There is maybe no freshwater fish as beautiful as the rainbow trout. With a bright pink stripe down the side, they truly are the prettiest freshwater fish you can catch.
But how long will rainbow trout be around? Are they protected, endangered, extinct?
The answer is no – rainbow trout are not endangered. Rainbow trout for the most part are not even protected. And they are certainly not extinct. You can find them all over the United States.
Where are rainbow trout native?
Historically, rainbow trout were found mostly between British Columbia and Northern California, west of the Cascade Mountains. However, they were found as far east as Nevada and as far south as Mexico.
Because they prefer cooler water temperatures, rainbow trout enjoyed the cooler weather and higher elevations provided here. They also enjoy the pure, clear water.
Rainbow trout were also found in other continents including Asia – specifically eastern Asia and throughout parts of northeastern Russia.
Where can you find rainbow trout currently?
Due to their popularity and superior survivability, rainbow trout have been introduced to lakes and streams across America. They can now be found naturally reproducing as far east as Maine and as far south as Georgia.
Rainbow trout do naturally prefer colder water temperatures but can survive in anything up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, most freshwater lakes and streams get above these temperatures. So the streams and lakes where you find trout are usually at high elevations where temperatures are naturally cooler. Or supported by natural springs, providing cool, oxygenated water even in the middle of summer.
It’s worth noting while trout may be able to survive in cooler, spring-fed lakes they cannot reproduce without moving water. So they usually only reproduce naturally in streams.
Outside of America, trout have also been introduced to every continent with the obvious exception of Antarctica.
Where are rainbow trout stocked?
Because rainbow trout are fun to catch and tasty, they are often stocked in ponds, lakes and streams throughout the United States as well. They are fished out very quickly, so they don’t have to be able to survive the heat of summer.
The majority of states have government-run programs for stocking trout ethically throughout bodies of waters. In my home state of Virginia, trout are stocked from October to April and generally fished out by the start of summer. But there are strict regulations in how they are caught, kept and managed.
Rainbow trout stocked in these lakes, ponds, or streams generally come from fish farms. Here waters can be artificially kept to optimal temperatures. And they are fed large amounts of food pellets that allow them to mature quickly into good sizes for catching and eating.
In almost all of these waters, trout will not naturally reproduce over time and must be restocked over time to keep healthy populations.
Are rainbow trout protected anywhere?
While rainbow trout are not endangered, there are certain waters in which they are protected. Certain waters that are affected by stream damming and sediment runoff can negatively affect the natural rainbow trout populations.
As mentioned, rainbow trout are not native to most of the America. So the areas where they were naturally found do need extra protection to prevent overfishing or negative ecological effects from industrialization to diminish their numbers.
Do rainbow trout need conserved?
Rainbow trout do not need to be conserved, as they are easily reproduced in farms. They are even considered to be an invasive species of trout as they can naturally outproduce other varieties such as brown or brook trout.
However, like all fish, they can suffer from overfishing, nutrient runoff, and pollution. So it is important to keep fisheries healthy so naturally producing, wild rainbow trout can continue to roam in their native waters west of the Cascade Mountains.
Whirling disease has also been found in about half of the states where trout are raised. This is the result of a parasite which infects young trout, curving their spines and resulting in early mortality for most infected. While current research is determining prevalence and cause, it isn’t a serious threat to the species as a whole at the moment.
Are sub-species of rainbow trout endangered?
Rainbow trout are one of the most interesting fish because they have many species that are almost identical or closely related to them. This includes other types of trout, but most notably the Redband and Steelhead.
Steelhead are essentially rainbow trout that migrate to saltwater early in their life. Redband are a sub-species of rainbow trout that can survive in warmer temperatures and are usually what anglers will find east of the Cascade Mountains.
There are specific sub-species of rainbow trout that are endangered. For example, about 28 unique populations of steelhead are currently considered endangered in the Pacific. However, most of the parent species as a whole are not endangered and can be found naturally reproducing with little to no danger.
Rainbow trout are one of the most beautiful and mysterious fish that you can find in America. While they only naturally reproduce in a small amount of waters, they are not actually an endangered species. They may be protected in their native habitats, but that is mostly a result of man-made pollution or damming practices hurting their habitats.
Farm hatcheries still produce thousands of new rainbow trout each year and they are not going to go extinct any time in the near future. Certain specific species related to the rainbow trout may be endangered and protected, but the rainbow trout we all know and love will likely be around for generations to come. Which is good news for anglers who love to catch them!
If you enjoyed this article, consider reading these as well and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news and tips for trout fishing!