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FYI - wild trout ID
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I found this post concerning wild fish ID on another site. This subject was discussed a few months ago on the board. The poster is a Central / Eastern PA fisherman who recently published a book - "Fly fishing Pressured Waters". By chance I just purchased the book a few weeks ago. It has great patterns and instructions on tying realistic flies. He seems to know his subject concerning wild vs. stocked trout ID. Note the "blue halo" observation.


"OK, you asked for it, so I'll give it a go. In order to identify wild browns (especially in a fingerling-stocking situation), it is useful to understand why they can be distinguished. So bear with me, and knowing my own tendency to over-explain, I'll try to pare this down to the bare minimum. Please feel free to ask questions if there's something you don't understand.

The common wisdom, even among the best biologists, is that the brown trout in America is a highly variable fish of mixed heritage, and that trying to distinguish between strains or races (or even between wild and stocked fish in some instances) is nearly impossible in the field. This is generally quite true, but it is not universally true. And it is not true in specific instances (in our case, a specific instance as large as PA).

As you wander PA in search of wild browns, sooner or later you will recognize that they are nearly all of a consistent type with common morphological characteristics. By and large, they did not descend from the domesticated stock produced by the state for more than half a century. To understand this, ask yourself this question: If stocking of this domesticated type of brown trout was making any significant contribution to wild populations, then why aren't the wild trout streams populated by fish that largely resemble their domesticated parents? Or, at least, why don't the wild fish show a much higher degree of variability in their appearance?

The answer is that the overwhelming majority of wild browns in the state descend primarily from one type of highly successful, stream-adapted trout. That fish is the Von Behr, or (more accurately) the common European stream trout. These fish are no longer genetically pure (though in some isolated headwaters, they may be), but they are unquestionably of that morphological type.

Enough of the background for now. (I'd be happy to explain further, if you have questions.) Let me describe the characteristics of the two main types of brown trout you will find in most all of PA. (A third type--a lake-adapted strain called the Loch Leven--was introduced, but survives now only in some of the characteristics of the domesticated stock.)

Domestic stock: A large-headed, somewhat slender trout, usually dark brown on dorsal surfaces and silvery to pale brown with heavy black spotting on sides and dorsal fin, often with slightly paler spots on the upper half (and sometimes the lower half) of the tail. The spots are often of an irregular shape (and may even be connected toward the tail). As these fish "color-up" in streams, the sides become a bit more yellow and spots below the lateral line develop an orange or orange-brown color. As fall approaches, the fish darken (especially males) and the entire lower half of the body may be washed in deep orange-brown. These fish rarely develop any true red or crimson anywhere on the body and their fins are usually dark.

PA wild brown: (Basically, a European stream trout or Von Behr) A smaller-headed, oval-shaped trout, usually olive or olive-brown on dorsal surfaces and yellow or brownish-yellow with large round black or brown spots on sides and dorsal fin. (These spots are often sparser in distribution and have more conspicuous pale halos.) Spotting on the upper tail is either extremely faint or absent. Brilliant red or crimson spots with light halos are concentrated primarily along the lateral line, often with some scattered above and below. Red also stains the adipose fin and may border the top and/or bottom edges of the tail. On a few populations, round red spots may also be found on the dorsal fin, but this is rare and you have to look carefully to notice it. One of the most important distinguishing characteristics is the presence of a blue "eye-spot" on the upper cheek behind the fish's eye. This spot is larger than the other spots and varies from a pale iridescent blue to nearly black. PA domestic stock rarely, if ever, display this mark. As fall approaches, these fish darken and their color intensifies, with the fins often becoming bright(er) orange or orange-brown. Another trait of these fish is their ability to adjust their color somewhat to match their surroundings (a trait of most browns, but pronounced in these fish, particularly in headwater streams). The fish will be darker or lighter overall according to the light conditions where they hold, and in brilliant sun-dappled places the fish will often display a "sun-and-shade" pattern on their sides.

In streams where "catchables" are stocked, fin condition (or size, in the case of "sublegals") is often the easiest way for most anglers to distinguish between wild and stocked fish. But learning the morphological (actually phenotypical) characteristics will allow you to be reasonably sure of this distinction almost anywhere in PA.

To be sure, some mixing does occur, but not nearly as much as you'd think. The main reason is that the domestics are wickedly ineffective spawners. (Watch the stocked browns attempting to spawn in the Little Lehigh sometime. They spawn in stupid, random places and contribute next to nothing to the wild/streambred population.) On the rare occasion when a domestic spawns successfully, it is usually by "piggy-backing" on the spawning of wild fish. This can produce a wild fish with mixed characteristics and probably dilutes the wild gene pool in ways that may not be positive. Fortunately, very little of this mixing occurs in most places (though fall stocking may exacerbate the situation).

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), when domestic fingerlings are stocked, their spawning success rate is not much better than "catchables." In fact, on a fish-by-fish basis, it is much worse because fewer attain spawning age.

Sorry, I told you this was going to be a lengthy explanation, and there's much more to discuss about the topic. For now, however, I've probably said more than enough to get me in trouble in some circles!"

Best wishes for wild fishes!
Gonzo
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Lloyd Gonzales
author of Fly-Fishing Pressured Water

Posted on: 2006/10/24 10:48


Re: FYI - wild trout ID
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I read about various "halos" and then about a supposed "blue 'eye-spot'" which should have been stated as a "'blue' eye-spot" but I missed any mention of a "blue halo."


Posted on: 2006/10/24 13:41
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Re: FYI - wild trout ID
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Jack,

I actually was refering to the "blue-eye" spot reference. I believe it was Maurice that observed it, and had a photo of a fish with this trait. Apparently that is one of the key ways to ID a wild PA Brown Trout.

Posted on: 2006/10/24 13:53


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Dear afishinado,

I'm going to stick with the tried and true red adipose fin and red fin borders on the tail and anal and caudal fins to ID wild brown trout. Stockers never get them no matter how long they live, and wild fish have them as fingerlings.

In the Fall the stockers do color up but if it has no red it came from a raceway.

Regards,
Tim Murphy

Posted on: 2006/10/24 16:22


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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I like how u describe how they look BUT I have one scenario where this becomes extremely difficult to tell a stocked brown from a wile brown or even a brook trout for that matter. Lower Fishing Creek in Clinton County as everyone knows is stocked with trout every year. A good portion of the stocked stream in my opinion should be or might still be considered a class A stream if not its all class B. After a brown or brook trout has been in the water for even a few months it can be hard to tell whether its a stocked trout or a wild one in some situations. I can post pics to prove because you'd be amazed at the one brook trout we caught but we know its a stocked one but it definitely doesn't look like it was. I have learned that anywhere trout are stocked and the water is considered class A or B or possibly in a regulated area that the trout will color up, gradually loose their stocked round shape, and even grow back fins. The only way I am able to say for sure if I caught a wild trout was if it was in an area I absolutely knew was not stocked. If I'm in one of these stocked areas I most of the time will say its a hold over or possibly a wild one its probably a 50/50 chance of either. Does anyone else think this way? I'll have to look for that blue eye spot or whatever it is...maybe thats the best way to tell since I never looked for it. I'll have to do some observing.

Posted on: 2006/10/24 21:38


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Here's a Fishing Creek brown. Judging from the size of the net, and the depth of the bag, I'm guessing around 15". Looks like a wild fish to me.

Resized Image

Here's a McMichael's creek brown. Obviously a stocked fish - note the clipped adipose fin.

Resized Image

Posted on: 2006/10/24 22:25


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Dear Ed,

That second fish looks like an eel.

The first fish on the other hand has red so it came from a redd.

It's not that hard to tell them apart.

Regards,
Tim Murphy

Posted on: 2006/10/24 23:18


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Actually the second one looks a lot like a Tiger.

Posted on: 2006/10/25 8:42


Re: FYI - wild trout ID
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Quote:

tomgamber wrote:
Actually the second one looks a lot like a Tiger.

I thought the same thing Tom...but I didn't have the 'nads to say it. It doesn't seem to have a very dominant brookie gene though.

Posted on: 2006/10/25 8:49
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Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Stock that trout in the second picture in Fishing Creek from where Cedar Run dumps in down to the Ax Factory Dam and I guarantee in about 3 months it'll be just as colored up as that trout in the first picture. It will still be fatter but give it a year and I bet it'll look exactly like the one in the first pic or very very close to it. Freshly stocked trout are easy to tell but once they've been in a good quality stream for a few months they can become hard to tell a difference from a wild and a stockie. I will try to find a good example of a brown but for now here's a brook trout...my brother took this pic...its a stockie, we caught several like it but it definitely doesn't look like a stocked brook trout. I'll try to find an example of a brown to post.

Attach file:



jpg  000_0640.JPG (0.00 KB)


Posted on: 2006/10/25 16:49


Re: FYI - wild trout ID
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Big John,

There ain't no way that second trout will look like the first one. Sure it will color up, the faint brown/orange spots will turn to more orange. The belly will go butter yellow, The irregular black spots will increase contrast to the background, the adapose fin will show orange at the tip, etc. But the basic spot pattern will remain the same.

Much of the spot size shape and distributionis a function of genetics and develops from the early age of fry through the first year. When they are fed fish feed for that time the protein content limits the coloration and promotes the irregular spots. This is present with each crop of trout we raise at our nursery.

Last year we had brook trout for my first time and although they did color up significantly (males like the one in your photo) they don't show the crimson spotts on the lateral line. Just pale red, a function of feed I believe.

Here is another thing to consider. If you take trout eggs and hatch them into a stream with no nursery rearing and feeding, will the characteristics resemble stocked fish or wild fish? Remember, these fish have the nursery brood genes but have not been reared in a raceway.

The answer is you can not tell the difference, the spotting is nearly identical to wild fish. So much so it is like fishing in a wild trout stream. The trout hold in places you find difficult to believe. Any current break or seam no matter how shallow. The reason we know they are not stocked is most are under 7", some over. One unusual characteristic I believe tells them apart is that the lateral line spots are bright orange on the incubator fish and red on the wild ones. Other than that they look identical from tipped adipose fins to translucent amber to orange/red pectoral fins. When you catch enough of them and then a colored up stockey you are very sure of yourself from then on.

Posted on: 2006/10/25 17:30
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Don't hit me with them negative waves so early in the morning. Think the bridge will be there and it will be there. It's a mother, beautiful bridge, and it's gonna be there. Ok?


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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That description makes things more complicated if you ask me, I could have put it in 1 sentence. I look at the color of the fish, the fins and the look for the blue spot and a red adipose fin. Stockies don't color up at all like wild fish so coloring of the fish comes last. Plus by this time of the year more than 90% of the stockies are gone unless the stream gets a fall stocking, or you're fishing the LL or another stream that has a hatchery on it. It's easier for me though since I don't fish stocked streams.

Posted on: 2006/10/26 6:35


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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I though so too.

Posted on: 2006/10/26 6:41


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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I totally disagree, I dn't care where a fish is stocked you will always be able to tell the different. I've seen wild fish that have had their fins clipped as part f PFBC surveys that never grew back their fins. The colors of the fish that are stocked never look the same as wild fish, they stockies are always a bit washed out though the colors may approach wild colors, stocked browns especially are far from colorful as the wild fish.
Though I'll agree that stocked brookies seem to gain more color you can always tell the difference.

Posted on: 2006/10/26 6:46


Re: FYI - wild trout ID

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Wow I can't believe I didn't convince anyone on this but I'm still sticking to my guns. I know given the right water conditions a stocked trout will color up, change shape, and even regrow fins. I know this doesn't happen everywhere like Kettle Creek for example but on Fishing Creek where all stocked trout that are not kept by fishermen or other preditors survive all year long even in the worst weather conditions. A stocked brown released anywhere above the town of Mill Hall, within 3 months, will be yellow and start to develope more brillant spots and I'm saying within about a year they will be nearly impossible to tell from a wild brown. The rainbows do the same thing. They will not change shape quite as much but they develope extremely pink fins with white on the tips and a brillant pink stripe down the side and every fin will be in perfect condition. As you can see the brook trout change drastically from their pale colors as a stockie to the brillant color in the one picture I posted. Even a "golden" trout will change drastically given the right water conditions. Here's what a wild golden trout would look like if one ever existed. This is probably the closest thing to one ever existing.

Attach file:



jpg  Palamino1.jpg (0.00 KB)


Posted on: 2006/10/26 22:49



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