Trout In West Virginia

WV Brown Trout

Trout Fishing in West Virginia

As warm spring weather approaches, the trout stocking has begun in the waterways of West Virginia.  Trout are a type of freshwater fish that is prized by anglers for its fighting spirit and delicious flavor.  Most species of trout live in fresh water, inhabiting many lakes and streams of northern regions.  There are several different species of trout in West Virginia, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors.  Knowing the different species of trout can help you to choose the right fishing gear, as well as to better understand the fish themselves.  

With 500 miles of native trout streams in West Virginia, what species of trout can you expect to catch here?   Read below to learn more about the different types of trout that are found in the state of West Virginia.

Brook Trout

Trout Species in West Virginia

Brook Trout are the only species of trout native to West Virginia and has been the official state fish since 1973.  They are often found in cold, clear water and are known for their distinctive coloration, which consists of a dark olive green back transitioning into a scarlet or pink underside and a pattern of spots in bright yellow with red mixed in along their sides.

Brook trout do not grow as quickly as other species of fish and their size is highly dependent upon season, age, water and ambient air temperatures, and the flow rate of the water they are living in. Typical lengths of the brook trout can range from 9 inches to 26 inches, and average weights vary from 0.5 pounds to 6.5 pounds.   A trophy sized West Virginia brook trout would be small compared to other trout species.

Brook Trout WV License Plate

Brook Trout have a diverse diet, primarily feeding on aquatic insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies but will also consume terrestrial insects that are washed into the water such as crickets, grasshoppers and ants.  Along with insects, they have been known to eat the occasional crustacean or frog, utilizing the current of the cool waters they thrive in to bring their food into striking range.  They are opportunistic feeders, surviving on whatever is available in the smaller creeks and streams that provide them with the necessary conditions they require to thrive.

The biggest brook trout caught in West Virginia by length measured 23.5 inches and weighed 4.78 pounds. 

 It was caught in 1981 by Jack Folz at Lost River in Hardy County.

The biggest brook trout caught in West Virginia by weight weighed 7.64 pounds and measured 22.25 inches.

It was caught in 2004 by Gary Chapman at Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, one of the five Forks of Cheat and flows 89 miles through Tucker, Randolph and Pocahontas Counties.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout WV

Native to fresh waters in the western United States, the rainbow trout has been introduced throughout the world.  This iconic fish can be found in all fifty states of the United States and on every continent except Antarctica.

Few freshwater fish can match the fighting spirit and beauty of a Rainbow Trout.  Rainbow Trout are easily distinguished by their bright colors.  They have a red stripe that travels the length of the fish and hundreds of black spots that cover the dorsal side of their bodies.

Because they were relatively easy to transplant, Rainbow Trout are the most popular types of trout found in the world today and are also the most sought-after trout by fly fishermen.  Juvenile Rainbow Trout are well-known for their willingness to bite on a variety of lures and baits due to their ravenous appetite.  The Rainbow Trout is equally famous for its acrobatic aerial displays and long runs to avoid being caught.

The largest Rainbow Trout caught in West Virginia weighed 11.74 pounds and measured 31.7 inches.  

It was caught in 1993 by John Arnett at Stonecoal Lake, a Wildlife Management Area in Buckhannon, WV.

Brown Trout

WV Trout Fishing

Brown trout are native to Europe, but they have been introduced into many other areas around the world.  In 1883, a shipment of 80,000 brown trout eggs were brought to the United States from Germany.  From there, the eggs were cultured and their range eventually spread into 46 of the 50 states in the United States.

Brown trout are known for their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats, including both freshwater and saltwater environments.  They are such an adaptable fish that they can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.    

Often simply called “Browns,” these aggressive trout grow to monster sizes and will outcompete the smaller Brook Trout and dominate the stream.  The Brook Trout will be pushed out of the waters inhabited by Brown Trout or even eaten by them since they are predatory in nature. 

Trout Fishing in WV

Browns can tolerate warmer waters than both Brook and Rainbow trout, leading to a territorial advantage offering a wider variety of waters to occupy.  A brown trout’s diet is very diverse and as they grow to reach trophy status they will begin to feed on other fish.  Dace, sculphins, baby trout and even mice will satisfy the hunger of predatory large brown trout.

The largest brown trout caught in West Virginia weighed 16 pounds and measured 32 inches.

It was caught in 1968 by Paul Barker at South Branch, a record that has stood for 55 years.

Tiger Trout

WV Tiger Trout Species

The next type of trout you may encounter while fishing in West Virginia is the Tiger Trout.  A tiger trout is a sterile hybrid created from a female brown trout and a male brook trout.  

Named for their tiger-like stripes and bad attitudes, their bodies are a grayish brown with an orange underside and a mazelike pattern of brown along their sides.

In the past, the native range of the Brook Trout and the Brown Trout did not overlap and the species had never had any contact.  

However, as early as 1944, there has been evidence of stream born Tiger Trout in the United States as a result of the male brook trout fertilizing the eggs of a female Brown Trout. 

While rare, this hybrid breeding can occur naturally in the wild however the vast majority of Tiger Trout caught are the result of fish stocking programs.  10% of the total trout stocked in West Virginia are typically Tiger Trout. 

Tiger trout feed on other fish and are known to grow faster than other trout species.  However, since Tiger Trout are sterile and cannot reproduce, they are unlikely to have a negative impact on the population of other trout species.

The largest Tiger Trout caught in West Virginia weighed 6.68 pounds and measured 26 inches long.

It was caught by John Duncan in 1986 in the Greenbrier River, a 162 mile long tributary of the New River in the southeastern part of WV.

Golden Rainbow Trout

Golden Rainbow Trout

The last species of trout you may find on the end of your line in West Virginia, and the most rare, is the Golden Rainbow Trout.  In 1955 a WV DNR biologist working at the fish hatchery in Petersburg, WV noticed a yellow fish swimming with the rainbow trout. 

The fish was separated from the others and studied, eventually leading to the successful breeding of Golden Rainbow Trout offspring.  It was introduced to the public in 1963 and has been a prized catch ever since.

Although the entire body Golden Rainbow Trout is a vibrant yellow color, totally unlike the Rainbow trout, it still shares the signature reddish pink stripe running horizontally down its body. 

This unique species of trout has an entire event named after it, “The West Virginia Gold Rush.”  This year, the Golden Rainbow Trout are stocked from March 28 to April 8, 2023.  50,000 Golden Rainbow Trout will be stocked over the course of 12 days in 62 different lakes and streams in West Virginia.

As if you needed even more incentive to try and catch a Golden Rainbow Trout, if you reel one in with a numbered tag you can enter to win one of four different prizes from the WV DNR. 

Prizes Include:
  • A one night stay in a cabin at a West Virginia State Park or Forest
  • A $25 gift card to West Virginia State Parks
  • Exclusive Gold Rush Merchandise
  • A lifetime fishing license for five lucky winners

The biggest golden rainbow trout caught in West Virginia by length measured 27.5 inches and weighed 8.63 pounds.  It was caught in 1987 by Gerald Estep at Stonecoal Lake in Lewis County.

The biggest golden rainbow trout caught in West Virginia by weight weighed 9.31 pounds and measured 26.4 inches.
It was caught in 1998 by Danny Crider at Brushy Fork Lake in Pendelton County.

There are over 700,000 pounds of trout stocked in West Virginia waters each year.

Don’t miss out, join the anglers across the state who are out in search of the perfect cast and chase after the different species of trout you can catch here in West Virginia.

All anglers 15 years and older are required to have a West Virginia fishing license and a valid form of identification while fishing.  A West Virginia fishing license can be purchased online through the WV DNR.

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