Lightning Trout – What Are They And Where Can I Catch One?

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Angling is exciting, but for how long? “For life,” say the anglers. For hobbyist anglers to remain interested, there must be a novelty. You can try different methods to catch fish, including fish bowing, or you can catch new types of fish. One of the most unique fish to catch is the Lightning Trout.

So what is a Lightning Trout, and where can I catch one?

Lightning Trout are a genetic variation of a Rainbow Trout. Their genetic mutation changes the traditional grayish trout color to a yellowish-golden one (hence “lightning”). Mt. Lassen Hatchery in California is the sole supplier of Lightning Trout and often supplies them to Southern California reservoirs and East Bay lakes.

This article will cover everything you need to know about Lightning Trout, including the specific lakes that stock it, when you can find it in said lakes, and what the fish tastes like. We will also discuss the prospect of buying Lightning Trout and the bait you should use if you choose to capture lightning with your fishing rod.

Lightning Trout: What Are They?

Lightning Trout is rainbow trout with a unique genetic strain that is most obvious in the trout’s glistening appearance. It is bred to be brighter with a yellow to orange gradient color. Lightning Trout is famous among anglers because it is visually appealing to pose with.

Whenever a Pacific Northwesterner brings up the word “Lightning Trout,” other anglers quickly point out that there is no such breed as “Lightning Trout.”

It is often mistaken for a golden trout on the Internet, which is wrong.

Lightning Trout is a rainbow trout with a mutation that makes it golden where it is supposed to be gray. It is not a naturally occurring or self-propagating fish.

In other words, the Lightning Trout is not a fish that can reproduce and propagate in any water it is thrown in.

Not only is it artificially bred, but it is also artificially sustained as a distinct ‘breed.’ Knowing this is important because you cannot encounter it in any other body of water in which it wasn’t deliberately released.

The upside is that you don’t have to worry about getting into legal trouble with conservationists. It is legal to catch Lightning Trout as long as you don’t trespass or break other laws in the process.

Lightning Trout is an obligate game fish produced by farms specifically for anglers. So if a school of Lightning Trout is introduced to a lake, fishing is likely encouraged there.

How to Catch Lightning Trout?

You need to use live crawlers as your main bait to catch Lightning Trout. Locally available bait works, too, since most anglers frequenting the spot are looking for attractive Lightning Trout, and the local bait shops stock up on live and artificial bait that can help them catch it.

The cost of bait is around $0.08 per crawler, and they’re sold per pound in high-demand areas. Some bait shops sell crawlers for 10 cents each without setting a minimum order quantity.

Many “pay” lakes offer access with complementary bait packages. The Pacific Northwest lakes that stock Lightning Trout don’t provide free bait, so remember to bring your own.

Lightning Trout: Where to Find it?

Now that you know which bait to bring, let’s look at where you must go to catch the prized golden-red rainbow trout. Lightning Trout are produced by the Mt. Lassen Hatchery and are often made available to pay lakes and regional public lakes in East Bay, California.

Please note that these fish don’t last beyond a week in water due to high angler demand and the ease with which natural predators can spot them.

A press release goes out when lightning fish are made available. This happens during a short window in the east bay and a slightly broader window in southern California lakes.

The lakes that have a history of stocking up on Lightning Trout during August are:

Santa Ana River Lakes

Stocked in April – Located in Anaheim, California, Santa Ana River Lakes allow day and night fishing without a license. They are open 6 days a week and break on Thursday for stock maintenance. The Lightning Trout stock is made available whenever Mt. Lassen Hatchery makes it available to regional lakes. This happens in April at the earliest.

Del Valle Lake

Stocked in November – Whenever Mt. Lassen Hatchery has a surplus, it tends to get sold to The East Bay Regional Park District. Del Valle is among the first East Bay lakes to get some of the Lassen surplus supply of Lightning Trout. This usually happens in mid-November.

Lake Chabot

Fishing dock at Lake Chabot

Stocked in November – Lake Chabot is a water reservoir for East Bay. It is, therefore, impossible for a release of the east bay release of Lightning Trout to miss Lake Chabot. However, it is also one of the first lakes to run out of lighting trout stock because of ease of access and resident anglers’ interest.

Quarry Lakes

Stocked in November – Managed by East Bay Parks district, this is a unit of multiple lakes that are beautified and kept pristine for recreational angling and lakeside leisure activities. Sometimes Lightning Trout is introduced to the Quarry Lakes to pump up visitor interest. This happens around November as well.

Shadow Cliffs Lake 

Stocked in November – Also stocked in November is Shadow Cliffs Lake. While the lake is stocked with fish throughout the East Bay fishing season, Lightning Trout gets its time in the Shadow Cliffs Lake in November. Sometimes, the drop in visitor interest as early as June can trigger a Lightning Trout order.

Hemet Lake

Fishing and relaxing at Hemet Lake

Stocked in March and April – Hemet Lake gets the prime restocking slot with direct orders from Mt. Lassen Hatchery as soon as the Lightning Trout becomes available. March and April are the months when you’re most likely to find Lightning Trout in Hemet Lake. The stocking activity is reduced in later months.

Can You Buy Lightning Trout?

You can buy Lightning Trout in a large enough quantity to meet Mt. Lassen Hattchery’s undisclosed requirements. This is not feasible for most anglers. But you can write your local parks and lakes district to make an order.

The recreational supply is available to lake owners, lake management authorities, and private reservoirs. If the water conditions are hospitable to rainbow trout, they are hospitable to Lightning Trout.

It is theoretically possible for restaurants to order Lightning Trout in a large enough quantity. But since the bulk of the excitement of Lightning Trout is in catching it, this has never happened.

Lightning Trout: What Does it Taste Like?

Mt. Lassen Hatchery alleges that the Lightning Trout meat tastes like Salmon. This has never been disputed by the anglers who document their own experience with the fish.

However, many people also report that the taste is very similar to a Rainbow Trout.

While regular trout are often caught and released, Lightning Trout is almost always eaten.

Fun Facts You Need to Know About Lightning Trout

  • The term “Lightning Trout” is trademarked – Having lucked into spotting a genetic evolution in its nursery, Mt. Lassen Hatchery has publicized and protected this type of trout.
  • Lightning Trout Cannot Breed – Mt. Lassen Hatchery maintains a monopoly over Lightning Trout because the stock released for angling cannot breed.
  • Lightning Trout is not the same as Palomino Trout – Palomino is yellower than Lightning Trout. It is a cross-breed between rainbow trout and golden trout. Lightning Trout is a rainbow trout with a genetic mutation.
  • Lightning Trout is also called thunder trout – This isn’t a trademarked name and is used loosely by locals.

Final Thoughts

Angling for Lightning Trout is more accessible in California as its East Bay, and Southern lakes are the closest to Mt. Lassen Hatchery, which has a monopoly on this unique trout.

April and November seem to be the months when it is stocked across multiple lakes. If you catch it, make sure you enjoy the salmon-like pink meat of this colorful trout.