The Wild Trout Program

Wild Putah Creek trout digging a redd prior to spawning

The Department of Fish and Game’s Wild Trout Program was established in 1971 when the California Fish and Game Commission adopted a policy to designate certain waters of the State to be managed exclusively for wild trout. Streams and lakes designated as Wild Trout waters are intended to provide a quality angling experience – opportunities to fish in aesthetically pleasing, unspoiled settings where the waters are environmentally productive and have healthy trout populations. Wild Trout waters must be publicly accessible and able to support wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory catches in terms of sizes or numbers of fish. Special angling regulations may be established for specified Wild Trout waters to sustain a quality fishery.

putahcreek300x225-a-filteredWild Trout waters are managed principally by protecting, maintaining, and restoring habitat, and through appropriate angling regulations. No domesticated strains of catchable-sized trout may be planted in designated Wild Trout waters. However, hatchery-produced strains of wild or semi-wild trout may be used if necessary to supplement natural trout production. Management is guided by written management plans which identify actions and policies necessary to protect wild trout habitats, and maintain or enhance trout populations in designated waters.

Healthy wild trout populations exist throughout much of California’s 18,000 stream miles and 3,580 coldwater lakes and reservoirs, but only a small percentage of these have been designated as Wild Trout waters. Furthermore, many of the designated waters remain productive enough to be managed without special angling regulations.

Native Trout vs. Wild Trout

There is often confusion over the meaning of “native” and “wild” trout. A California native trout is one that has existed in California since prehistoric times. Native trout possess adaptive traits acquired over thousands of generations to successfully cope with the unique conditions of their habitat. Many of California’s native trout have been transplanted to waters outside of their native waters. Once transplanted, these trout are technically introduced, non-native fish.

A wild trout is one that was born in the wild and completes its life cycle in the wild, regardless of the origin of its parents. Thus, a wild trout can be either native or non-native.  The rainbow trout in Putah are clearly wild.  The question is…are they native also?  Many people believe that the wild trout in the interdam are the result of fingerling trout that were planted. Transplanted or stocked non-native trout can acclimate to a stream or lake and successfully establish naturally-reproducing, self-sustaining populations. However, it is possible that steelhead trapped in the interdam may have reproduced leading to a resident rainbow population. Thus, it is possible that Putah has native coastal rainbow trout present.

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