Illustration by Steven Schalla, FlyFishingtheSierra.com, used with permission
Redband is the common name for native-strain rainbow trout which live east of the coastal region. They are classified as subspecies of rainbow trout, with multiple sub-variants which are not necessarily consistently described. For simplicity, we can classify Redbands as belonging to three sub-species: Columbia Basin (this trout), Great Basin, and McCloud River, lumping together the many sub-variants into three sub-classes.
The Columbia Basin redband describes rainbow trout inhabiting rivers east of the Cascade Mountains, in a broad but poorly documented swathe from central Washington, northern and eastern Oregon, much of Idaho, and brushing western Montana and north-eastern Nevada. These are generally stream-resident populations, though sea-run (“Steelhead”) redband populations also occur. In some streams resident redband and steelhead live together (“sympatric”), in others, because of barriers to the steelhead run, redband live isolated (“allotropic”). Steelhead, redband trout, and stocked rainbow trout can interbreed, and do, though because of behavior differences, the sympatric steelhead and redband populations are surprisingly distinct.
Redband Trout are generally similar in appearance to rainbow trout, though each Redband subspecies has somewhat different characteristics. Genetically, Redbands represent a link between Coastal Rainbows (which were usually the source of stocked fish) and the more primitive cutthroat, with which they share some characteristics. Think of Redbands as the original-strain, interior rainbows.
Columbia River Redbands tend to show a great deal of variation depending on whether they are stream resident, fluvial, lacustrine, or sea-run. A fluvial (river) form is illustrated. Redbands exhibit a red stripe along the lateral line, similar to a rainbow. Color is generally yellow to orange yellow, more like a cutthroat than a rainbow, which tend to be more silvery. Redbands are also heavily spotted, and will often exhibit a yellow mark under the jaw that resembles a cutthroat mark. Stream resident fish will often retain parr marks into adulthood (not shown), while lacustrine (lake) and sea-run (steelhead) forms will have a greenish back.