Rainbow Trout

Piscifun fly fishing reels

Rainbow Trout Salmo irideus (Gibbons)

In mountain streams of the Coast Ranges of the Pacific States and on the west slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are found the various forms of trout which are collectively regarded as constituting the rainbow trout series. Members of this series are distinguished from those of the steelhead series by their larger scales and, generally, by their smaller size and brighter colouration. From the cut-throat series they differ in their larger scales, brighter colouration, and, usually, in the absence of red on the throat. As already stated, however, in some parts of their range these series are inextricably mixed, and present classifications can be regarded only as provisional.

The typical rainbow trout (Salmo irideus) is found only in the small brooks of the Coast ranges in California from the Klamath River to the San Luis Ray in San Diego County. It is subject to large local variations, some of these land-locked in peculiar brooks, as in Purisima Creek in San Mateo County, where the individuals are small and brightly coloured, and popularly regarded as a distinct species.

It is thought by some anglers that the young fish hatched in the brooks from eggs of the steelhead remain in mountain streams from 6 to 36 months, going down to the sea with the high waters of spring, after which they return to spawn as typical steelhead trout. Those which are land-locked, or which do not descend, remain rainbows all their lives. As against this view we have the fact that to the northward the rainbow and the steelhead are always distinguishable and the scales in the latter are always smaller than in typical rainbow trout.

Salmo irideus reaches a weight of a half pound to 5 or 6 pounds, though in most of the streams in which it is found it rarely exceeds 2 or 3 pounds. By many anglers it is regarded as the greatest of all game-fishes. The consensus of opinion among anglers, however, involves and is based upon experience not only with typical irideus but with most others of the rainbow series as well. While this is true, there is no doubt but that typical irideus is a trout of exceeding gameness and is possibly a greater fighter than any other of the group, when its weight is considered.

But the various forms of rainbow trout, wherever found may safely be said to have few if any, equals among the Salmonidae. In beauty of colour, gracefulness of form and movement sprightliness when in the water, reckless dash with which it springs from the water to meet the descending fly ere it strikes the surface, and the mad and repeated leaps from the water when hooked, the rainbow trout must ever hold a very high rank. The gamest fish we have ever seen was a 16-inch rainbow taken on a fly in a small spring branch tributary of Williamson River in southern Oregon. It was in a broad anti deep pool of exceedingly clear water . As the angler from behind a clump of willows made the cast the trout bounded from the water and met the fly in the air a foot or more above the surface; missing it he dropped upon the water only to turn about and strike viciously a second time at the fly just as it touched the surface; though he again missed the fly the hook caught him in the lower jaw from the outside, and then began a fight which would delight the heart of any angler. His first effort was to reach the bottom of the pool, then, doubling upon the line, he made 3 jumps from the water in quick succession, clearing the surface in each instance from 1 to 4 feet, and every time doing his utmost to free himself from the hook by shaking his head as vigorously as a dog shakes a rat. Then he would rush wildly about in the large pool, now attempting to go down over the riffle below the pool now trying the opposite direction, and often striving to hide under one or the other of the banks. It was easy to handle the fish when the dash was made up or down stream or for the opposite side but when he turned about and made a rush for the protection of the overhanging bank upon which the angler stood it was not easy to keep the line taut. Movements such as these were frequently repeated and 2 more leaps were made. But finally he was worn out after as honest a fight as trout ever made. The rainbow takes the fly so readily that there is no reason for resorting to grasshoppers, salmon-eggs or other bait. It is a fish whose gameness will satisfy the most exacting of expert anglers and whose readiness to take any proper lure will please the most impatient of inexperienced amateurs.


From American Game and Food Fishes. Jordan and Evermann, 1902.