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Baby tiger trout
A baby tiger trout is introduced in Oregon with the specific goal of eradicating pest fish – (Oregon Dept. of Fisheries – October 12, 2015)

When learning about the various quarries that can attract reelers to the outdoors, there are a few time-honored stalwarts that come to mind. Rainbow trout, largemouth bass, tarpon, grouper–all are among the first to cross the mind of a new angler. Murkier water comes with the territory, both literally and figuratively, and even species aren’t clear-cut differentiators.

Case in point: the tiger trout. The tiger trout is not a true species, but rather a sterile hybrid made from brown trout and brook trout parents. The tiger trout is occasionally stocked in lakes and streams throughout the United States (and abroad, though in limited numbers) in situations where wild stocks might be impacted by the act of stocking. For that reason, it is sometimes preferred in otherwise pristine trout water. In the wild, the tiger trout is exceedingly rare and alluring to the adventuring angler. For this reason, the wild tiger trout is a badge of pride that can elevate even the most otherwise-accomplished reeler.

Illustration of a tiger trout.
(International Game Fish Assc. – Duane Raver)

Biology:

Tiger trout can be found in the wild where populations of both brown trout and brook trout intermingle. The union is only viable when female brown trout and male brook trout breed, though some fish procreation isn’t the result of direct intent (but close proximity). The standard survival rate of these hybrids is 5% of fertilized eggs. Scientists also believe that a heat shock can help spur the necessary creation of an extra set of chromosomes that tiger trout require, which is why fatality rates and populations can fluctuate strongly from stream-to-stream (with an upper survival rate nearing 85%). This special hybrid is noteworthy to many researchers because the species are not terribly closely related (brook char versus brown trout), with different numbers of chromosomes.

The biological intricacies of tiger trout have been studied for decades.
(Canadian Field Naturalist Guide, 1983)

Hybrids, such as the tiger trout, are also subject to quick growth due to what scientists term “hybrid vigor.” This can enable the fish to grow more quickly and possibly larger than either of their parents. Hybrids can also display behaviors that neither parent express, though tiger trout do not deviate significantly from brook or brown trout.

Identification

Three tiger trout display the variety of patterns that make identification a challenge.
(Wikimedia commons, Matthew Tyree – 2008)

Tiger trout are fairly easy to identify because of their distinct “noodle” vermiculation (spot) pattern. They are only found in cold water “trout” habitat, and often have the general outline and body shape of a brook trout. Stocked brown trout often display somewhat-noodly vermiculations, but only tiger trout have those patterns throughout their entire flank (with few or no brown-trout-esque spots). Being a hybrid, their colors can vary between the silver-green-brown of brown trout and the green-top red-yellow bottom of brook trout.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY: This brown trout displays worm-shape vermiculations, but they are not prevalent enough to be mistaken for a tiger trout…if you have a keen eye!
(Jason Meckes – Clarks Creek, PA – 2012)

Habitat

The crystal-clear waters that indicate trout habitat are very much the haunting grounds of the tiger trout. Wild populations require brook and brown trout habitat simultaneously.
(Jason Meckes – Clarks Creek, PA – 2012)

Being a hybrid of brown and brook trout, the wild tiger trout is most often found in streams of the northeastern United States. The limiting factor in wild stocks is usually dependent on the brook trout being comfortable enough to breed, as brown trout usually enjoy the same water (and more). Any stream with both populations breeding could harbor a tiger trout population, but they are so rare that they are very difficult to encounter. A reeler that is interested in catching one had better look toward the western states, where they are stocked more commonly (Utah, Colorado, Oregon). For conservation purposes, they are the exclusive stocked species in many streams and lakes.

Catchin’ Tips

Conventional gear: The tiger trout is very similar to the brown trout in most of its preferences and activities. Larger specimens are nearly entirely piscivorous, so lures that imitate baitfish (and live bait) are successful.

Fly gear: As with traditional gear, your approach should be identical to that which works for brown trout fishing. If you are aiming for larger specimens, using an articulated fly or muddler minnow can be successful.

WORLD RECORD

The world record tiger trout is 20lbs 13oz and caught by Peter Friendland in Lake Michigan, Wisconsin (1978). The world record for fly tackle is 16lbs 12oz caught by Luke Butcher in the UK (2001).


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