Something Almost Prehistoric
I have noticed that amongst anglers in my state (Pennsylvania, PA), rainbow trout seem to sometimes be looked at through a different lens than eastern brook trout or german browns. The rainbow trout is PA’s most stocked fish, and if you’re catching a lot of them, much less trophy-sized ones, it is an indicator that you’re most likely fishing in or near stocked waters. To me, any and all trout are magnificent, stocked or not, but I cannot deny that some of my fellow PA anglers view them with a touch of contempt in favor of wild browns or native brooks. I, however, refuse to play favorites. I can appreciate all fish, and most definitely all trout.
This article is about record-setting rainbows, both in the US and abroad. Rainbow trout are cunning fish that are adaptive, beautiful and capable of all the jaw-dropping acrobatics of their brethren.
Join me as I take a look into the rainbow trout that top the scales and the anglers who picked the right day to go fishing.
The rainbow trout’s scientific name, (oncorhynchus mykiss) is derived first from the Greek words onkos (hook) and rynchos (nose). Spawning male rainbows exhibit the same intimidating jaw growth that brown trout and salmon do, called kyping, and it is truly a phenomenon to behold. Mykiss comes from the native word for these fish in and around the Kamchatka Peninsula (mykizha), where specimens were observed as early as 1792.
The native range of the rainbow trout is impressive, extending from the Kamchatkan and East past the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, British Columbia, and South along the West Coast of the US and into northern Mexico. The Mexican rainbows represent the southernmost native range of any trout or salmonid known to date.
Rainbow trout are beautiful fish, ranging from 1-5 pounds in freshwater. Young rainbows possess par marks, or dark vertical bars, along their sides until maturity, when their camouflage fully develops into bluish-green or olive backs with black stippled spots from their head to their tails. However, their most distinctive feature is a broad, shiny-red stripe along their lateral line, from the gills to the tail. This stripe becomes even more pronounced and vivid in breeding males, and develops first before the eventual kyping of their jaws.
Rainbows are predators, like all trout, and their diet resembles that of the brown trout closely. Macro-invertebrates and nymph larvae are always on the menu, but especially in juveniles. After some growth, rainbow trout will begin to feed on flies, terrestrials like grasshoppers and beetles, and eventually on baitfish up to ⅓ of their size. Throughout their lifespans, rainbows feed on a variety of fish eggs as well, including the eggs of other trout. These fish are considered by some to fight the hardest and longest of any other trout, and they do love an acrobatic pirouette when on the hook, creating a moment of both awe and anxiety for the angler on the other end of the line.
Rainbow or Steelhead?
I would like to pause here and shortly address a topic that I still find lifelong anglers arguing about from time to time– what’s the difference between a rainbow trout and a steelhead? While a whole article could be written around this one question, the short answer is that these are the same fish, that live wildly different lifestyles. Steelhead are anadromous, meaning that they spend a large portion of their lives at sea, and return to freshwater rivers and streams to breed. What we call rainbow trout spend their whole lives in freshwater. This time at sea elicits notable changes in rainbow trout, including but not limited to changes in feeding, behavior, color and appearance. But they are the same fish, and these changes in their biology are brought about by their environment.
The World Record Rainbow Trout
Size: 48 pounds, 42 Inches Long, 32 Inch Girth
Location: Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan, Canada
Tackle: 9’6 Shimano Clarus Spinning Rod, Abu Garcia Cardinal Reel, 14 Pound Test Green Power Pro Mainline, 3’ 14 Pound Test Trilene Max Leader, 5 ¼” Jointed Rapala X-Rap
Angler: Sean Konrad
The world record rainbow trout carries with it a lot of the same drama and controversy that the world record brown trout dredged up (check out that article as well!). However, I am of the belief that a trout is a trout, and a world record is indeed, a world record. Sean Konrad’s 48 pound behemoth that he boated alongside his twin brother (and previous world record rainbow angler) is the result of both nature and science. This rainbow trout is what is referred to as a triploid, a fish bred commercially with three sets of chromosomes, making it sterile, and allowing it to focus on one thing and one thing only–FOOD. Without the stress and dangers of spawning, triploids can achieve shocking size and mass much faster than wild ‘bows.
This fish was caught in 2009, but in the year 2000, a faulty net allowed an estimated 500,000 triploids to escape from the CanGro Fish Farm into the Diefenbaker. Sean’s fish, and all the other triploids that survived their escape into the Diefenbaker, began taking advantage of the massive natural foraging opportunities, and were able to grow to record size. No matter how much these trout’s genetic makeup may make the hardcore purists wince, it is still a rainbow trout, and still the world record.
Sean and his brother both possessed considerable fame locally well before this catch, so much so that when they found the time to fish together, they opted to go out at night, far away from rubberneckers and excess attention. Here again, relatively light tackle was employed with great effect, and a jointed crankbait was the ticket to a truly legendary rainbow.
United States Record Rainbow Trout
Size: 31.25 Inches
Location: American Falls Reservoir, Idaho
Angler: Brett Jones
Another record, another controversy. In 2020 Brett Jones, visiting Idaho from Wyoming, caught what arguably still stands as the largest common rainbow trout in the United States (as far as catch-and-release goes) in the American Falls Reservoir. The rules for catch-and-release records are different, and the weight is not recorded. However, the length is, and Mr. Jones’ fish did break the length of the previous record holding trout by a slim margin. It is unclear exactly what tackle was used, but the fish was released safely back into the reservoir to keep on growing, and I personally respect Mr. Jones’ decision to not weigh (and kill) his trophy catch.
The American Falls Reservoir in Idaho is another place that is well known for producing huge specimens of fish. Plentiful forage, tons of structure and incredibly deep drop offs all make for a more than effective breeding ground for monsters. Other record-breaking fish have been caught here, some weighed, some not.
There was a lot of backlash towards Mr. Jones’ catch, and a lot of noise commenced from the less amicable (and generally less pleasant) anglers of the internet, calling the coverage of Brett’s catch “hype,” and other things that I won’t repeat while at work. In short, their major gripe was with the whole idea of catch-and-release records at all, with many a sour fisherman calling all catch-and-release records impossible to prove, unfair to others looking for the same title, and on and on. No matter where or when it happens, there is always a cadre of unhappy and sometimes downright venomous fishermen that seem intent to rain on everyone’s parade. While trying to remain neutral on this particular topic, I must confess that I’m a diehard catch-and-release fisherman myself, and Brett Jones deserves the same accolades we give to other fishermen who end up with their name in the books and a wall mount after the day is done.
Rainbow Trout Records (The Runners-Up)
World Record Runner-Up
The story of the runner-up world record rainbow trout seems like it’s almost too coincidental to believe, almost like fiction. But, it is indeed fact, and I think that makes the circumstances surrounding it even more amazing.
Before Sean Konrad’s record setting ‘bow, his twin brother Adam held the record. That fish was a 43 Pound, 10 oz IGFA certified triploid rainbow, caught in the same body of water on very similar tackle.
Before Sean’s current record was caught, his brother Adam had joked with him, as they were leaving shore, that they just had to get him on a 40 + pound fish, and just a few hours later that’s exactly what happened.
With both of these twins producing fish such as these out of the same body of water, it’s easy to see why people recognize (and even straight up follow and harass) them if they fish in the daylight. The Konrad brothers have kept world record rainbows in the family, and they still fish the Diefenbaker today.
United States Runner-Up
The runner-up to the American record was admittedly not a true rainbow, but in fact was a cutbow, a hybrid cutthroat/rainbow trout. But this fish was weighed, and the IGFA was informed. No catch-and-release record to argue about here, and all in the same reservoir as Brett Jones’ fish.
In 2011, Mark Adams caught a 34 pound 41 inch cutbow in the same place, making for a truly stunning photo-op, and you guessed it, he was using relatively light spinning tackle as well. Before any purists come for me and begin the cutbow/rainbow differentials, I might as well mention that the common rainbow trout record was also caught in the nearby Snake River (20 pounds), and was caught on a nightcrawler by a young Michelle Larsen-Williams.
Reeling it in
It seems that no matter the particular genetic strain of trout, there will always exist a somewhat bitter hostility among some of us when the topic of a record-setting fish comes up. Many of us, myself included, don’t fish to set, break, or make new records. Fishing is too multi-faceted and too deeply personal for that. But as long as there exists whole organizations dedicated to documenting the biggest, widest and most monstrous fish that man is able to trick, I suppose that animosity and ego will continue to be put on display occasionally as well.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking out the biggest fish you can catch. In fact, these stories and the records that were made in them are inspiring, even if the trophy specimens didn’t get to swim back home the day they were caught.
The idea that fish this size still exist and can thrive in today’s day and age gives me hope for the little ones, and their continued existence side-by-side with us, despite the damage we do to their homes with industry and “progress.” There are monsters that still exist, here and abroad, and an encounter with them is still possible. We just need to keep casting. Tight lines!