Fish Identification

What happens after you catch a fish? Well keeping the little guy or catch-and-release is another blog post, but it might be helpful to know what kind of fish you’ve caught first. I am HORRIBLE at identifying fish. My boyfriend quizzes me at random all the time. In fact, just last night as we were waiting for our table at a restaurant for a romantic Valentine’s date, he pulled out his phone and started asking me, “what kind of fish is this?” Though, I am improving most of the time it’s a lucky guess.

I’m hoping this post will serve as a sort of study guide for myself as well as for my readers.

These are all of the parts of a fish that you should look at when trying to identify what species it is:

Fish art by Michelle LaGory

Now, I am from Wyoming and I mainly fish in Wyoming, so this post is geared towards Wyoming fish identification, but these fish are in other states as well.

(All information is taken from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

  1. Rainbow Troutrainbow_trout
    Uniform black spots 
    White tips on fins 
    Distinguished from cutthroat by the presence of white tips on fins 
    Distinguished from kokanee by 11 anal fin rays versus 13 to 15 for kokanee 
    May have faint red or orange slash on lower jaw
  2. Bonneville Cutthroat Troutbonneville
    Body is greenish yellow to silvery gray
    Red to orange slash under jaw 
    Spots are large, round and sparsely scattered, uniformly distributed
    Distinguished from rainbows by the lack of white tips on fins 
    Distinguished from other cutthroat by its duller colors and uniform distribution of spots
  3. Snake River Cutthroat Troutsnakeriver
    Body is brownish yellow with dull silvery, green or bronze tints 
    Spotting profuse and of very fine spots covering the body except the belly, which is white 
    Red or orange slash under lower jaw 
    Distinguished from other subspecies by its profuse fine spotting 
    Distinguished from rainbow trout by its lack of white tips on its paired fins
  4. Colorado River Cutthroat Troutcoloradoriver
    Body is bright, golden yellow with a brassy green back, the most colorful Wyoming cutthroat
    Large spots distributed uniformly on body and caudal fin, which can be rectangular in shape on the caudal peduncle 
    Adipose fin usually has a black border 
    Orange tint along belly 
    Red or orange slash mark under jaw 
    Distinguished from other cutthroat subspecies by is bright colors and large spots 
    Distinguished from rainbow trout by the lack of white tips on fins
  5. Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

    Yellowish brown, silvery or brassy bronze, becoming paler toward the belly 
    Spots medium in size, conspicuous, rounded and often concentrated towards caudal fin 
    Red or orange slash under lower jaw 
    Crimson blush on gill plate 
    Distinguished from rainbow trout by the lack of white borders on its paired fins 
    Distinguished from other cutthroats by its large black spots concentrated toward the caudal fin and its drab colors
  6. Brook Troutbrook_trout
    Light spots on a dark background 
    Some red or pink spots with blue halos concentrated on lower half of body 
    Lower fins and tail have striking white border offset by black
  7. Golden Troutgolden_trout
    Green or olive in color about a bright red lateral band with bright yellow to brilliant read on the lower sides and belly 
    Large, round black spots, concentrated on the caudal peduncle and fin and its dorsal fin 
    Distinguished from cutthroat trout by its borders of white on its paired fins 
    Distinguished from rainbows by its smaller scales and spotting only on the posterior part of its body
  8. Lake Troutlake_trout
    Light-colored spots on a dark background 
    Deeply forked tail 
    Distinguished from brook trout by a deeply forked tail and absence of red or pink spots
  9. Brown Trout

    General lack of spots on the tail 
    Light colored “halos” around the dark spots 
    May have some red or orange spots 
    Orange tint along belly 
    Small scales 
    Distinguished from brook trout by dark spots on a light background versus light spots on a dark background for brook trout
  10. Graylinggrayling
    Large dorsal fin 
    Distinguished from trout by the coarse scales and large dorsal fin

Take the WGFD Fish Identification Quiz HERE!


6 thoughts on “Fish Identification

  1. While I’m literally going to remember nothing about any of these fish, I can try to help you find ways to relay tidbits about each of them into your head. When I was studying Mandarin, I would imagine different characters doing different things, or look at the different parts of each character and relate them to others. For the fish, try to think of something fun to remember each of them by. I’m going to use number five as an example because I like the word “cutthroat.” You could look at the line going down its middle and seeing that as a knife wound, or you could make up some story as to how some guy fishing go his throat cut by the dorsal fin or something. There’s always ways to remember, and hopefully just writing about it helped, but there’s always hope!

    1. Thank you! That is such a great idea! The fish art from the WGFD are so great and very detailed, unfortunately the fish look so different when they are smaller or spawning! I’m beginning to think I’ll never be able to identify them 😦

  2. Thank you for sharing this I have only fished in WY once. Now that I know some of the fish there my husband and I are thinking about camping in WY this year and going fishing. I like how you used bullet points to list the differences between the species of fish. This will greatly help me in learning about the fish in WY before we go camping.

  3. Your post was very informative. It made me think about all the times my son searched the internet to complete his 4-H projects. Your blog would have helped him when he was completing a fish identification project. That is the great thing about blogging when never know who and how our blogs might help others. Thanks for your information.

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