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An illustration of two cutthroat trout underwater in a rocky environment.
Information icon Cutthroat trout illustration by Timothy Knepp, USFWS.

Cutthroat trout

Oncorhynchus clarki

  • Taxon: Freshwater fish
  • Range: Cutthroat trout are native to the Western United States; introduced in the Southeast.
  • Status: Not listed under the Endangered Species Act, but several subspecies are considered threatened in their native ranges.

Cutthroat trout are freshwater fish in the family Salmonidae, as are rainbow trout. Although inhabiting clear, cold streams in their native range in western North America, this species is becoming a popular sport fish stocked below federal water projects in the Southeast. Cutthroat trout were first observed in 1955 in Tennessee and in 1982 in Arkansas. In 2019, cutthroat trout were stocked for the first time in Kentucky in the Cumberland tailwaters below the Wolf Creek Dam.

Appearance

Coloration of the cutthroat trout is variable, but cutthroat trout are distinguished from other trout species by the two prominent red slashes on the lower jaw. Generally, the back and sides of cutthroat trout are lightly spotted; dorsal, adipose, and tail fins can be heavily spotted. Mature fish have elongated bodies, normally having a length several times the width of their bodies.

A brown fish with deep red markings around its front fins and gills
Yellowston cutthroat trout with clear slash markings. Photo by NPS.

Habitat

They inhabit clear, cold streams with naturally fluctuating flows, low levels of fine sediment, well-vegetated streambanks, and diverse, abundant instream cover.

Diet

Cutthroat trout feed within or just downstream of riffles where aquatic invertebrates are abundant. Like most trout species, cutthroat trout are opportunistic feeders and primarily consume invertebrates, small fish, and zooplankton. Invertebrates eaten include the larval and pupal stages of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies.

A brownish green fish with dark spots and red markings around its gills and fins
Cutthroat trout. Photo by USDA, NRCS.

Historic range

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Introduced as a sport fish outside its native range.

Current range

Native to western North America, cutthroat trout have been introduced as a sport fish in the Southeast.

Cutthroat trout range map by USGS.
Cutthroat trout range map by USGS.

Conservation challenges

Habitat loss is a major cause of decline of all subspecies of cutthroat trout. Land uses known to contribute to cutthroat habitat degradation include timber harvest, urbanization, road development, mining, and agricultural/livestock production. Poor land management practices can result in increased soil erosion, stream channel instability, and decreased water quality and quantity in cutthroat habitats.

How you can help

Protecting and enhancing aquatic habitat are the most effective ways to maintain or restore cutthroat trout populations. Any management plan should attempt to minimize the physical, chemical, biological, and hydrological disturbances that land management activities may have on cutthroat trout habitat or surrounding riverbank areas.

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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