Char Vs. Trout
Trout and char are both members of the same family, salmonid. The genus of char is Salvelinus. The general name trout is applied to two different genera’, Salmo and Oncorhynchus. Salmo is the genus of old-world trout, and Oncorhynchus applies to new-world trout found in North America. Below are some examples of trout and char that can be found in local waters.
Despite the name, brook trout is a char, Salvelinus fontinalis. A dark body with light spots is a typical visual characteristic of char. Brook trout are native to Eastern North America. They’re known for their preference for clear and cold streams. Unfortunately, brook trout are invasive in Oregon. They compete heavily with native fish and often are more aggressive than native species. Brook trout also hybridize with bull trout, which results in an offspring unfit for survival, which wastes reproductive energy and strains bull trout populations.
Bull trout are another excellent example of a trout that is a char, Salvelinus confluentus. The dark body with light spots signifies their charhood. Bull trout were once the apex predator in many rivers across the Northwest. Unfortunately, many factors such as dam construction, overharvest, and invasive species have caused their populations to decline. These predatory beasts are starting to show promising signs of recovery. Reintroduction projects are beginning to return them to their former habitats. We are fortunate to live so close to the Metolius River because it has one of the healthiest bull trout populations in the lower 48.
Finally, we have an example of a trout that is true to its common name. Rainbow trout or Oncorhynchus mykiss is native to Western North America, although they’ve been introduced to locations around the globe. Dark spots on a light body make these fish visually distinguishable from char. In Central Oregon, most of our native trout are redband trout, a subspecies of rainbow trout. Redband trout are known for their incredible fighting spirit and tolerance for warm high desert temperatures.
Brown trout or Salmo trutta is a trout native to Eurasia. They have been introduced all over the world, including Central Oregon. Like rainbow trout, a light body with dark spots separates them from char—Anglers love brown trout for their large average sizes and predatory nature. Brown trout are considered an invasive species in Oregon. They compete for food and habitat with native salmonids and also predate upon them. They are not as impactful to native fisheries as brook trout.