Palouse Outdoors: Taming the Tiger (Trout)
June 2, 2022
The pond could not have been more than a couple of acres, just small enough that I could fish a full lap around in my float tube before the consequences of sitting belly-deep in frigid water required a scramble to shore. The shorelines were steep and shaded by conifers except for along the manmade dam, which allowed enough sunlight to encourage a healthy aquatic vegetation bed to grow.
Per my usual mode of operation on trout waters, I cast a small wooly bugger-like fly on a five-weight rod and stripped the fly in quickly once it sank a few feet. It was early June, and the trout were on fire as the sun gained elevation - its warmth rousing the aquatic insects.
Casting parallel to the weed line, I stripped the fly, paused to let it sink, then stripped again. The pause often provokes a strike from fish who are not quite sold on the meal, which is exactly what happened in this instance. I felt the weight of the fish as I tried to strip the fly, embedding the hook in its upper jaw. The fish darted for the weeds and then shot across the open water like a rocket. A short float tube ride behind the zealous fish landed a trout specimen that was only mythical in my youth.
The "tiger trout" is a genetic anomaly – the spawn of a male brook trout and female brown trout. While this unlikely pairing occurs rarely in the wild, sport fishery managers have been spawning these sterile hybrids in hatcheries and stocking them across the nation for decades, including here in Washington.
Tiger trout typically possess the desired traits of both parents, which include being aggressive feeders, boasting a buttery-rich golden to brown coloration, and sporting the intricate vermiculation of the brook trout across much or all of its body. To ice the cake, hybrid fish typically grow bigger and faster than fish of normal genetics because they do not allocate energy to gonad development and reproduction.
Due to their aggressive nature and sterility, tiger trout are often stocked in water bodies where a particular fish population like shad has become overpopulated. These effective predators help to balance out the other fish populations by preying upon them, reducing their numbers, and helping the typical age, size, and reproductive classes to reestablish with a low risk of the new species taking over.
Later in the morning, while stripping my streamer through another weedy patch, my line went tight but seemed to be hung up on the vegetation. A few yanks on the line spurred into motion my biggest tiger trout to date. Steering the fish free of the weeds and logs was a challenge, but after a few minutes of delicately working the drag and trying to flip my float tube free of the debris, glimpses of the eighteen-incher began to flash in the sunrays that were streaming down into the water column. I was able to maneuver to shore, where I eventually landed the fish, which fought like something twice its size.
In the shallows at my feet appeared to be a beefy brown trout that must have rolled out of bed and groggily put on the wrong shirt before having coffee. The fish wore the most textbook features of both brook and brown trout. Its base layer was golden on top, fading into the brilliant yellow-brown trout belly. Rather than spots, the fish was covered head to tail in bronze to nearly burgundy brook trout vermiculation with a hint of the char's white leading fin spines and a light dash of teal painted down the lateral line – an immaculate and unique spectacle that I have not seen duplicated.
If you are looking for a new experience chasing feisty trout, early summer and fall are great times to plan a weekend camping trip to a mountain lake in search of tiger trout. Small streamers on the fly rod are the perfect gear, but if fly-fishing is not your forte, tiger trout will gladly chase down small spoons, spinners, and live bait where it's legal to use.
Where to fish? Visit the following websites for locations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Washington - Tiger trout | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
Oregon - Tiger trout | Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
Idaho - Becker Pond produces state record tiger trout | Idaho Fish and Game