“I wish we had a native trout in Texas.”
As I spoke those words to Therese Thompson of the Western Native Trout Initiative, her reply took me by surprise.
“Well, Texas used to have the Rio Grande cutthroat,” she said.
The only trout I was aware of living on the Gulf Coast-speckled, sand, and Gulf trout, and they are not true trout anyway.
They are members of Sciaenidae, not the Salmonidae family.
Then it hit me. In the early years of my career as a wildlife journalist, I remembered coming across a study on this issue, but in the first half of a career spent more in saltwater than streams, it was not a priority.
Now it was.
A 1991 study by Gary C. Barrett and Gary C. Matlock called “Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout In Texas” provides conclusive evidence this species of trout once dwelled in certain areas in western Texas.
Historic records provide evidence that Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis) were indigenous to some Texas streams. This information includes railroad survey reports and several accounts in a major sporting publication of the late 1800s, including a drawing with color description. Published accounts continued through the mid-1900s, after which man’s activities made these streams unsuitable for trout survival.
The study notes that because of the locations of the populations, the trout would have to have lived and reproduced in Texas, which would make them true natives.
These locations, including the Devil’s River, Lampia Creek, and San Felipe Creek, were spring-fed streams of relatively high flow before human settlement.
Rio Grande cutthroat are stunningly beautiful fish that currently live in New Mexico and southern Colorado.
While they no longer live in Texas, is it possible they could come back with concerted conservation efforts?
The species was part of a discussion on native stream species restoration at a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department hearing in 2014, and there is support for recovery among fly fishers who are aware of the species Texas past.
This story came about through a conversation about the Western Native Trout Initiative, which is a public-private Fish Habitat Partnership that works collaboratively across 12 western states to conserve (protect, restore, and recover) 21 native trout and char species.
Youth in our Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions will be taking part in July to pursue the Yellowstone cutthroat and help raise awareness of this very worthy initiative.
Sometimes it merely takes talking with someone to change perspective on an issue and open one’s eyes to the amazing wonders of nature.
I’ve caught thousands of speckled, sand, and Gulf trout in Texas waters, rainbows in Arkansas and browns in New York but to catch a Rio Grande cutthroat in their native waters…that would be a whole new experience.
Look for more on native trout, including the Rio Grande cutthroat in the coming weeks and months.
Chester Moore, Jr.