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Cut Bow Trout Vs. Rainbow Trout Vs. Cutthroat Trout


Article Categories: Fishing | Fishing Tips
Article Tags: Fishing | Fly Fishing

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What is a Cut Bow?
Where Can You Catch a Cut Bow?
How to Identify a Cut Bow?
The Difference Between a Cut Bow, Rainbow Trout & Cutthroat Trout


What is a Cut Bow Trout?

A cut-bow trout is a hybrid fish between rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. They do occur naturally in the wild in areas where the native range of rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout overlap. They can also occur where rainbow trout are stocked in areas of cutthroat trout. This was a common occurrence in the late 1800’s.


Where Can You Catch Cut Bow Trout?

Cut Bow Trout Range

Due to stocking of Cut Bows, and the stocking of Rainbow Trout in Cutthroat waters (and vice-versa) the non-native range has spread substantially. The western states of the US all contain some populations as you can see by the above map.


How to Identify Cut Bow Trout

Cut Bow trout can be extremely difficult to identify as they of course tend to look like two separate species.

White Tipped Fins – White tipped fins on the bottom of the fish are not on Cutthroat trout. If  a trout has these white tips, it is either a rainbow, or a cut bow trout. If the trout features the normal coloration and spots of a cutthroat with the white fins, then it is a cut bow trout.

Orange/Pink/Red Gill Plates- This feature is a cutthroat feature. Meaning if a fish has this, it is either a cutthroat or a cut bow trout. White tipped fins would make it a cut bow, or the colorations of a rainbow trout would as well.

Rainbow trout tend to look the very similar always, while cutthroat trout can very in color of the body quite a bit dependent upon where they are located. Really, when you start to see heavy variations from the rainbow trout colors, but not clearly a cutthroat, it is likely a cut bow trout.

Some examples:

Cut Bow Trout

Cut Bow Trout

Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat Trout

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout


The Difference Between Cut Bow Trout & Rainbow Trout & Cutthroat Trout

Both trout species are very similar, but they vary in some key areas identified below.


Rainbow Trout

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss

Native Range: Kamchatka Peninsula in russia, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and extending southwards from Alaska to the Cascades and Sierra-Nevada, and Rocky Mountains into northern Mexico. They are of course common in many other areas, but it is believed this is due to stocking, especially in the eastern U.S. in the Appalachian Mountains.

Colors: Rainbow trout consistently have black spots, a green, or olive-green coloration, and the distinctive red to pink stripe along the body extending from the tail to the gill plate.

Fight: Often breach out of the water


Cutthroat Trout

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus clarki

Native Range: Western United States in various states identified in the map above.

Colors: Colors can vastly vary from gold, to gray, to green backs. The jaw plate colors can be very red, to pink, to even have more orange hues.

Fight: Do not often breach out of the water

Teeth: Cutthroat trout have a set of teeth at the base of their tongue the Rainbow trout do not have. These are the Basibranchial teeth (see below) These teeth extend towards backwards to a depth equivalent to the edge of the eye. Also, Cutthroat trout’s Maxillary teeth extend beyond the back edge of the fish’s eye, where rainbow trout’s teeth do not.

Trout Teeth Diagram

Cutthroat trout have also broken into 14 or so distinct subspecies, due to their change in Habitat east of the Rocky Mountains. These changes in species vastly effect the fish’s look. Basically, identifying the difference between each of these fish can be difficult in some cases.

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, backcountry skier, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued climbed all of the Colorado 14ers, is always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about