Bull Trout

Salvelinus confluentus

Last updated: April 20, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Maximillian cabinet/Shutterstock.com

The bull trout is not actually a trout, but a member of the char family.


Bull Trout Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Salvelinus confluentus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Bull Trout Conservation Status

Bull Trout Locations

Bull Trout Locations

Bull Trout Facts

Invertebrates and fish
Fun Fact
The bull trout is not actually a trout, but a member of the char family.
Estimated Population Size
500,000 to one million
Biggest Threat
Damage to habitat
Most Distinctive Feature
Light spots on a dark background
Gestation Period
4 to 5 months
Optimum pH Level
Less than 7
Clean, cold water
Otters and osprey
Common Name
Bull Trout
Number Of Species

Bull Trout Physical Characteristics

  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Pink
Skin Type
10 to 12 years
30 lbs
37 inches

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The bull trout’s coloring and markings resemble that of the brook and brown trout, but it is actually a char and related to the salmon.

The bull trout is a fascinating fish. Its limited range means that many anglers never see this interesting species. Ironically, serious anglers may first spot the bull trout while reeling in their catch. The bull trout’s diet of fresh fish means that it is often attracted to the sight of a fish struggling on the end of an angler’s line.

Three Bull Trout Facts

  • The bull trout spawn more than once, unlike other members of the salmon family
  • Human activity has a negative impact on the bull trout, which have complex requirements for their habitat
  • Bull trout habitat requirement is known as the 4 Cs: Cold, Clean, Connected, and Complex

Bull Trout Classification and Scientific Name

The bull trout has the scientific name Salvelinus confluentus. It is in the order Salmoniformes. It is called bull trout due to its large head. Its pattern is similar to that of the brook trout, although it is actually a char.

Bull Trout Appearance

Dark body with lighter colored spots. The body color ranges from olive to blue-gray. The spots can be any combination of red, pink, orange, and yellow. These colors become more vibrant in the breeding male, with the underside becoming red or orange. There is a white stripe along the leading edge of the ventral, or pelvic, fins.

The bull trout has a large head in proportion to its body, which is how it earned its name. Their behavior on the end of the line, fighting the angler the entire time, reinforces their bullish nature.

Bull Trout Distribution, Population, and Habitat

The bull trout requires a specific habitat to thrive. They live in the clear, cold waters of the coastal rivers and high mountains of northwestern North America. In the United States, they can be found in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington. In Canada, they are found in British Columbia and Yukon.

Bull Trout Predators and Prey

The bull trout can become a meal for larger fish, otters, and osprey. When the water in the river where they are living gets high, the fish can get pushed into lakes. Once the water recedes, the bull trout is trapped in the lake, where it is vulnerable to predators.

The adult bull trout eats smaller fish.

Bull Trout Reproduction and Lifespan

Bull trout spawn for the first time between the ages of five and seven. The cold water and unforgiving conditions they call home influence their reproduction. They often go through resting periods between spawning cycles, so each fish does not reproduce each spawning season.

The spawning season is in autumn, from the middle of August through the end of October. The male fertilizes the eggs as the female releases them. Once fertilized, the eggs spend the winter in the substrate of the streambed.

The fry will emerge in the spring. The exact length of time it takes for incubation depends on water temperature and can be as short as 35 days or as long as 4 months.

Bull Trout in Fishing and Cooking

Despite its vulnerable status, it is possible to keep bull trout that you catch. It is important to check local laws; there is often a special license required. For example, in Montana, fishermen must have a specific catch card for the water they are fishing. Some areas allow harvesting, while others are catch and release only.

Bull Trout Population

The estimated population of bull trout is between 500,000 and one million. According to the IUCN Redlist, this species is listed as Vulnerable.

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Bull Trout FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are bull trout found?

The clear, cold waters of British Colombia, Yukon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Are bull trout actually trout?

No, they are actually char.

Why are bull trout protected?

While not yet endangered, they are classified as vulnerable. Their dependency on pristine, cold water makes them sensitive to changes in habitat. Their behavior of returning to the same place to spawn each breeding season makes them vulnerable to human intervention.

Their protected status will ideally keep them off the endangered species list.

How can you tell a bull trout?

The bull trout gets its name from its large head, but the easiest way to recognize the bull trout is by its dorsal fin. Unlike other species that it closely resembles, and are not a vulnerable population, the bull trout does not have any black marks on the dorsal fin. Fishermen have a saying “no black, put it back” to encourage the catch and release of bull trout.

Are bull trout rare?

The bull trout is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and as a threatened species under the 1998 US Endangered Species Act.

What is another name for bull trout?

Bull trout are sometimes referred to as dolly varden, but the dolly varden is actually a separate species. The two species are very similar and are both chars.

Is bull trout good to eat?

Bull trout has a mild, salmon-like flavor. It has a medium amount of flakiness. Some people enjoy the taste, while others find it oily.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. , Available here: https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/bull-trout
  2. , Available here: https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/fish/bull-trout/2021-bull-trout-regulations.pdf
  3. , Available here: https://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AFCHA05020
  4. , Available here: https://www.mcpsmt.org/cms/lib/MT01001940/Centricity/Domain/1398/bullTroutIdTraining.pdf

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