Fishing Skillz is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.

Trout Identification: How To Identify Different Types Of Trout Species (Tips and Techniques)

different kinds of trout

How To Identify Different Species of Trout

There are many different types of trout species. Some of them are incredibly easy to catch while some are quite difficult and require a lot of skill to hook.

But regardless of whether you’re fishing for rainbow trout, browns or cutthroats, you must be able to identify each of these different kinds of trout.  You could face a hefty fine if you happen to get caught hanging onto the wrong species of trout, even if it’s by mistake.

So let’s brush up on our trout identification skills.


Why Knowing How To Identify Different Kinds Of Trout Is Important

With so many different kinds of trout living in the streams, rivers and lakes that we fish, chances are, you’re going to hook into a trout species that you weren’t originally fishing for.

For example, here in Oregon, it’s not uncommon to hook into a cutthroat trout or a brook trout while fishing for rainbows. But is it legal to be catching these fish? What if the game warden visits and you’re in possession of a cutthroat, but you thought it was a rainbow?

Since there’re so many different species of trout and so many different fishing regulations that permit you to take one but not others, it’s extremely important to know how to identify different trout species.

Rainbow Trout

how to identify trout species

Rainbow trout are one of the most popular and recognizable trout species, partially because of the identifiable “rainbow” that stretches across both sides of the fish.

Another reason rainbow trout are so popular to fish for is because of the kind of fight that these fish put on. Rainbows love to jump and give a thrilling acrobatic show.

These trout can reach up to 16 inches or more in length and weigh up to 8 pounds. And thanks to heavy planting efforts of rainbow trout by fisheries around the world, this trout species can be found on every continent in the world, Antarctica being the only exception.

This beautiful trout species can be fished for in cold streams and rivers with gravel bottoms. Like most fish, they like to hide under shelter, such as underwater vegetation and other submerged structures like logs and branches.


How To Identify A Rainbow Trout

tips for identifying rainbow trout

Rainbow Trout

The topside of the rainbow trout is usually a olive green to blue-green color. You may also find some that are more brownish.

There is a red colored line that stretches the length of the side of the fish’s body, which is where the rainbow in its name comes from.

On the rainbow trout, there are small dark spots scattered all over the fish, including on the tail of the fish. These spots are solid and do not have rings around them.

how to identify rainbow trout

Rainbow Trout

Another identifying trait of the rainbow trout is the rainbow does not have teeth on its tongue.

Rainbow trout are an aggressive trout species and tend to fight harder than the other kinds of trout. Rainbows will eat at all hours and feed on anything that appears edible.

Brown Trout

different kinds of trout

Brown trout are another popular species of trout for fishermen, mostly because the brown trout can be such a technically difficult fish to catch. They are a very wary trout species and some skill is required to seek out and catch browns.

Brown trout prefer larger, slower flowing streams but can also be taken from smaller streams with faster moving water. Regardless of the body of water they are in, they will seek shelter under large rocks or submerged logs or branches.

how to identify brown trout

Brown trout are typically 12 inches or less in length but larger fish can definitely be found. They’re excellent fighters and can easily trick you into thinking they are larger than they really are. And unlike the rainbow trout, browns tend to not surface when hooked. During a fight, browns will typically make a run for the bottom to seek shelter.

How To Identify Brown Trout

trout fishing in montana

Brown Trout

Brown trout are fairly simple to identify. The most distinguishing identifier for this trout species is the overall brown color of this fish’s skin. Their brown skin is covered with dark spots that have rings around them. Intermixed with the dark spots are red and orange spots that also have rings around them. However, there are no spots on the tail of this fish.

As this species of trout grows larger, the darker spots may become less round especially on top of their back. It’s assumed that this happens so that they can better blend into their environment.

Brown trout tend to be most active ne ar dawn and dusk. They like to feed on caddis hatches, stoneflies and mayflies.

Cutthroat Trout

how to identify cutthroat trout

Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout are a very popular game fish, especially with fly fishermen. Cutthroat trout can usually be found in small to moderately large, clear, well oxygenated, shallow rivers with gravel bottoms.

How To Identify Cutthroat Trout

how to identify cutthroat trout

Cutthroat Trout

There’s a number of different kinds of cutthroat trout, all which have their own characteristics. Some subspecies might look like rainbow trout and others resemble brook trout or even brown trout.

But even though the cutthroat may look a lot like a rainbow, one of the tell tale signs that you’ve landed a cutthroat are the orange to red color slashes that are on the underside of the fish’s lower jaw.

The other major thing to look for on cutthroats are their spots. This trout species will have a very few spots on the forward part of their body, but increase significantly as you get closer to the tail.

Interesting Trout Facts

Below is a list of some interesting trout facts that I stumbled upon while putting this article together. These are from You can check out their site to read more interesting facts.

  • Brown trout (including sea trout) belong to a single, polytypic, species. They are, however, so variable and adaptable that attempts have been made to assign them to at least 50 separate species.
  • Brown trout can reach the age of 20 years.
  • The majority of trout die before their first birthday. Mortality rates in their first year of life are typically 95% or greater, falling to around 40 – 60% in subsequent years.
  • Trout can rapidly change color, getting darker when being aggressive, lighter when being submissive or in response to changing background color.
  • Studies suggest that the catch rate of trophy-sized trout was 28 times greater in the catch-and-release area than in a harvest area.

You May Also Be Interested In…

Ident-I-Cards Fish Set of 9 Freshwater Fish Identification Cards
  • Waterproof - Pocket Sized - Field Tested
  • Full Color - Accurate Illustrations -
  • 51 Fish Species Represented
Buy Now on Amazon

If you’re still unsure about being able to property identify different kinds of trout while out on the water, then you might want to consider picking up this handy fresh water fish species identification card that is water proof and small enough to fit inside your pocket or tackle box.

It has all the information you’ll need to identify 51 different species of freshwater fish including:

  • Brown Trout
  • Golden Trout
  • Brook Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Cuthroat Trout
  • Many More Species

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking about heading out to try your luck at catching a few trout this weekend and you’re new to trout fishing, you might find my articles covering The Best Bait For Trout  and another article The Best Trout Fishing Spinning Reels helpful. 

And be sure to pick up the trout species identification card if you’re still unsure. That investment of only a couple bucks could save you a lot of grief with the game warden.

Written by Don

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure.

I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!

recommended bait for trout fishin

5 Best Baits For Trout (And How To Fish Them!)

trout fishing in idaho

Best TROUT Fishing In IDAHO (7 Fly Fishing Streams And Lakes Not To Miss)