Heritage Trout


Our home waters support three California Heritage Trout that are endemic to the Southern Sierras: the Kern River Rainbow, the Little Kern Golden and the California Golden.


Kern river rainbow 

Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti

is a localized subspecies of the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), a variety of fish in the family Salmonidae. It is found in a short section of the main stem of the Kern River and several tributaries in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The Kern River rainbow trout is a "Species of Special Concern" in the state of California due to habitat loss and hybridization with other native and non-native trout in their range.


The Kern River rainbow trout has a high probability of extinction in the next 50 to 100 years if present trends continue. It is listed as a species of special concern by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. A multi-agency management plan for the upper Kern River basin lists as its goals to “restore, protect, and enhance the native Kern River rainbow trout populations so that threatened or endangered listing does not become necessary.” The Edison Trust Fund, established as mitigation for a hydropower generating station, provides at least $200,000 each year to implement the management plan and improve sh populations in the upper Kern basin. Funding has been provided for developing a conservation hatchery for Kern river rainbow trout, for increasing patrols of wardens in areas where the trout are shed, and for fund- ing genetics studies.


Little kern golden

(Oncorhynchus mykiss whitei) is a brightly colored subspecies of rainbow trout native to the main stem and tributaries of the Little Kern River in Tulare County, California.

The Little Kern golden trout is a brightly colored fish with profuse black spots on the back and tail. The belly and cheeks are typically a bright orange to orange-red. The lower sides of the fish range from a light yellow to bright gold. The back is olive green. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are orange with white tips. Little Kern Golden Trout typically retain into adulthood up to ten parr marks along their sides. There is also often an intermediate row of smaller parr marks occurring above and/or below the main row of parr marks.

Little Kern Goldens tend to have more black spots along its back, especially anterior to the caudal peduncle, and onto its head in comparison to California golden trouts. Compared to coastal rainbow trout, Little Kern Goldens tend to have fewer, larger, and rounder spots. Little Kern golden trout in their native small stream habitat rarely exceed 12 inches (30 cm) in length and any fish exceeding 10 inches (25 cm) would be considered large.


Despite major efforts to protect the Little Kern golden trout, they still have a high probability of disappearing as a genetically distinct species within the next 50 to 100 years. This possibility has long been recognized and serious management efforts to protect the fish began in 1975. The species was listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1978 and is considered a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Game. Critical habitat for the fish has been designated in the Little Kern River, including the main channel and all streams tributary to the Little Kern River, but little has changed for the fish despite this designation. One of the main goals of a multiagency management plan for the upper Kern River basin is restoration of native trout so they can be delisted. Beginning in 1975, efforts by the Department of Fish and Game and other agencies were made to restore Little Kern golden trout to their historic range by applying fish poisons to streams and lakes in the drainage, constructing barriers to immigration of non-native trout, and rearing Little Kern golden trout at the Kern River Planting Base near Kernville. This effort resulted in the apparent restoration of fish to approximately 32 miles of stream, in addition to the introduction of fish into three headwater lakes by 1998. Subsequent genetic studies, however, have shown that many of the re-established populations have hybridized with rainbow trout.


california golden

Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita), is a subspecies of the rainbow trout native to California. The golden trout is native to Golden Trout Creek (tributary to the Kern River), Volcano Creek (tributary to Golden Trout Creek), and the South Fork Kern River

The golden trout has golden flanks with red, horizontal bands along the lateral lines on each side and about 10 dark, vertical, oval marks (called "parr marks") on each side. Dorsal, lateral and anal fins have white leading edges. In their native habitat, adults range from 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) long. Fish over 12 inches (30 cm) are considered large.


California golden trout have a high likelihood of extinction in 50 to 100 years, if not sooner. A recovery plan for California golden trout has been developed that could reduce the threat of extinction, but it has not been fully implemented. Major efforts have been made to create refugia for golden trout in the upper reaches of the South Fork Kern River by constructing barriers and then applying the poison rotenone to kill all unwanted fish above barriers. Despite these and other efforts, most populations of California golden trout are hybridized and are under continual threat from brown trout invasions. Management actions are needed to address threats to California golden trout which include hybridization with rainbow trout, competition, and degradation of their streams from livestock grazing, which continues even in the Golden Trout Wilderness Area.


Status description based on the CalTrout SOS Study