Know Your Fish - Cutthroat Trout

cutthroat trout fishing guide Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki)

Identification Characteristics:

  • Red to yellow streaks on underside of jaw
  • Blunt head, long jaw that extends past eye
  • Small black spots on head & body extending well below lateral line, and on all fins

  • Length to 20 inches
  • Freshwater record: 6.00 lbs, Bud Johnson, Carr Inlet, Pierce Co., 5/43

    Cutthroat trout are also an anadromous fish (those that spend most of their lives in the ocean but migrate to fresh water to spawn) and are a favorite catch of Puget Sound fisherman. Also, cutthroat trout are often present in the same streams that Pacific salmon use for spawning. Many people confuse cutthroat with other salmon species.

    The cutthroat trout's name comes from the red to yellow slash marks on each side of the lower jaw. These marks, along with dark spots on the back, sides and fins, are often missing on the fish in salt water or fresh from the sea. Body color is generally dark olive on the back, highly variable on the sides, silver in salt water or fresh from the sea. They generally average around 1 to 2 pounds, but fish in the 5 pound range have been caught. A 20" cutthroat is considered a trophy in Washington State.

    Cutthroat trout, also called bluebacks, can be found in virtually all large and small unspoiled costal streams. Sea-run forms are present within the inter-tidal zones (between the low and high tide marks) in most of our marine areas. They spawn from the late summer through fall. Puget Sound cutthroat trout tend to move into streams later than Juan de Fuca Strait and ocean cutthroat. Most saltwater-caught cutthroat are taken within the inter-tidal zone.

    Typically, cutthroat trout are caught with spoons, spinners, and flies. Natural bait such as night crawlers (worms), small cut bait from herring, sandlance, sculpin bellies, and salmon eggs also work well.

    For more information about Washington State's game fish you can download these PDF files: Pacific salmon identification (1446KB), trout and salmon identification (560KB), and selected game fish (2553KB). To read these files you will need the free Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader that you can obtain from Adobe's PDF Reader web page.

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