Trout History and Families

by Fly Fisherman

NOT THE largest by far or necessarily the most beautiful, or the most edible, is the Salmonidae family of fishes. Regarded generally as piscatorial royalty the grouping includes the whitefish, the lake herring, the cisco, the salmons, the trouts and the chars. Some years ago many writers tied the grayling into the salmonidae picture because of their inhabiting the same waters and being considered a splendid game fish but the grayling, although related fairly closely, is a different family (Thymallus). It is of the trouts and chars with which we are concerned at this moment.

Nearly half a century ago a writer stated sorrowfully that his was the last generation that would relish the enjoyment of angling for the trouts in lakes and streams, and he was almost right in his prophecy had nothing been done about it. Trout hatchings, plantings and some study had been conducted but only as a sideline effort up to about that time. Since, concentrated work in company with scientific endeavor, restricting laws and conservation education has given rebirth to this important facet of trout supply for our recreational needs. In spite of the great number of anglers, which is constantly increasing, the work is pretty much in hand. Experiments and testings to still further improve our knowledge is a major effort of conservation departments of every state. The true wild trout is still with us in a few instances in this country, but his numbers are speedily becoming decimated. Hatchery spawn, when allowed time to become acclimated to their placement, will fast acquire all the traits of the “wild” fish with few of his shortcomings. Authorities declare that over ninety per cent of stream and lake trouts in the United States are hatchery plants and that is about the best ratio that the naturally spawned trout, under present fishing pressures, will ever reach.

The most logical theory as to the probable fount of the North American trout and char families was that they originally came from Asia. Only recently in evolutionary history, perhaps less than 100,000 years ago, these families of fishes migrated restlessly through the tumbling Arctic ice floes into Alaska. They extended their range southward to the Fraser and Columbia, then into the Yellowstone, the Missouri, the Snake, the Arkansas, the Platte, the Colorado and the Rio Grande. Other families reached Hudson Bay, then traveling coastwise southward and into the rivers and lakes of the eastern coast of North America. The theory holds water because we know the trouts and chars are anadromous by nature. Little difficulty is experienced in their shunting from salt water to fresh water and back again when the urge or impulse is upon them and when the salt water is available or open to them.
In traveling their various ways the trout groups became separated from each other. Biologically, isolated creatures have a natural tendency to change, to adapt themselves to fit the environment to which they find a liking. The trout species have proved to be particularly adept in this function. For instance, the rainbow trouts have been classified into seventeen distinct subspecies. The cutthroat trouts are next with fourteen designations. The brook trout (a char) is labeled in nine varieties and his cousin, the dolly varden, carries five scientific names. Those arc the totals to date as near as can be determined. Tomorrow, or next year, there may be more.

In the lexicon of biology man is regarded as homo sapiens, regardless of his color, habitat, personality and general physical characteristics. With the trouts and chars I won’t say they’ve broken the types down so that colors and habitat, etc., is a criterion by which certain of them gets another signifying label, but it’s close to that. Over a period of years the same fish, originally springing from the same batch of ova, becoming separated, or isolated, have definitely changed in appearance and in physical traits to fit the new environment, so they get another name. It is known that a planting of brook trout, all from the same hatch, a few months later in different sections of the same stream, had variations of color so pronounced that some looked like a different fish.

It is also known that the Piute cutthroat trout has a chameleon-like ability in which he can change his outward complexion to fit the water or the stream bed he is coursing over. This, in a matter of seconds. Ordinarily the scarcity or abundance of food, its quality and type, the temperatures of the water and whether it is completely fresh or somewhat brackish, the sex of the fish, its youth or age, the color of the stream bottom, surroundings and general environment, all have a bearing, over a period of time, on the shape, the shade and placement of his identifying spots, and his basic general coloring.

A physical characteristic that is common to all trout, and to other fish, is the lateral nerve line, or sense radar, running along the side of fish at its approximate center. One often wonders how and why he can shoot through a complex cluster of boulders, logs or other impeding barrier-like forms, or why in thrashing about trying to dislodge a hook, he never bunts or rams into obstructions but seems to slide by without a scrape. The only answer is that this nerve line is the organism that guides the fish’s movements and assists him to avoid touches even when traveling like a record breaking jet through the water.

Certain individual species of trout are considered by certain accusers as being of a stronger cannibalistic nature than others. The censure stems from just who is doing the judging and his present footing. The truth is that all trout, when they reach a size where food in quantity is necessary to keep them going, or where there is a lack of aquatic delicacies whatever the size of the fish, will resort to cannibalism as will practically all species of fish.
While it is true that all the trout of any one species cannot be expected to look exactly alike, act alike, eat alike or fight alike, each variety does have characteristics in common with the others which are important to the angler. Those we will cover later but now let’s break down the several types of the better known kinds of trout and outline briefly some of their specific features.

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