By Debbie Kay
This week’s Sunday Series, we’re turning to the redband trout. These trout are, like cutthroat, unique subspecies of rainbow trout that developed on the West Coast . There are both sea-run and coastal versions of redbands, and they are believed to be the link between the coastal rainbows and the more primitive cutthroat trout. Redbands are named for their color, and are a more orange or orangey-red version of a coastal rainbow. They also tend to keep their parr marks from their juvenile years, giving them a dark spotted or barred appearance.
These trout are found in three watersheds, each of which has its own genetically distinct classification. They face similar threats to their populations as the goldens. This includes risks from hybridization and encroachment of habitat. Fish and Wildlife agencies have documented a tentative link between the presence of native redbands and the genetic integrity of threatened steelhead populations. They are not at the same risk level as goldens, however, as none of the species are currently listed as endangered species. Here is a look at the three populations, where to find them, and tips on catching each:
Columbia River Basin Redbands
The Columbia River Basin redbands can vary greatly in appearance, depending on their habitat. They can look very different based on whether they’re sea run, stream only, or lacustrine (lakebound). The color is yellow to orange/yellow with a yellow mark, similar to a cutthroat, on the chin. Like all redbands, the stream and riverbound fish are highly spotted, retaining their parr marks into adulthood. Columbia Basin redbands can be found into Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. They can grow quite large, measuring up to 2 feet in length.
Great Basin Redbands
This strain lives in the basin between Oregon and Northern California. Like the Columbia River redbands, their appearance changes with their habitat. Many of the streams where the Great Basin trout are found are in montane and high desert areas. These streams go as far as Utah, and a few native strains can be found in the watersheds of the Beehive State. These are a fun catch, because large fish can show up in surprisingly small stream systems. Spinners are good choices for these fish.
McCloud River Redbands
This highly variable California redband is so well known for its unique populations that California actually has an unofficial award for catching all six varieties that live in different parts of the McCloud River system. The McCloud River redband was the original genetic stock of rainbows that was used by a hatchery in Colorado by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880. They particularly liked the McCloud species’ ability to stay in the waterways where they were introduced. McCloud redbands are known to have crimson stripes along the lateral line, and a red blush along the gill cover. The McCloud River basin faces a real risk, however, from adjacent grazing activity. Grazing animals can trample waterways, isolate populations and stir up sediment in the streams beyond the ability the fish can tolerate. California redbands are catch and release only, but a fun and spirited catch.
Have you caught any redbands? Which are your favorites? Leave us a message in the comments.