The USA is perhaps one of the best places in the world to visit for freshwater fishing. With everything from huge catfish to bass to prized trout, some of the world’s best anglers would be extremely excited with the chance to fish American waters. One of the most coveted fish found here is the golden trout – a fish which has drawn anglers from around the world who are seeking an opportunity to catch one. Those who do usually find themselves with the fish of a lifetime, or at least with one that they can brag about in the pub for the rest of their life!

California Golden TroutWhat is the Golden Trout?

The coveted golden trout is actually a subspecies of the simple rainbow trout. There are actually three different subspecies of rainbow trout which together are referred to as golden trout. You may also hear the three species grouped together as the “golden trout complex”.

How do you identify the Golden Trout?

There are a number of unique identifying factors which allow the average weekend fisherman to immediately know when they have caught a golden trout. These include:

  • A bright golden color over much of the fish broken by horizontal red bands and around 10 dark oval marks spotted across each side of the fish.
  • You should also notice white leading edges on a number of the fins, including the dorsal, anal, and lateral fins.
  • It is rare to find spots below the lateral line on most golden trout: however, it is possible.
  • Usually the golden trout is a relatively small fish, with usual catches ranging from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30cm). Any fish over a foot long is considered to be a very good catch.

Golden rainbow trout, Pennsylvania 2007Why are Golden Trout considered to be a trophy fish?

There are a number of reasons why many anglers consider the golden trout to be a trophy fish, and why they target them so much. The main reason is their rarity. Since golden trout are only found natively in a number of small mountain streams in California, there are a limited number of them available for anglers to catch.

The other reason why anglers target the golden trout is because of their beauty. They are seen by most anglers as the most beautiful trout in the world, and as one of most beautiful fish in general. The bright, almost fluorescent colors of the fish make them attractive to anglers from all over the world. It is recognized for its beauty, holding the crown of the State Freshwater Fish of California, an accolade which is not to be taken lightly!

Where can you find the Golden Trout?

golden trout native range in California
Click map to enlarge golden trout native range

The native range of the golden trout is extremely limited. They are only found in two small stream systems on the eastern side of the Kern River in California. These two systems are the aptly named Golden Trout Creek and the South Fork Kern River. Any fish outside these systems is not native, and has probably been stocked.

Fortunately for anglers targeting a golden trout, extensive stocking did occur in numerous lakes and rivers outside the fish’s native range. The states known to have stocked golden trout are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming as well as Alberta Canada.  Most of the stocking occurred in lakes and streams high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where the fish can now be found in many places.

If you are searching for golden trout outside of their native range, lesser visited areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are your best bet. Do a search for “golden trout” stocking + state name to find results in the area you are looking for.  It is also possible to cheat and visit a fish farm where they are grown. Here you will be able to catch one without even getting your feet wet.

Golden Trout Creek in California
Golden Trout Creek in California

Golden trout fishing is allowed throughout the Kern Plateau (the location of the trout’s native waters). On the plateau you will find both the Golden Trout Creek and the South Fork Kern River. Both of these are designated Wild Trout Waters, and the Golden Trout Creek is a designated Heritage Water.


Most of the golden trout’s native waters are accessible only on foot due to the lack of roads in the region. For the best quality, brightest fish, you should try and fish in the upper reaches of the system where there is less chance of hybridization occurring. In the lower reaches of the system many of the fish are duller and don’t exhibit the bright golden color typical of the golden trout due to interbreeding with normal rainbow trout.

How do you catch the Golden Trout?

South Fork Kern River in California
South Fork Kern River in California

Golden trout are known to be receptive to many different fishing methods. First time golden trout anglers will usually choose their favorite method of trout fishing. However, more experienced anglers who have already landed large golden trout may choose to try different ways of catching the fish for a thrill.


The most popular way to catch golden trout is using a fly. The golden trout generally feeds on a variety of insects, including mayflies, caddis, and a range of others. It is therefore necessary to try and imitate one of these insects with your flies.

The other method of fishing for golden trout is by using small lures. However, this can be extremely difficult due to the relative inaccessibility of the streams, their small size, and the fact that they are quite overgrown making casting lures difficult, if not impossible. If you do decide to use lures, the golden trout can be caught using spoons and spinners. If you are an adventurous angler, then maybe you will decide to use your favorite lure or one which you have had success with in the past!

What are you waiting for?

High altitude golden trout lake
High Sierra golden trout lake

If you are a keen freshwater angler who thinks that they have seen it all, then book your tickets to the Kern Plateau today! If you are lucky enough to catch one of the coveted golden trout then you will get a feeling of elation that not many other fishermen get to experience. It can be tough at times, and a lot of hours of hard work may be needed, but when you finally land that fish, it will all be worth it. Tight lines!

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