Saddlebags, Lower Saddlebags, Lower Tayo, and Coon lakes. Coon Lake contains a naturally-reproducing population, whereas golden trout in the other lakes are provided by Wyoming Game and Fish Department helicopter stocking every two years.”
Considering that the top size for a golden in its native waters is only around 12 inches, the dimensions of the world record Golden Trout are mind-blowing. The world record Golden Trout was caught in Wyoming’s Wind River mountains in Cook Lake in 1948. It was 28 inches long and weighed 11.25 pounds
As you can imagine, the Wind Rivers are a destination for dedicated trout anglers from across the country. Anglers need to be physically fit and have a liberal amount of grit to pursue Wind River golden trout. They’re located at high elevations in places that you can’t drive to, and the going can make you earn every fish you catch.
I’ve done it both ways and prefer going into the backcountry on horseback over hiking. Either way, though, anglers need to be equipped for wilderness camping and survival in whatever weather conditions the high country can throw at you.
Golden Trout Montana
The majority of the Golden Trout fishing in the Big Sky State is found in the Beartooth Mountains in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful country on earth. The Montana state record golden trout weighed in at 5.43lbs. It was caught in the year 2000 in Cave Lake, which is 24 miles from Big Timber Montana.
Golden Trout Colorado
From what I can gather, Goldens were stocked in the Colorado high country back in the 1970s and 80s. However, stocking was not maintained after that due to the lack of a source of available eggs. There are scattered instances of self-sustaining wild populations, but they’re few and far between. The Colorado State record golden trout of 3lbs 12oz. was caught in 1979 in Kelly Lake
Golden Trout Utah
The only golden trout that I know of in the state of Utah are in the Uinta Mountains. The Uinta Mountain golden trout are chiefly but not exclusively in Atwood Basin of the Uinta River drainage. As stated earlier, the numerous Brook Trout in the Uintas easily outcompete goldens, making it a rarity to come across one in the same waters with brookies. My one and only golden trout came out of Allred Lake. I also witnessed a nice golden pulled from the Uintah River near Sheep Bridge, per the opening paragraph in this article.
The Utah state record golden trout was caught in Marsh Lake in 2019. It weighed 1 lb—2.88 oz.
Golden Trout Nevada
The Nevada state record golden trout is 11 pounds. It was caught in 1969 at Hidden Lakes. Hidden Lakes are in the Ruby Mountains of eastern Nevada.
Golden Trout Idaho
The Idaho state record golden trout weighed 5.13 pounds. It was caught at White Sands Lake in 1958
Golden Trout Oregon
The Oregon state record golden trout was caught in the Eagle Cap wilderness in 1987. it weighed 7 pounds and 10 ounces.
Golden Trout Washington
The Washington state record golden trout was caught at Gunn Lake in 2020. It weighed 4.71 pounds.
Golden Trout Alberta
The record golden trout in the province of Alberta weighed just under 2 kilograms “4lb 6.5oz”.