California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Paiute trout

California Native Trout

California is home to an amazing variety of native trout. Few places can boast as many types of rainbow, golden, redband, or cutthroat trout as the Golden State.

Unfortunately, during the past 150 years, human activitities have altered and damaged the health of the habitat that supports these trout and taken their toll on our natural heritage. Many of California's native trout are not as widespread as they once were. Our native trout streams and populations have undergone a great deal of change due to the tremendous growth of the Golden State.

In some areas, native trout populations have been hurt by overharvest. Dam construction, water diversions, urban development, and pollution have substantially reduced native trout habitats. The effects of land use practices, such as cattle grazing, logging, and mining have also had detrimental effects upon trout habitats. Lahontan cutthroat trout occupy less than five percent of their original native range.

Trout need healthy habitat in order to thrive. Trout require sufficient clean, cold, flowing water with suitable cover, food, holding areas, and spawning gravel. But just as important is the integrity of the land surrounding the water. Streamside trees and shrubs provide shade and cover, keep the water cool, and are a source of food or other nutrients for many forms of aquatic life associated with trout. In addition, the habitat must be suitable for all phases of the trout's life history. For example, Eagle Lake, a large and highly productive body of water, supports a unique population of rainbow trout that are long-lived and capable of attaining large sizes. However, despite Eagle Lake's spacious habitat and abundant food supply, the Eagle Lake rainbow trout is threatened with extinction because Pine Creek, the only available spawning habitat, has suffered extensive damage. Thus for many years, human assistance has been required to sustain Eagle Lake rainbow trout. Adult Eagle Lake rainbow trout must be trapped and artificially spawned, and the young are reared in a hatchery until they are ready to be released into the lake.

In the past, we have introduced non-native trout that have replaced the native trout through predation, competition, and hybridization. Some native trout evolved in the absence of other types of trout and lack behavioral mechanisms needed to coexist with other trout. Widespread introductions of non-native trout have brought about long-term, negative consequences to some native trout such as the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Introduced brook, brown, and rainbow trout have displaced the cutthroat in most of its historic range through competition and predation. Also, when introduced trout interbreed with native trout, unique genetic characteristics are irretrievably lost. Cutthroat and golden trout are especially at risk because they readily hybridize with introduced rainbow trout.

Most of California's steelhead populations, and some inland native trout are now listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Several other native trout are being evaluated for listing.

The bull trout ( Salvelinus confluentus - formerly called the Dolly Varden) which was once found in the upper McCloud River, is now extinct in California. Another specie, the well-known coastal rainbow trout is still present in much of its original range, but many wild runs of steelhead, the sea-running form of rainbow trout, are at risk of extinction.

California's native trout have the distinction of being both game fish and part of our natural heritage. A major goal of the California Heritage Trout Program is to restore depleted native trout populations and to implement post-restoration management policies that allow angling, compatible with native trout conservation.

Restoring Our Native Trout Heritage

Over the years, the Department, with assistance from various resource management agencies, organizations, and individuals, has restored native trout species to their former habitats. Examples of success stories include the upper South Fork Kern River (Tulare County) for California golden trout and Slinkard Creek (Mono County) and the Upper Truckee River (Alpine and El Dorado counties) for Lahontan cutthroat trout. But there is still much restoration work to be done. The California Heritage Trout Program is committed to continuing this effort, which can be accelerated with increased public support and involvement. Restoring these native trout would not only preserve a special part of our natural heritage, but would also protect unique genetic traits, ensure diversity of natural adaptations, and maintain ecosystem function in California's aquatic habitats.

New Opportunities to Catch California's Native Trout

Angling opportunities for California's native trout have existed in limited, specific waters for a number of years. The California Heritage Trout Program is intended to open new angling opportunities for native trout, after certain populations have been successfully restored. Some Heritage Trout waters will offer a unique opportunity to catch a rare native trout in its native habitat, while in others, the size and abundance of fish present may provide exceptional angling, comparable to that of Wild Trout waters. California Heritage Trout waters must be managed in such a way that angling is compatible with native trout conservation. Designated waters may, therefore, have special angling regulations to assure the fishery will not adversely affect native trout populations or habitats. Waters that are important refugia for native trout may be restricted to zero-limit, catch-and-release angling only. Recently restored populations of native trout that have been reopened for angling for the first time maybe similarly protected.