Category: Lake Trout

I’ve previously written about Trout and True Trout. The last post of this “trilogy” is about Char. For clarity, it will help us to keep in mind that scientist categorize the living world first by family, then genus, by species, and so on.

Char or Charr (genus: Salvelinus), are made up of over 60 species. I could write for a year if we tried to discuss each one, but then again, there are very few differences that the average guy would really care about among many of these species. Since I’m not interested in preparing you or myself for a PhD, we’ll just take a look at the most common species that I (here I go again) assume you have heard of.

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) is a freshwater char—also called togues or mackinaw trout —are the largest of all trout. The normal maximum is about 60 pounds (27 kg), but some individuals weigh more than 100 pounds (45 kg). They are native only in the northern United States and Canada, but they have been introduced into cold lakes in Europe and South America (25% of all Lake trout are found in the province of Ontario, Canada). In the northern part of their range lake trout inhabit streams connected to lakes. Lake trout are gray, greenish-blue, or bronze, with pale spots on their bodies and fins. The female does not make a redd.

Trout Lake

In 2007, nearly 30 men and boys, all friends (same genus, most of them) and family (same species, although in some cases there may be reason to question if this is true) of mine, spent a week at Trout Lake in Canada. My godfather (yes, but he’s a good guy) was the master of catching Lake trout that week, but I must say I find Lake trout to be rather boring compared to other species of trout, let alone other fish. They’re generally down quite deep and you really just “still fish”, which isn’t the kind of “active” approach I like to take when fishing. My godfather was happy though, and as you probably know, if the Godfather isn’t happy, nobody is happy… 😉

By 1961, lake trout in the Great Lakes had been almost totally destroyed by the sea lamprey, which had entered the lakes after completion of the Welland Canal in 1829. Efforts to control the lamprey population met with some success, but trout are still killed in large numbers. Lake trout are regularly released from hatcheries into the lakes to replace those killed by lampreys.

Brook trout, native to the American coast from near the Arctic Circle to Georgia, have been introduced to suitable habitats in other parts of America and the Old World. These trout are olive-green or brown on the back, which is often marked with dark, wavy lines. The sides are mottled with pink or red spots surrounded by pale blue. At spawning time, the fins and bellies of males turn orange or red and the leading edge of each lower fin is white followed by black. Brook trout are also called speckled trout or squaretails. Sea-running varieties are often called salters. Brook trout weigh an average of 1 to 4 pounds (450 g to 1.8 kg), with record weights of about 14 pounds (6.4 kg).

Dolly Varden

Dolly Varden: note the small head and snake-like body.

Dolly Vardens, and Bull trout, used to be considered the same species, but in 1980 were separated. Bull trout are a threatened species in America. They range from Japan to Alaska and south to northern California, but are native to North America. Sea-running varieties are silvery with dark, wavy markings on the back. In mountain streams Dolly Vardens are spotted with red. Large lake-dwellers are silvery with yellow spots. The average weight in streams is generally less than one pound (450 g), while lake-dwellers and sea-runners often weigh more than 15 pounds (6.8 kg). Dolly Vardens feed on spawn and small fish, rodents, frogs, and birds, and are regarded as destructive to other trout and salmon. Bull trout can be differentiated from brook trout (S. fontinalis) by the absence of distinct spots on the dorsal fin, as well as yellow, orange, or salmon-colored spots on the back as opposed to red spots with blue haloes on the brook trout.

Bull trout identification

Bull trout lack the deeply forked tail fin of lake trout. Bull trout have been recorded measuring up to 103 centimetres (41 in) in length and weighing 32 pounds (14.5 kg).

If you want to learn more about these varieties of trout, and even other sub-species, it may be helpful in your research to know that trout belong to the family Salmonidae. (Since there are lots of “experts” out there, it’s easy to get confused since although they claim to be experts, their opinions differ… go figure!)

True trout are of the genus Salmo. The rainbow trout is O. mykiss; steelhead are Salmo gairdneri; the cutthroat, S. clarki; the brown, S. trutta; the golden, S. aguabonita. Chars are of the genus Salvelinus. The lake trout is Salvelinus namaycush; the brook, S. fontinalis; the Dolly Varden, S. malma.

A while ago, I started a review of what I know about Trout, but since there are so many species (over 60) I’ll keep this focused on the basics and True Trout today and later we’ll review some species of Char. Here are some that you already know about, and maybe one or two you didn’t.

Future Monster

Rainbow trout are among the most popular game fish. Their natural range is from Alaska to Argentina, but they have been widely introduced in other localities. They are olive to greenish-blue above and silvery below with a prominent red or pink stripe along the side. Stream-dwellers have dark spots on the body, dorsal fins, and tail. Lake-dwellers usually have weak spots or none. Rainbow trout have been recorded weighing up to 50 pounds (22.5 kg)… although I don’t know anyone who’s caught a monster like that, but apparently it is true.


Steelheads are actually sea-running rainbow trout. They go out to sea when they are about a year old, returning upstream to spawn two to five years later. Steelheads have been monitored traveling 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from Adak in the Aleutian Islands to the Columbia River in Washington. While at sea they are colored like the lake-dwelling rainbows (sort of a opaque silvery color), but near spawning time they resemble stream-dwellers. They can weigh up to 35 pounds (16 kg). Now, this is the weird part because, here in Argentina, the Steelheads are usually much larger than the Rainbows. In fact, I would invert the weight estimates between Rainbow and Steelhead here.


Cutthroat trout get their name from a bright red streak on the throat. They are found in coastal streams from Alaska to northern California and in inland waters of the western United States and Canada. I’ve never heard of them here, but I’m checking with some guides I know in various provinces to be sure. Cutthroats in high mountain streams are often called spotted trout. Sea-running cutthroats enter the ocean when a year old and remain there a year or two before returning to coastal streams to spawn. Cutthroats average around 5 pounds (2.25 kg), but some attain a weight of 40 pounds (18 kg).

Big Brown

Brown trout are native to Europe from Iceland to the Mediterranean Sea, but have been successfully transplanted to other parts of the world. They are golden to greenish brown with darker brown or black spots on the sides, back, and dorsal fins. There is also a sprinkling of red or orange spots, with pale borders, on the upper sides. While fishing the Chimehuin River in the Province of Neuquén two years ago, we actually caught Browns there were both dark brown with orange spots and silvery browns, depending on how many days they had been coming into the river from Lake Huechulafquen (try not to choke on that name, although it might clear up some congestion trying). Apparently, the change in color has to do with the hormones that accompany breeding activity.

Brown just in from the lake. Note the difference in color.

Brown trout are difficult to catch because they are much more aggressive fighters and use the river current to their advantage. Some individuals grow to a weight of 40 pounds (18 kg), but the average brown trout caught in the United States weighs 4 to 7 pounds (1.8 to 3.2 kg), while I believe that the average Brown in Argentina is probably 20% larger.

Golden trout are beautifully colored fish found in mountain streams and lakes in California, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Again, I’m pretty certain there are no Golden trout in Argentina (although there are Golden Dorado… but that’s another story.) Golden trout, as you may have guessed are pure black… just kidding, actually they are gold in color with a pinkish stripe along the side and a golden or reddish-orange belly.

Golden Trout: Note the red and spots

The dorsal fin, tail, and upper part of the body have dark spots. Golden trout average one pound (450 g) or less, but some attain a weight of about 10 pounds (4.5 kg).

The nice thing about fishing for trout here in Argentina, is that you can’t always be sure what you’ll get. Many species share the same habitat, and compete in the same waters for survival. Depending on when each species is actively spawning or feeding, and depending on whether you are in the right place at the right time, you may catch several different trout in a single outing.

While taking a break from a 4×4 excursion through Mendoza’s Valle Hermoso, in 20 minutes I could three different varieties of trout. In fact, I’m sort of doubtful about one of them. I think it may have been a land-locked salmon, since it was so different from the other two. It was the first I caught that day, and I didn’t have my camera ready, but you can see from these pictures, that the second two trout were definitely different species. Now can you tell which is which?

Sometimes you never know what you’ll find in your own backyard.



Growing up in the Midwest, Canada was always the Mecca for catching great fish. The further we could get away from civilization the bigger and better the fishing. There must be some “great white north” fishing ratio of miles-to-pounds – for every 50 miles further north add 2 pounds per fish and 4 fish per day.

Even visiting my mother’s family in Upstate New York often included a trip to family cabins in Canada on Crosby Lake.

Finger Lakes
Finger Lakes

Later, when I was still in high school, my family moved “Upstate” to Canandaigua, New York.

The area is generally referred to as the “Finger Lakes” and is well known for producing wine. In autumn, travelers flock in to enjoy the fall colors, spend cool days on wine tours, and some even stick around for the winter skiing nearby.

Canandaigua Lake is in fairly close proximity to Rochester, New York and is one of the lakes in the region that is particularly known as a summer resort town, so to speak. Lakefront property values go higher every year and the city is one of the fastest growing in the state.

Since Canandaigua Lake was so well known for other lake sports, I never thought of it as a great place to fish. The city is well populated and there are lots of recreational power boats on the lake. It just didn’t square with my idea of a serene and promising lake-of-choice where I could get my fix – the adrenaline rush from a healthy strike.

Most of the recreational watercraft spend their time on the northern end of the lake. So from time to time I’d go out on the south end of the lake, but for a serious outing in the region we’d travel a short distance to other nearby lakes.

Uncle Dale at 86 - his classic smile.
Uncle Dale at 86 – his classic smile.

My Uncle Dale (who is now 86) is what I think of as “old school”. He’d make most of his equipment, maintained his own boat motors and even made electric down riggers using automatic-window motors from an old car. I think because he has a sense for how things work, it served him well on the water. He rarely came back without something on the stringer.

In July, I traveled back to Canandaigua with my family to visit Uncle Dale and the rest of my family there. Upon arriving at my father’s house I picked up the local newspaper and was treated to an EYE POPPER… a 21 pound Lake Trout.

My first thoughts were… Ontario Lake? Seneca Lake? …but to my surprise it was my own -taken for granted- Canandaigua Lake. Suddenly I had a flash back to my best friend growing up, David… actually I flashed back to his voice saying “you gotta fish the pump house!”

At the pump house there’s a 90 foot hole at the bottom of the lake – perfect for lake trout because of the depth.

So at this point, I’m trying to square things again and decide to do some research. I began by looking through newspaper archives and even found some research done by a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Stephen Dwyer) in 2006 and his analysis of Seneca Lake as the “Lake Trout Capital of the World”. Stephen looked at the effects due to the presence of sea lamprey, zebra and quagga mussels, and smelt on the lake trout population in Seneca Lake, as well as, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) management.

This research and other articles led me to the following conclusion: The Lake Trout Capital of the World is more likely to be Canandaigua Lake than Seneca. Here’s why…

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