Discover the Official State Fish of Idaho (And Where You Might Spot It This Summer)

A Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in an angler's hand prior to being released
© Ryan Cuddy/Shutterstock.com

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Updated: September 7, 2023

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Idaho has plenty of natural areas, including rivers and lakes. With such natural beauty, the state animals of Idaho must also be remarkable and synonymous with the wild and rugged American landscape.

The official Idaho State fish is the cutthroat trout. This fish can be found in many waterways and is especially popular with anglers. This fish is native to the region and is a true Idaho native. Trout fishing is a popular pastime and people even come to Idaho for the great fishing.

In 1990 the cutthroat trout became the official state fish of Idaho.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Look Like?

These fish have distinctive markings that give them their name. They have a red band under their jaw. It looks like their throat is cut. There are numerous subspecies that are mostly described by where they are found. Cutthroat trout live along the Pacific coast, from California all the way up to Alaska. They are also plentiful further inland in the Great Basin region, including Idaho. Some subspecies even live in the Rockies, all the way from Colorado to New Mexico.

Their scientific name is Oncorhynchus clarkii and they belong to the Salmonidae family, which includes salmon and trout. Cutthroat trout can be a variety of colors. Green, gold, and gray are typically the most prominent colors. They also have a red band on the lower side of their jaw. In some subspecies, this band is orange or deep pink. Cutthroat trout can be between 6 and 40 inches. Fish that live in larger bodies of water with more plentiful food generally get on the larger side of this range. Fish that live in streams tend to be smaller.

Cutthroat Trout as a Symbol of Idaho

Wild westslope cutthroat trout caught and released in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

A cutthroat trout is released back into the Snake River in Idaho.

©CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

Many species of trout are state symbols. The selection of the cutthroat trout as the state fish of Idaho is in keeping with other states in the region. The natural abundance of trout in many areas makes them a great choice as a representative of their state. Many states see this resident as a great symbol of the natural world in their area. Trout are also very picky about where they live and thrive in clean, clear water. Healthy ecosystems and bodies of water can support a thriving trout population.

The cutthroat trout was officially chosen as the state fish of Idaho in 1990. Because it was so plentiful, the cutthroat trout was often eaten by early settlers in Idaho. It is still a popular fish for both sport fishing and eating today. Additional attention to the cutthroat trout can also help preserve its habitat.

Lake Pend Orielle Idaho.

Lake Pend Oreille is the largest lake in Idaho.

©David R.White/Shutterstock.com

Where You Can See Cutthroat Trout

The Snake River is a well-known place to see cutthroat trout. There are subspecies of cutthroat trout that can be found in different parts of Idaho.

In southwest Idaho, redband trout are the most common. They live in the Snake River and its tributaries. Northern Idaho is home to more westslope cutthroat trout. The Clearwater River drainage and Columbia River basin, which includes streams and lakes, are the best places to look for this subspecies. The Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most plentiful in western Idaho. You can see them in the Upper Snake River as well as in Yellowstone Lake, the Yellowstone River, and many smaller streams and lakes in the region.

The Bear River watershed in southwest Idaho has plenty of Bonneville cutthroat trout. If you see a Bonneville cutthroat trout, you can be extra excited because this subspecies was once near extinction. Great efforts taken to preserve their habitat, prevent overfishing, and raise awareness resulted in their numbers increasing. Now, Bonneville cutthroat trout live in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming. Bull trout are subspecies that live all throughout the state. Due to conservation regulations, you can only catch and release.

How Common Are Cutthroat Trout?

Cutthroat trout are a common native fish in Idaho. They can be found throughout the state and there are 14 subspecies, some of which live mostly in Idaho. As the state fish of Idaho, these animals are a symbol of the landscape, even though they are native to the larger area of the pacific northwest. Cutthroat trout are common from Alaska to California and as far inland as Yellowstone National Park, where they are one of the most common native fish. With so many natural areas in Idaho, it is the ideal place for cutthroat trout to live.

Spawning occurs in the spring. The exact time depends on the temperature of the water so it can vary from year to year and by location. It is typically between February and July. Each female cutthroat trout lays between 2,000 and 4,000 eggs. After they hatch, cutthroat trout take between 3 and 5 years to fully mature.

One of the biggest threats to native populations is actually competing for resources with non-native trout and other fish. These other species were commonly introduced to promote sportfishing. When officials realized that the introduction of other fish in direct competition with cutthroat trout and other native fish, they put limitations on the introduction of non-native fish species to the area. Cross-breeding with other trout, especially rainbow trout, has also impacted the population of cutthroat trout.

A fly fisherman fishing for wild trout on the mountain river in the forest in Northern Idaho.

Fly fishing is a popular pastime and a great way to fish for cutthroat trout.

©OLya_L/Shutterstock.com

Fishing for Cutthroat Trout

Fly fishing is a great way to spend the day fishing for cutthroat trout. Dry flies are the best ways to catch cutthroat trout. Even if you are not an experienced angler, you can often catch cutthroat trout because they are so plentiful in many areas. Fishing tours can also help you learn the best tips and tricks, as well as guide you to the best fishing spots in Idaho.

Keep in mind that some subspecies of cutthroat trout require catch and release. You should follow all posted regulations regarding weight requirements and catch limits. Everyone over 14 requires their own fishing license. Kids under 14 do not need a license but the fish that they catch are counted under the limits of the accompanying adult with a license. Residents under 14 do have the option to get their own fishing license, which means they can catch and keep their own fish under their license. If you plan to fish with two poles, you’ll need a special permit.


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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