Westslope Cutthroat Trout

June 14, 2023
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Origin: Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi) is one of two sub-species of cutthroat trout native to B.C. Most populations of westslope cutthroat in southern and eastern areas of the province have been decimated by a combination of habitat loss, poor fisheries management, and hybridization with non-native rainbow trout. The Kootenay River watershed still supports many robust wild populations, and contains the core range of remaining westslope cutthroat. Connor Lakes, located in the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, provide the sole source of wild westslope cutthroat broodstock for hatchery production.

Habitat: Westslope cutthroat can be found in big rivers and lakes as well as small, high-elevation mountain streams. They have a strict requirement for cold, clean water, and good stream cover. Because westslope cutthroat have evolved in isolation from other trout species, they are a poor competitor in systems where species like rainbow trout and brook char are introduced. They are opportunistic feeders, aggressively pursuing whatever is seasonably abundant. They will feed on most invertebrates underwater, as well as flying or terrestrial insects that land on the water’s surface.

Description: Like other cutthroat trout sub-species, older fish can be distinguished by characteristic orange-red slashes on each side of the lower jaw. They vary in colouration from silver to yellow-green, but most have an arc of irregular dark spots from the anal to the pectoral fins, along with a few spots below the lateral line of the body. Spawning fish develop a deep red colour.

Fishing: Westslope cutthroat are typically small compared to other trout, occasionally reaching upwards of 50 centimetres. What these trout lack in size, they make up for in tenacity when hooked. The pristine waters in which westslope trout occur also tend to have low food productivity, which provides angling where few, or no other, sport fish occur. Depending on the water body, westslope cutthroat are available almost year ’round to anglers. While they are highly popular with fly-fishers in both streams and lakes during warmers months, they also support ice fishing on lakes in the winter