The Snake River Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii Behnke) is a subspecies of the cutthroat trout native to the Upper Snake River Basin in Wyoming and a small part of Idaho. Also known as the Snake River Fine-Spotted Cutthroat Trout, these fish are identifiable by the small and evenly-distributed spots that are plentiful on their hides. Snake River cutthroat have bodies that are a light green and sometimes bright yellow color, and boast bright orange fins and gill plates. They also have a red slash mark on their jaws, an easy way to identify cutthroat or cutbow trout. Although Snake River cutthroat are not native to Montana, they are genetically indistinguishable from Yellowstone cutthroat, meaning that they evolved from their Yellowstone counterparts. Snake River cutthroat live as far north as Jackson Lake, where a large man-made dam restricts their migration to the north. This lake is just a few miles from the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park, meaning that anglers in the Greater Yellowstone Area will find native Snake River cutthroat within a relatively short drive from Montana.
Snake River Cutthroat, like other species of cutthroat and rainbow trout, spawn in the spring. Female Snake River Cutthroat will begin to dig spawning beds in shallow and fast-moving sections of rivers and tributaries when water temperatures near 50 degrees Fahrenheit sometime between March and June. Some Snake River cutthroat spend the majority of their lives in lakes and ponds; these fish will leave their stillwater habitats and move into feeder creeks and rivers to spawn. Once females lay their eggs in gravel spawning beds known as “redds,” males will come and fertilize them. Adult females are known to carry up to 2500 eggs each year. Baby Snake River cutthroat, known as fry, will then hatch within a few weeks or months. In adulthood, Snake River Cutthroat usually grow to lengths of between 10 and 20 inches, although fish larger than 20 inches in length are routinely caught in the Upper Snake River basin. The record Snake River cutthroat caught in this area was larger than 30 inches! On average, these fish live up to 10 years.
Snake River Cutthroat populations have remained relatively stable in the Upper Snake River. A high rate of wild reproduction is observed each year, and cross-breeding (spawning between different strains of cutthroat or between cutthroat and rainbow trout) is much less common in Snake River Cutthroat populations than it is with Yellowstone and West Slope Cutthroat. Snake River Cutthroat are an important part of the economy of the Jackson, Wyoming, area, as many anglers visit Teton National Park and the surrounding environment each year to fish for this beautiful species. The Snake River is a very large tailwater, and is one of the most popular rivers to float in the country. For this reason, most anglers fish this waterway from boats and rafts, although wade fishing can also be effective. There are also many smaller rivers and streams in the area that hold Snake River Cutthroat and are easily fished from the shore. Many anglers believe that Snake River Cutthroat are one of the most beautiful species of fish that swim in the cold water ecosystems of North America. We hope you get the chance to net one of these beautiful fish!