Fish SpecieS OF The Eastern Sierra

This article provides information about significant fish species found in eastern Sierra waters, including fisheries within the Carson River, Truckee River, and Walker River basins.

How to identify native and wild trout? Check out the streamside guide produced by FlyFishingtheSierra.com and WildTroutStreams.com.

SalmonIDS

A salmonids are a fish of the salmon family (Salmonidae), which includes salmon, trout, char, graylings, and whitefish.

Three salmonids are native to waters of the eastern Sierra: the Lahontan cutthroat, the Paiute cutthroat trout, and the mountain whitefish.

Brook Trout

The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), or simply brookie, is a char that is native to eastern North America. They were introduced to many of our high lakes and streams in the Sierra and flourish in most of these waters. Large brookies can be found at Kirman Lake.

We encourage fishers to legally take as many small (under 10") brook trout as they can eat to help keep their populations in check. California has a brook trout bonus daily bag limit of 10 under 10" in addition to the general trout daily bag limit! This applies statewide excepting in Red Lake in Alpine County and any water that has a special trout regulations (i.e., no-take, no barbs, etc.), like Kirman Lake.

Brown Trout

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is native to Europe and neighboring areas. They were introduced to Americas, including the Sierra, in the late 19th century.

Brown trout were once more widely stocked in the eastern Sierra then they are now. Those stocked today are generally infertile triploids. Wild brown trout can still be found many of our fisheries. We encouraged fishers to release brown trout unharmed to preserve their population.

The California state record brown trout was caught in Upper Twin Lake at 26 1/2 pounds!

A nice Brown trout caught and released on Rosaschi Ranch

Cutbow and Bowcutt Trout

The cutbow trout and bowcutt trout are hybrids (Oncorhynchus clarkii × mykiss) created by crossing a rainbow trout with a cutthroat trout. These terms are commonly used interchangingly though some biologists will swear there's a difference. Cutbows primarily exist in our waters as an undesirable result of in-the-wild hybridization of wild cutthroats and planted rainbows. Bowcutts are produced in hatcheries. Nevada Department of Wildlife raises bowcutts for stocking in Nevada fisheries such as the Hinkson Slough and Topaz Lake.

The Nevada record bowcutt, weighting over 24 pounds, was caught on Lake Pyramid.

Golden Trout

Three subspecies of Rainbow trout make up the golden trout complex:

All three are native to the Kern River basin. The California golden trout have been transplanted in various high elevation lakes and streams within the eastern Sierra, such as Ski Lake.

The California official state fish is the golden trout.

Sockeye Salmon (aka Kokanee)

Kokanee (Oncorhynchus nerka) are sockeye salmon that spend all of their life in freshwater. They are native to the Pacific Northwest from the Columbia River drainage north to southern Alaska and the Yukon. They have been transplanted into a number of lakes in the Sierra including Lake Tahoe and Twin Lakes. In the fall they can be seen spawning upstream in the small streams such as Robinson Creek above Upper Twin Lakes and Taylor Creek on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. They are not typically targetted by fly fishers as they prefer the cold of deep waters.

The California and Nevada state record Kokanee, weighing over 5 and 4 pounds each, respectively, were caught on Lake Tahoe.

Kokanee on Robinson Creek
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout in stream form.

A wild, native Lahontan cutthroat trout in stream form.

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii henshawi), or LCT for short, are native the Carson, Humboldt, Quinn, Susan, Truckee, and Walker river drainages. Large LCTs are routinely caught at Pyramid Lake. They can also be found in Fallen Leaf, Heenan, Independence, Kirman, Marlette, and various other lakes in our area. Additionally, they can be found in a number of local rivers and their tributaries, including the Truckee, Upper Truckee, West Carson, and East Carson rivers. They are especially pretty in stream form (as shown in photo).

The Nevada state fish is the Lahontan cutthroat trout. The world and Nevada state record LCTs were caught on Pyramid Lake, weighting 41 and 24 pounds respectively. The California state record LCT, weighting 31 pounds, was caught on Lake Tahoe.

Alvord (extinct), Humboldt, Paiute, and Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat trout are considered subspecies of the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Additionally, each of the river drainages having their own strains. These strains, excepting for a few extant populations, are mostly lost due to hybridize and/or habitat degradation.

Lake Trout (aka Mackinaw)

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), also known as mackinaw, are freshwater char that are native of northern portions of North America. They are present in a few local lakes, namely Caples, Donner, and Tahoe. Mackinaw, as they are locally called, live primarily in deep waters, hence they are generally not the target of fly fisherman. However, when spawning (in the fall), one might find them cruising shallow waters.

Both the California and Nevada state record mackinaw, both weighting over 37 pounds, were caught on Lake Tahoe.

Mountain Whitefish

Mountain Whitefish

The mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) is a bottom feeder native to waters of the western North America including the eastern Sierra. Their presence in the water is generally an indication that the healthy conditions for other salmonids. They are commonly caught on forks for the Walker and Truckee and occassionally in the forks of the Carson.

The Nevada state record mountain whitefish, weighting over 3 pounds, was caught on the Truckee River. The California state record mountain whitefish, also weighting over 3 pounds, was caught on Lake Tahoe.

Paiute Cutthroat Trout

The Paiute cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii seleniris) is a subspecies of the Lahontan cutthroat trout. It is native to Silver King Creek, a headwater tributary of East Fork of the Carson River. It is the rarest species in the Sierra and presently only found in closed waters, including the Silver King Creek and its tributaries. A refuge population exists in White Mountains (also closed to fishing). The Silver King is currently the subject of a restoration project.

A nice Rainbow caught at one of the club's community service events.

A nice rainbow trout caught during a club-hosted community service event.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) can be found throughout the Sierra. The coastal rainbow trout is native to the western slope of the Sierra. While you certainy can find plenty of wild rainbows on the eastern slope of the Sierra, none are native.

Various kinds of rainbow trout have been stocked in local waters over the years, including coastal rainbow trout, Eagle Lake trout, and Kamloop rainbow trout. The Eagle Lake trout is native to Eagle Lake and Pine Creek on the Modoc Plateau. The Kamloop rainbow trout is native to British Columbia.

Rainbows now stocked in the eastern Sierra are sterilzed to prevent them from cross breeding with any cutthroats that may be present in the fishery.

Rainbow trout are closely related to redband trout. While not present in our local waters, various subspecies of redband trout can be found in northern California and northern Nevada.

Tiger Trout

Tiger trout (Salmo trutta × Salvelinus fontinalis) are sterile hybrid trout produced by crossing a brown trout with a brook trout. They have been planted in a number of eastern Sierra waters, including Hobart Creek Reservoir, Spooner Lake, and Topaz Lake. As they are quite piscivorous, they are often planted to help manage populations of wild fish (namely brookies).

The tiger trout's name comes from vermiculated pattern on its body which suggests the striping of a tiger.

Dick will a nice Tiger at Knott Creek Reservoir

Dick B. at Knott Creek Reservoir with a nice tiger trout.

Other Species

Carp

Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) can be found in our local warmer waters such as Hinkson Slough. Common carp, also known as European or Euroasian carp, are targetted by fly fishers as they known to hard fighters. Grass carp are generaly stocked to help maintain the health of the fishery and should be immediately returned to the water unharmed.

Catfish

Bullhead (Ameiurus) and channel (Ictalurus punctatus) are present in a number of warmer waters, such as the Carson River, Lahontan Reservoir, and Washoe Lake.

Centrarchidae (Sunfish family)

A wide range of sunfish can be found in local waters.

  • Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) can be found Lahontan Reservoir and various ponds in the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area.

  • Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) can be found in the Carson River.

  • Crappie be found in Lahontan Reservoir and Washoe Lake.

  • Sacramento perch (Archoplites interruptus) can be found in Pyramid Lake and Washoe Lake.

  • Various species of bass (Micropterus) are present in warmer waters of western Nevada, such as Lahontan Reservoir and Washoe Lake.

Cui-ui

Cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus) are large lake sucker, found only in Pyramid Lake and the lower part of the Truckee River during their spawn. They are endangered. They should be immediately returned to the water unharmed.

Lahontan Tui chub

The Lahontan tui chub (Siphateles bicolor) is native to the Great Basin. Found in Pyramid Lake, Spooner Lake, and a number of other eastern Sierra waters.

Walleye

Walleye (Sander vitreus) can be found in some northern Nevada waters, such as Lahontan Reservoir.

This article was authored by Kurt Zeilenga. If you have suggestions on how to improve this article, you may contact Kurt at education@hsfc.us.

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