Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Voices from the Past: The Golden Trout


The Golden Trout (sometimes called the Sunapee Golden Trout or Sunapee Char) is truly one of the most beautiful fishes in America. Native to California, it became the official state fish in 1947, and was widely stocked both in California and along the west coast. It is also a fish with an interesting history, and one that is endangered. I thought I'd use this edition of Voices from the Past to do something different, and illustrate a few ways that this fish has been described by historical writers.


As a game-fish the golden trout is one of the best. It will rise to any kind of lure, including the artificial fly, and at any time of day. A No. 10 fly is large enough, perhaps too large; No. 12 or even smaller is much better. In the morning and again in the evening it would take the fly with a rush and make a good fight, jumping frequently when permitted to do so; during the middle of the day it rose more deliberately and could sometimes only be tempted with grasshoppers. It is a fish that does not give up soon but continues the fight. Its unusual breadth of fins and strength of caudal peduncle, together with the turbulent water in which it dwells, enable it to make a fight equaling that offered by many larger trout.

-- Dr. James Alexander Henshall, Favorite Fish & Fishing (1909)

The Kern River region is remarkable for the variety of its trout. Here is the only native source of the golden trout, of which there are three species all originating in the small area; the Soda Creek or White's Golden Trout(Salmo whitei), the South Fork of Kern Golden Trout (Salmo agua-bonita), and the Golden Trout of Volcano Creek, or Roosevelt Trout (Salmo roosevelti). The Roosevelt trout is described by Evermann as follows: "This is the most beautiful of all the trouts: the brilliancy and richness of coloration is not equaled in any other known species; the delicate golden olive of the head, back, and upper part of the side, the clear golden yellow along and below the lateral line, and the marvelous rich cadmium of the under parts fully entitle this species to be known above all others as THE Golden Trout.

-- Journal of Natural History (1922)


The most beautiful of all our trout is the dainty little fish called Golden trout, found in Volcano Creek, on the flanks of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United States...the Golden trout has the body largely golden-yellow, with a scarlet stripe along the middle of the side, while the lower fins are bright orange. These is a white dash on the front of the dorsal fin....The interest attached to this wonderful trout, interesting alike to the angler, the artist and the man of science, led President [Theodore] Roosevelt to arrange for a complete exploration of its haunts.

-- William Bittle Wells, Pacific Monthly (1906)

So long ago as 1875, Mr. H.W. Henshaw noticed the Salmo aquabonito in the waters of the south fork of the Kern. He says that they may be taken in any sort of weather, at any hour of the day, with any kind of bait...It is supposed, though no one knows, that the colors have been attained through natural selection. The redder the fish, the better its chance to escape the fish-hawk and eagle. If this is not the cause of the color, no one can guess any other...But whatever the cause, nothing in nature is more beautiful or more graceful than a golden trout, alive in these clear, icy, sun-lit waters.

-- Charles Frederick Holder & David Starr Jordan, Fish Stories (1909)

The Golden trout has launched more high-country pack trips than any other fish, for anglers seek them for trophies and also for food, as this is one of the finest tasting trout. In most cases the catch will be small in size and limited in numbers, although in some few lakes goldens grow to large size, and a few double-figure fish have been taken.

-- Joe Brooks, Joe Brooks on Fishing (2004)

-- Dr. Todd

8 comments:

George said...

The Sunapee Char was a different fish entirely. Most people think that they were a variant of a remnant population of arctic char, probably stranded when the glaciers melted. They occurred in Sunapee Lake, New Hampshire and a few other locales.

http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.asp?speciesID=936

HTH

Teal said...

Thanks George. Yes, the Sunapee Char is a different species, but people commonly referred ca. 1920 to the Golden Trout by this incorrect name. All sorts of misnomers on fish--I have a great article on how they tried to standardize fish nomenclature in the 1970s and how difficult it was for them to accomplish this. Grits Gresham and the Outdoor Writers Association of America spent a lot of time and effort trying to standardize names. I'll dig the article up and post it. Thanks for clarifying this for our readers!

spoot129 said...
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spoot129 said...

The Sunapee trout Salvelinus alpinus oquassa is a land locked isolate of anadramous arctic char Salvelinus alpinus. Sunapee trout was found in a variety of locales in NH and Maine it was eventually extirpated out of lake Sunapee in NH by the introduction of Lake trout, where the two hybridized and eventually due to continual stocking, the Sunapee trout was bread out. There is debate by taxonomists as to whether or not the Sunapee trout was a distinct genus from other varieties of char. As should be noted with other landlocked populations of fish due to their geologic isolation from other conspecifics these fish are functionally a separate species because of the lack of gene flow between populations. Sunapee Trout (a char) should not be confused with the golden trout of california which is not a char at all but a sub species of the rainbow trout, they sprout from separate evolutionary lines. There are still land locked populations of Sunapee trout in Maine and NE Canada.