Bull Trout Identification

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Bull Trout

Illustration by Steven Schalla, FlyFishingtheSierra.com, used with permission

Bull Trout, and its close cousin, the Dolly Varden, are chars (along with the “eastern” Brook Trout).  Their color varies with habitat and locality, but the body is generally gray to olive green, the back being darker than the pale sides; cream to pale yellow spots (slightly smaller than the pupil of the eye) cover the back, and red to orange to pink spots cover the sides; and the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins have white or cream-colored margins. There are no Black spots on the body or fins.  The key to distinguishing them from Brook Trout, which often inhabit the same water, is the back and dorsal fins.  If they exhibit wavy lines, it is a brookie. If the dorsal fin is clear or olive colored, with no distinct wavy lines, it is a bull trout or Dolly Varden.  Dolly Varden was named after a Charles Dickens’ character noted for her colorful green dress with pink polka dots.  It wasn’t until 1980 that genetic testing confirmed that Bulls and Dolly’s are distinct species; inherent variations within each species make it impossible to distinguish them reliably, even for experts.

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