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Golden Trout: How to Catch and Protect this Threatened Species

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Catching Golden Trout on a trout fishing trip is probably one of the most relaxing yet exciting fishing trips an angler can go on.

Especially if you’re going for golden trout.

Golden Trout Hand Holding
Golden trout are amazing to catch in the high sierras. Source

The Golden Trout is also known as the California Golden Trout and is native to Golden Trout Creek, Volcano Creek, and the South Fork Kern River. It’s the state fish of California.

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The California golden trout is closely related to two other rainbow trout subspecies. The Little Kern golden trout, found in the Little Kern River basin, and the Kern River rainbow trout, found in the Kern River system are sometimes referred to as the “golden trout complex.”

Golden trout can reach sizes up 11 pounds. This hard fighting fish is a rush to catch. In this article, I am going to show you how to do just that.

I will cover several tips, as well as the difference between golden trout and other trout species.

So let’s go trout fishing!

What Are Golden Trout?

Originally the golden trout was described as a subspecies of the salmon species, with a name Salmo mykiss aguabonita. It is still often considered a subspecies. (Now called Oncorhynchus Mykiss Aguabonita) along with several other rainbow trout subspecies.

Young golden trout
Source

These are commonly known as redband trout. FishBase and the Catalog of Fishes however now list O. aguabonita as an independent species rather than as subspecies of O. mykiss.

The golden trout has golden flanks with red, horizontal bands along the lateral lines on each side. They also have about 10 dark, vertical, oval marks (called “parr marks”) on each side.

Dorsal, lateral and anal fins have white leading edges. In their native habitat, adults range from 6 to 12 inches long.

Golden trout over 12 inches are considered large.

Golden trout that have been transplanted to lakes have been recorded up to 11 pounds.

Golden Trout Like High Elevations

The golden trout is commonly found at elevations from 6,890 feet (2,100 m) to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level. These fish are native only to California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Outside of its native range in California, they are more often found in cirques and creeks in wilderness areas around 10,500–12,000″

Their preferred water temperature is 58 to 62 degrees Fahrenheit. But they can tolerate temperatures in degraded streams on the Kern Plateau as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So long as those waters cool during the night.

The only other species of fish indigenous to the native range of California golden trout is the Sacramento sucker.

Golden Trout fly fishing
Fly-fishing is a great way to catch golden trout. Source

Golden Trout are Threatened

Years of overexploitation, mismanagement, and competition with exotic species have brought golden trout to the brink of being designated as threatened.

Introduced brook trout out-compete them for food. Introduced brown trout prey on them and introduced rainbow trout hybridize with them, damaging the native gene pool.

Populations have been in steady decline for decades.

How to Fish for Golden Trout

Fly fishermen and other anglers have to match their lures to the types of food items available at the high altitudes where they occur.

Caddisflies and midges are most effective. Though many have been caught with spoons, spinners, worms, salmon eggs. As well as small crustaceans and various small insects. The following are fishing methods used to catch golden trout:

  • Baitcasting
  • Fly fishing
  • Spin casting
  • Trolling
  • Drift fishing
  • Jigging
  • Still fishing

The following are lures, tackle, and bait that are a good choice for golden trout are:

  • Cured fish roe
  • Jigs
  • Spinnerbaits
  • Flies
  • Saltwater live baits
  • Spoons

Where To Catch Golden Trout

The golden trout is native only to the upper Kern River basin in Tulare and Kern Counties, California. Golden trout are usually found in clear, cool waters at elevations higher than 6,890 ft.

Despite its limited distribution, there are two recognized sub-species of golden trout. Oncorhynchus aguabonita aguabonita, which is confined to the south fork of the Kern River. Golden Trout Creek, and Oncorhynchus Aguabonita Gilberti, which is confined to the Main Kern and Little Kern Rivers.

Golden Trout catch release
We recommend you always release golden trout. Source

An area of warm water where the South Fork joins the Kern apparently serves as a natural barrier that keeps the two subspecies apart. They have been introduced to other areas. These include the states of Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming, which have self-sustaining populations.

It is believed that most of these populations have hybridized with the cutthroat trout. According to some fisheries scientists, most trout in the Kern River basin are also hybrids of recent origin. The only pure populations of golden trout are those limited to the headwater areas.

The following list includes additional areas to catch golden trout:

  • Backflow
  • Dams and falls
  • Eddies
  • Holes
  • Merging currents
  • Outside of bends
  • Rock and boulder pockets
  • Standing waves
  • Current edges
  • Drop-offs
  • Freshwater lakes and ponds
  • Inlets and outlets
  • Open water
  • Rivers and streams
  • Small pointed waves
  • Undercuts

What Are the Differences Between Golden Trout and Other Trout?

Golden trout are rare and elusive. They inhabit some of the most remote lakes in the United States.

Golden trout have very limited range, as they are only found in high alpine lakes and streams found in the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades. Because of this, reaching good golden trout waters is no easy task usually requiring a long hike or even horse pack in.

Additionally, due to the environment in which the golden trout live in (very cold, low nutrient water). Golden trout are generally quite small. As there is just not enough food to support larger trout.

Golden Trout are Particular Eaters

Despite the relatively low fishing pressure they receive, golden trout can be somewhat difficult to catch. They tend to be particular about what they eat. Another consideration is, not all high alpine lakes and rivers contain these trout.

Simply locating waters that have good golden trout populations can be an effort in and of itself. Since golden trout live in the most beautiful scenery in the United States, a day spent looking for or fishing for golden trout can never be wasted.

It’s About the Journey, Not Always the Catch

Even if you don’t catch any, for an angler looking to catch trout in a splendid and scenic environment, chasing the golden trout is the way go. It is hard to miss a golden trout, as their name conveys.

These beautiful trout are golden in color, so are hard to mistake for other types of fish. The golden trout also has a scattering of black spots and a red striping along its lateral line, belly and gill plates.

Since golden trout are not very common, it is recommended that anglers who catch golden trout release them instead of eating them. If you are looking for a fish you can eat, try some brook trout instead.

Brook trout are usually found in the same waters as golden trout are, but are not nearly as rare. Most agree they taste better too.


Golden Trout Final Thoughts

Golden trout are truly a beautiful and unique species of trout. They are a lot of fun to catch, and getting to them in many cases is half the battle.

Golden trout is one of the more native fish species to California, yet it is also the most threatened.

If you decide to fish for golden trout, it is highly recommended to practice catch and release. With proper conservation and catch and release by anglers, it is hopeful and possible for the numbers to begin to rise.

Golden trout can live up to nine years old but more common is six-seven years old. This limits the number of times the golden trout can successfully spawn. This also adds to their rapidly declining numbers.

These are a beautiful species of trout we all want to see around for generations to come. Enjoy catching them but practice safe catch and release to give them a chance to still be here for generations to come.

Golden Trout FAQ

Q: Where is the best trout fishing in California?

A: The San Joaquin Delta, running throughout California, this seems to be the most popular.

Q: What is the trout limit California?

A: General limits is 5 per day and never more than 10 in possession.

Q: What is the state fish of California?

A: Golden Trout.

Q: What is the largest trout species?

A: Rainbow trout, with the record in 2009 being 20 pounds.

Q: Where are the best places to fish in Montana?

A:

  • Clark Fork River
  • Blackfoot River
  • Bitterroot River.
  • Rock Creek.
  • Missouri River.
  • Gallatin River.
  • Madison River.
  • Big Hole River.

Q: Best places to fish in California?

A:

  • The Delta.
  • The McCloud River.
  • Clear Lake.
  • Lake Shasta.
  • Santa Monica Pier.
  • Lake Almanor.
  • Lake Cuyamaca.
  • Castaic Lake.

Q: How big are trout?

A: On average 6-7 pounds with some growing as large as 20 pounds, depending on the species.

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