The Rainbotox Trout?

Interestingly in the past few weeks I’ve stumbled upon a couple of different discussions about a book that was published in 2010, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World by Anders Halverson. The first discussion was on a very popular fly fishing forum, and as so often is the case on internet forums the thread flew off course and turned sour. By the time the discussion had spawned out I’d forgotten what the intent of it was in the first place.  Then a couple weeks later, The Trout Underground posted a review of the book and reeled me back in.  I have not yet read the book, but it’s on my list. Actually I was hoping to receive this book as either a Christmas gift, but apparently I was bad this year.

Because I’ve not read the book I can not speak to its essence, but in the meantime I’ve done a bit of reading about the book and listened to a Fish Explorer podcast interview with the author. To ponder the concept of the rainbow trout being introduced so widely to so many waters where it was not native is pretty amazing, and is as mind boggling as the quickness with which we settled the American West (and all the bad stuff that came of that, including the artificial introduction of the rainbow trout).  I fully admit that I did not know that the rainbow is native only to a narrow band along the Pacific Rim from Mexico north to the Bering Strait and Kamchatka. Today an angler can undoubtedly catch more rainbows in rivers across America than any other type of trout. In many of these waters, while not native, the rainbows are wild in the sense that they’re self-propagating and thriving. Unfortunately at the cost of some native species, both fish and certain types of frogs.

I think I get it. We as a civilization are at a point where we’re reflecting back with shame for all the bad stuff we’ve done to our world and the environment over the past decades. We’re the “guilt generation” trying to undo what has been done by generations before: there’s a lot of habitat restoration being done in an attempt to help recover fish runs that we as humans have nearly wiped out in many places. Dams are being torn down, rip rap banks being removed so flood waters can reclaim their natural floodplains and provide safe haven for fish during high water, trees are being replanted along riparian zones previously cleared of all vegetation, etc. The list goes on, and it’s good that we’re doing something about it. As part of this attempt to undo what has been done, hatchery fish of all kinds are being given a bad rap because, well, they’re not “wild”, in many cases they’re non-indigenous and frankly by nature’s design they don’t belong. Kinda like the white Europeans when we they landed on the east coast 513 years ago.

But what of the homogenous rainbow trout, specifically?  They’ve been around in so many waters for so long that we’ll never get rid of them, and many probably don’t want to. From what I’ve gleaned, this is not the point of An Entirely Synthetic Fish, either. Personally I treat a wild (not the same as native) rainbow or brown trout with the same care in handling as I do a cutthroat or a bull trout. If they’re thriving, for the most part, in most areas where they were introduced, should perhaps we not simply embrace the rainbow for the aerobatic, strong fighting fish they are?  It’s not their fault we put them where they never would have been on their own: they had little say in the matter.  Yet here they are in lakes and streams and rivers across the country and the world.  Can’t we just show them a little love? If these non-native rainbows find out how we really feel about them, they’re likely to become resentful and dour, and may resort to even more hideous means of damaging self indulgence as they seek our acceptance. They may not be the au natural, Birkenstock-wearing native cutthroat or the prestigious eastern brook trout that we love to romanticize about, but completely synthetic?  Come on – isn’t that a little much?  A little cosmetic surgery never hurt anyone. They just want to be accepted, if not loved.

Heck, even the hybrids are doing it.

Cuttbotox Trout

My word, what is next—pectoral fin augmentation?

PS- My apologies to Mr. Halverson for the content of this article.


  1. Patrick

    I can only imagine the celebrity backlash as collagen supplies dip to dangerously low levels… That said, is it easier to hook fish with such a trout pout?

    …upon further review, I don’t know that I’d want to.

    • Kirk Werner

      Pat, Whitefish have been been doing the trout pout for thousands of years, and they’re easy to hook. Not in the mouth, however.

  2. Chuck Atkins

    AMERICAN GLUTTONY KNOWS NO END! America had wonderful indigenous trout populations through out the nation! Of coarse we decimated them with our stupidity!

    It wasn’t enough that we had Brookies and Cutts – we had to introduce Browns and Rainbows into places they never should have been to ameliorate our destruction and gluttony.

    In the LAKE MICHIGAN there was one indigenous trout; the Lake trout! Commercial fishing had virtually wiped them out by the 1960’s. So. in an effort to control alwives and create a new fishery they introduced Coho salmon! But that wasn’t enough. Eventually they stocked Chinook salmon, several species of Steelhead , Splake and Brown trout too!

    Now they fear that the forage base has been jeopardized. The smelt are all gone. The perch…..mostly gone! All those big predatory fish had to eat something after they went though the alewives!

    Is there anything we can’t ruin? At least any hillbilly with a down rigger can hook a fish while he’s holding a beer now!

    • Kirk Werner

      “ameliorate”? Are you really gonna make me look up that big word, Chuck?

      I believe there is nothing that’s out of reach of our potential to screw it up, whether it’s formally done by some gov’t agency or the act of some unauthorized moron. Somehow Lake Trout made their way into Yellowstone Lake. In the early 90’s there were over 9 million native Yellowstone Cutthroat in the lake, and at around that same time is when the Lake Trout started showing up and eliminating an estimated 95% of the native cutt population. There’s a bounty on the heads of all Mackinaw caught in the lake- a must-kill policy. I don’t believe they’ve ever determined exactly how the Lakers got there- speculation was that somebody probably caught them in a nearby lake that had a population, and thought it would be cool to dump a bunch of them into Yellowstone Lake. Whoever did that should probably work for the government.

    • Fontinalis Rising

      There were two- Lake trout and lake-dwelling brook trout called coasters, all but extinct now

  3. David G

    Fun Factoid: New Mexico is on it’s way to getting back our native fish. They have been stocking tripliod fish in our previously native water. Fun stuff really. It’s going to take years and years to bring the RGCT back to its old population, but if we keep at it, the cutthroat will keep the other numbers down (maybe it will end our goldfish problem as well). This is the first time I have head of the book and sounds like my kind of sciency type book!

    • Kirk Werner

      Interesting how fisheries depts everywhere have done such a good job of screwing things up! Should be a good read- I’m waiting for my copy to arrive.

  4. SteelieontheFly

    Wow, those are some strange looking fish. Looks like they’re doing the lip pout. BTW I did not know that about the area that native rainbows are originally found in. Did you know that you can even catch rainbow trout on Hawaii now?

    • Kirk Werner

      Steelie, we have only ourselves to blame for the self esteem-lacking pouty trouts. They would be comfortable in the lips God gave them if not for the widespread feelings of resentment toward them for being non-native. I did not know that rainbows can be caught in Hawaii. I suppose they were artificially introduced, although they may have made the swim from their native waters across the Pacific to the islands. In that case, however, they’d be anadromous and therefore steelhead. I guess I need to finally get to Hawaii!

  5. Fontinalis Rising

    In a metro environment, peer pressure can be intense. These trout obviously are trying to fit in and compete with the other hatchery trout. It’s a tough environment; these poor things are going to be scarred for life, and for what? a brief shot at looking EXACTLY like Angelina Jolie?



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