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Outdoor Library: ‘Cutthroat’ Book is All About the Trout

July 24, 2008

By Allen Pierleoni, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 24–Anglers, here’s what you really don’t know about the cutthroat trout: just about anything.

But there is a place to find out everything about the 12 species of that fabulous game fish: “Cutthroat: Native Trout of the West” by Patrick Trotter, with illustrations by Joseph Tomelleri (University of California Press, $34.95, 560 pages).

The elusive cutthroat is beautiful in all ways — especially when pan-fried beside the stream from which it was taken. It’s one of the five “primary” trout in California; the others are the brook, the brown, the lake and the rainbow — all fair game for fishers.

But hold on … The first clues to the true nature of this book are the presence of footnotes and a bibliography. Serious signs. This is not a simple fishing guide, though Trotter himself is an angler and reveals plenty about the habits of the cutthroat.

Rather, he takes a textbook approach to a fish that has lived here for thousands of years. In recent centuries, it was a main source of sustenance for the indigenous people who inhabited the West. Somehow, that fact makes the concept of fishing licenses seem puny.

“Cutthroat” is so precise that soon after the first edition appeared 20 years ago (the current version is a total overhaul), members of the scientific community began quoting it as the most authoritative source on the subject.

The chapters are divided by species and then subdivided by range (where the fish is found), ecology, life history, current status and prospects for the future. Shockingly, five of the 12 species are listed as “threatened,” and the other seven are on a waiting list for that status. (Two species are extinct.) Those categories are in accordance with the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The chapter on the Lahontan cutthroat is typical, and it’s of particular interest because it includes mention of some familiar names — explorer John C. Fremont; Pyramid Lake in Nevada, Lake Tahoe; and the Truckee, Carson and Humboldt rivers.

The Lahontan’s habitats were ruined by 19th century lumber operations in the Tahoe and Truckee basins. Several state and federal agencies partnered in 2002 to reintroduce the fish by releasing thousands of fingerlings into Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe. The success of that program has yet to be measured.

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