10 Trout, Salmon and Char hybrids.

While researching for an article on the differences between Trout and Salmon, I got side tracked by hybridisation between the different groups of Salmonidae’s. It turns out, there is a lot of different trout hybrids out there.

For those who do not know, Salmonidae is the scientific Family which all ‘true’ Salmon, Trout and Char belong. I said all true, because the terms trout and salmon is thrown around quite frequently in common speech for example the Spotted Seatrout found in the Southern US, The Marble trout found in the seas around New Zealand (not to be confused with the marble trout in Europe, which is indeed a Salmonidae) and the Australian Salmon all belong to completely different classifications of fish. So despite the name trout or salmon they are in no ways Salmonidae’s.

So in this article, I want to share some of the more interesting hybrids which occur between Trout, Char and Salmon.

Feel free to share any first hand experiences with these or other hybrids in the comments below.


Tiger Trout

The tiger trout, is probably the best known Salmonidae hybrid and are quite commonly stocked. A tiger trout is a cross between a Brown Trout and Brook Char.

Tiger trout are popular for stocking because they grow fast and are generally healthy. They are also quite aggressive making them easier to catch. Tiger trout are infertile which not only improves growth rate but also prevents them from becoming an invasive species.

I do not think I am alone in thinking, that with their plentiful stripes Tiger trout are among the most attractive Salmoidaes with their widely striped patterns.

In streams where both Brook char and Brown trout co-exist, wild tiger trout are known to occur.

Tiger Trout | photograph by Matthew Tyree

Cheetah Trout

The Cheetah Trout is a little known hybrid between Rainbow trout and Brook Char. Like the Tiger trout, they are infertile. Cheetah trout have a low survival rate in the hatchery which means they are rarely bred and are even less likely to be stocked.

Just like their namesake the Cheetah, these hybrids are typically covered in dots.

Cheetah trout typically maintain the personality and behaviors of Rainbow trout which makes them aggressive and easy to catch.

I did some research online, and the only place I could find them being stocked is in Victoria Australia where they were recently released into Lake Purrumbete.

On the topic of trout named after big cats, there is also ‘Leopard trout’ found in Alaska. But these are not a hybrid, but a color variation of Rainbow trout. To add to the confusion, I also heard people refer to Cheetah trout as Leopard trout.

Splake

Splakes are a hybrid between a male Brook Char and a female Lake Trout.

Hybrids can occur between female Brooks and male lakers but the survivial rate is extremely low.

Spalkes do not typically occur in the wild due to differences in spawning behavior. Brook Char prefer to spawn in concentrates redds while Lake Trout broadcast spawns over a large area.

With both parents, belonging to the same Genus Salvelinus (or Char) Splake are indeed fertile and are capable of wild reproduction although it is extremely rare.

Splake are a popular stocking species because they grow fast and their low breeding success means population density can be fully managed with little threat of a wild population becoming invasive and threatening native species.

Splakes are a hybrid between brook char and lake trout : Photo by Angelena Sikora/USFWS.

Brownbows

The Brownbow is another hatchery creation. They are extremely rare and require direct human intervention.

Their parents Brown and Rainbow trout spawn at different times of the year so Brownbows can not occur in wild populations.

Brownbows typically show feeding behaviors more in common with Rainbow trout but can maintain the wary nature of browns.

Because Brownbows are infertile, there was some hope that they will be an excellent choice for stocking. By not spawning, they grow faster and are less prone to fungal infection.

Rainbow trout X Coho Salmon

These species have been known to hybridize.

In the wild, they spawn at different times of the year so they are unlikely to occur naturally and are usually the outcome of experimenting within hatcheries.

If they have a common name, I am not aware of it.

Cuttbow

The hybrid between a Rainbow and Cutthroat trout is a Cuttbow. These two species of trout are very closely related, and the hybrid has been known to occur quite frequently in wild populations.

In some regions, there is a concern that hybridization with invasive Rainbow trout could see the extinction of pure cutthroat in these fisheries.

Identification can be difficult but it is usually possible to tell if a fish has any rainbow genetics by looking for white tips on their fins. If a trout has both white tips, and an orange slash on its head it is almost certainly a Cuttbow.

Co-nooks

Co-nooks are a naturally occuring hybrid between Coho and Chinook salmon. In some areas, it was estimated that just over half a percent of wildly occur Chinook Salmon were actually hybrids.

Co-nooks are fertile and second generation hybrids have also been found in the wild.

Co-nook hybridization is more likely to occur in years of extreme drought where spawning fish are forced into the some spawning grounds. In normal years the two species spawn at different times which reduces the chances of cross breeding occurring.

Visual Identification can be difficult and usually requires a genetic test to know for sure.

Pinooks

This is the naturally occurring cross between Chinook and Pink salmon. I have read reports, that these hybrids are more common in the great lakes due to less predation but they can exist anywhere these two species coinhabit.

For reasons, I do not understand most Pinooks are also male.

Pinooks can be a bit difficult to identify based on sight alone. They typically have less pronounced back humps and grow larger than pure breed Pinks. Their coloration can also begin resembling that of a coho.

To give a definitive identification typically requires the expertise of a trained fish biologist (Ichthyologists) who will need to analyze their teeth, gill rakers, their fin rays/

Chumpies

The chumpie is a cross between Chum and Pink Salmon.

They are rarely caught by recreational fishermen but they are caught occasionally by commercial fishermen.

There has been some commercial interest to breed and raise them. The salmon farmers were hoping to produce a hybrid with the pink flesh of the Pink Salmon and the yearly spawning of the Chum. Apparently, they have darker flesh than the parents and are more likely to take lures than the chum. The breeding operation saw some success, but it never developed into a fishery.

The hybrids are strong enough to reach maturity, but there is some evidence to suggest they do not spawn. Chumpies today are rarely seen in the wild.


Brown Trout x Atlantic Salmon

I will finish this quick write up about the cross between the Brown Trout and Atlantic Salmon.

This hybrid does occur in the wild and there is conflicting information published on whether they can produce viable young or not.

This hybrid generated some controversy a few years back when it was discovered that genetically modified farmed Atlantic Salmon can hybridize with wild brown trout and the offspring were capable of outcompeting wild fish.

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