California Department of Fish and Wildlife
redband trout

What is a heritage trout?

A California Heritage Trout is a native species or subspecies of trout that was originally found in California prior to human intervention. Heritage Trout is a designation used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission for native trout that are found in specially designated “Heritage Waters” within the historic drainages of their ancestors.

A California Heritage Trout is a native trout that has existed in California since prehistoric times. Wild trout that are not native to California, like the brown trout and brook trout, are not eligible for Heritage Trout status. The ancestors of today's trout arrived in what is now the state of California by natural means. As California's landscapes and climates changed over millenia, its watercourses also changed, and some fish populations became isolated in distinct geographic areas. The isolated populations eventually evolved over thousands of generations into discrete strains, races, subspecies, or species that are uniquely adapted to their surroundings, or habitat. For example, redband trout and coastal rainbow trout once shared a common ancestor, but after thousands of years of geographic isolation, the two groups are distinct from one another. Many forms of redband trout are found in interior drainages of the West, including California's Goose Lake, upper McCloud River, and Warner Valley. Because native trout have evolved in specific localities, they are an integral part of the natural history and ecosystem of their watersheds.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is committed to protecting and restoring our native trout. The Heritage Trout Program has been established to feature angling for California's native trout and support programs to expand and restore them in their native habitats. It is important that we leave the wild, native trout legacy we have for future generations of Californians to experience. A vital part of restoring our native trout is protecting and improving the high quality habitats they need to survive.