Rare Trout Species You Didn't Know Existed

Rare Trout Species You Didn't Know Existed
Paiute Cutthroat Trout

Paiute Cutthroat Trout. Photo courtesy of Jeff Weaver, Senior Environmental Scientist, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

What constitutes a rare trout? Is a fish rare if it’s few in numbers, or so damned difficult to get to and find (I’m looking at you, golden trout) that only the truly dedicated – or deranged – chase them?

It’s a combination of both, I think. For a lot of anglers, the promise of catching a fish almost no one else ever has is too tempting an offer to pass on. When you’re sitting around the campfire, throwing back a cold one and swapping fish stories, you can wait until someone spins the biggest yarn of them all before casually saying you’ve caught an aurora trout.

It’s the fly fishing equivalent of having walked on the moon.

Most of the trout on this list have either been protected or actively managed for conservation for years. A few were thought to have gone completely extinct.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the rare trout you can find in North America.

Aurora Trout

Native to a tiny section of Ontario, Canada, these trout are thought to have occurred in maybe a dozen lakes upon their discovery in 1923. Now they exist in two lakes.

As my buddy Hyrum is so fond of saying, “I’ve never met a fish I didn’t like,” and I’ve never met an angler who doesn’t like brook trout.

Which means you’ll absolutely love the aurora.

Aurora trout are a distinct subspecies of brook trout - their more popular cousins. The two trout look passably similar, save for the fact that aurora trout lack any spots on their body, or vermiculation (the wormy lines on the back of most char species). While brook trout are bright red and black, aurora trout tend to be orange and magenta.

These fish nearly went extinct due to acid rain, which upset the pH levels in the lakes and prevented aurora trout from spawning. Luckily, the efforts of some fisheries managers in Ontario brought aurora trout into hatcheries, where they were reared and released back into the wild.

One last thing to note about this fish – if you go fishing for one, you get to catch one per day. And after you catch your one aurora trout, you’re done for the day. Whether or not this conservation method is effective will only be told through time, but don’t expect to catch them hand over fist.

Gila Trout

These bad boys are more prominent in the angling community now thanks to TROUT Magazine and Hatch Magazine feature articles, but the average fisherman probably doesn’t know a lot about them.

Native to tributaries of the Gila River in New Mexico and Arizona, the Gila trout is a close relative of the rainbow. This trout doesn’t grow terribly large, but it’s unique in its coloration and very limited historical native range.

Gila trout are gold to yellow with fine spots – like a brown trout and cutthroat trout had a baby trout, sans the traditional cutthroat markings.

What’s most impressive about these fish, though, is the massive amount of work performed by the Game and Fish Departments of New Mexico and Arizona. With their combined efforts, the Gila trout was removed from the endangered species list – and you can now go fish for them.

Finding Gila trout means a trip to Southwest New Mexico, in one of the more remote areas of the state. You’ll spend a lot of time hiking under a hot sun, but the creeks these trout call home run clear and cold. Just do these fish a favor – don’t tell anyone where you caught them. Let other anglers figure out this puzzle on their own.

That way, the reward is much sweeter when a Gila shows up in the net.

Apache Trout

Another fish native to the Southwest United States, the Apache trout makes this list because it’s nearly impossible to fish for, and its current range is so depleted past historic record that no one’s really sure where these fish lived before the shape of the West changed.

Apache trout look quite similar to Gila trout, though it tends to have more spots – that are larger than those on a Gila – and a passing resemblance to a brown trout.

Apache trout are native to one tiny section of mountains in Arizona – it’s the state fish – which makes angling for them pretty challenging. Headwaters where to which Apache are native are entirely closed to fishing, though self-sustaining stream-born populations in some areas are open to fishing. Arizona also stocks Apache trout directly from hatcheries to establish a sport fishery for these rare trout.

Tons of more rare trout exist – Sunapee, Ohrid, Greenback Cutthroat, to name a few – but the ones mentioned here are ones you have a legitimate, realistic shot of finding. It’ll take a good deal of walking, planning, days on end of no fish, but the result?

A fish story that can’t ever be topped.