Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Fishing

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TROUT OF THE SMOKIES - RAINBOW

Rainbow Trout

Smoky Mountain Rainbow TroutInadvertently, visions of the rainbow trout are evoked when people talk about trout fishing - particularly the novice fisherman. It's been referred to as the "true American trout" because of it's Pacific Northwest origins. This will undoubtedly raise the brow of scientific types who study such stuff. Though most fishermen think excitement when the word “rainbow” is mentioned.

The rainbow has an attitude unlike most fish. They don't linger in the stream bottom like their cousin the brown trout, or hide in the quiet backwaters with their other relative, the brook trout. Rainbows tend to feed at the surface more often than other trout, therefore they are commonly found in the open, faster waters. Rainbow trout are more revered than the brook, or the brown, for their openness, and for that reason most anglers think more respectfully of them.

The rainbow have been introduced to many streams worldwide, though the North American rainbow trout is native to westward flowing Pacific Coast rivers. Rainbows are now included in most stocking programs because they are the most easily cultured and adaptive of all trout. By 1900, rainbows had been introduced in 41 states.

Markings and Coloration of the Rainbow Trout

Rainbows, especially the stream-living ones, are pretty easy to identify. Black spots heavily adorn their upper bodies - this pattern further extends over the rainbow's tail. Their backs range in colors from dark to light olive, the abdomen is white and along the lateral line there's a characteristic reddish pink band – a trait in which the color usually extends over the central portion of the fish's gill covers. The rainbow has no yellow or red spots.

To reiterate, the rainbow is believed to be the most adaptable trout species and can survive and flourish in a wider range of conditions, more so than any other trout. Rainbows can also survive temperatures approaching 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Some can even survive in water as high as 83 degrees, though most rainbow prefer a range of 55 to 70 degrees.

A Rainbow's Range and Habitat

The rainbow and the brown trout have generally similar feeding habits. Categorized as drift feeders, which mean they hold stationary positions in the current, they're usually found in an unobstructed position away from rocks or other current-breaking objects.

Rainbows are inclined to faster waters, and according to some research data the rainbow, as compared to the brown trout, will hold feeding positions in slightly faster water. They often hold themselves higher in the water column than brown trout as well. Brown trout usually orient themselves closer to a rock or other object closer to the river bottom.

Like a brown trout finds by hiding under a stump, rainbows apparently find the same sort of security under a choppy, broken stream surface. Unlike browns, rainbows are much less oriented to physical, overhead cover. When hooked, larger browns will run for overhead cover, rainbows would rather just run and run and run to feverishly evade being hooked. Rainbow trout are also unique among the trout species in that they usually jump one or more times once hooked, a characteristic just as prevalent among bigger rainbows as among smaller ones.

Size of the Rainbow Trout

Growth rates in rainbows are variable. Much though, depends on habitat and the available food supply. For example, one-year-old rainbows will average four or five inches long; at two years approximately six or seven, and nine inches long at three years. The maximum age reached by most rainbows is about seven years and, if they drift-feed, can weigh eight pounds or more.

A final thought...

Central to the whole sport of fly fishing for trout is the demonstrated ability of rainbow and other trout to learn, remember, and to act as individuals different from the norm. These abilities demonstrate firsthand why trout are selective and why, as a result, there is no one trout fly that will tempt all of the trout all of the time.


Park resource managers continue with restoration efforts and have closed some streams and tributaries to fishing. This is an ongoing effort to ensure natural barriers such as waterfalls are adequate enough to prevent the brown and rainbow trout from migrating upstream.

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