How To Identify A Cutbow – Rainbow/Cutthroat Trout Hybrid

I’ve had several requests in the past to explain how to tell the difference between a rainbow, cutthroat and cutbow. Learning to differentiate a cutbow trout from a full cutthroat is very important. In many areas, it is illegal to kill any cutthroat trout, but it is recommended that you kill hybrids (cutbows) and rainbows. Idaho fish and game dept. actually pays a sort of bounty for rainbows and cutbows in the Snake river. In this article, I hope to teach you how to quickly tell when you are looking at a cutbow, vs any other trout variety.

Tips for Cutbow Identification

How to identify a cutbow

This cutbow has the spots and coloration of a cutthroat trout, but the white tipped fins tell us quickly that this is a hybrid (cutbow). White tipped fins are a strong trait in rainbow trout.

Perhaps the fastest way to ID a cutbow vs cutthroat is by looking at the fins. If there are white tipped fins, you’ve caught a cutbow. This method is usually spot on, but there are other ways to tell a cutbow by looking at it.

Look at the spot pattern on most full fledged cutthroat. You’ll see that the spots on cutthroat are more dense towards the tail and become quite sparse towards the front end of the fish. The cutbow in the image above has the spot pattern of a cutthroat.

Rainbow trout have more uniform spots throughout the fish. The spots toward the rear of the fish are just as dense as they are near the head.

rainbow trout vs cutbow

In the image above, you can see the full rainbow trout has some very unique traits. It is lacking the orange slash by the gills. It has a chrome color and of course the uniform spots from front to back. The first sign that this trout was a rainbow trout or hybrid was its jumping spree moments after hooked. (See that video here) The rainbow trout will almost always fight harder than a cutthroat.

By studying the traits of a rainbow trout, you’ll be able to more easily identify cutbows. You’ll almost always see rainbow characteristics in the spots and/or coloration of cutbow trout.

Hopefully this will answer any questions you might have had about cutbow ID. Let me know if you need more assistance with a comment below. Thanks for stopping by!


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