Can Rainbow Trout And Brown Trout Breed? Trout Hybrids

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Pic: 3 trout, 1 brown & 2 rainbow, from Pecos River, NM

With various trout species and hybrids to catch, it’s only natural to wonder if you will ever net a rainbow-brown trout crossbreed. 

Rainbow and brown trout can combine to create a brownbow. But this does not happen in the wild, making their prevalence and reputation scarce. 

Trout Hybrids 

Trout stocking and farming practices became popular in the 1880s. But with these farms and hatcheries, expanding trout numbers has a downstream effect (no pun intended).

As hybrids or planted trout increase, the genetic purity of native fish declines. Next time you catch a hybrid trout, consider how its arrival impacts native populations. 


Brownbows are a result of a rainbow and brown trout combination. As the world’s two most popular trout, combining the two species makes sense, right? 

Despite their individual popularity, combining rainbow with brown trout has yet to yield a high population. Today, brownbows only reproduce in fish farms or labs because their spawning habits are not conducive in the wild. 

These trout are so uncommon that I’ve never seen one or heard of anyone catching one. 


Cutbows are among the most well-known hybrid trout species, combining rainbow and cutthroat trout. They are most popular in states where cutthroat and rainbows share streams and lakes

Cutbows have earned a controversial reputation, as their presence signifies over-stocking and declining native populations. In states such as Montana, where rainbow trout are a non-native species, cutthroat populations are decreasing due to hybridization with ‘bows.

Identifying cutbows can be tricky and subtle. Look for a trout with a pink cheek and a red line beneath its jaw. Like all trout species, their palette ranges from subtle to vibrant, so don’t be discouraged if identification is difficult. 

Tiger Trout

Tiger trout combines a female brown trout with a male brook trout. Some biologists reproduce tigers in a controlled setting, while others have natural reproduction. For example, Wisconsin’s brook and brown trout streams hold tigers. But they are still rare because tiger trout are sterile and do not spawn. 

This extraordinary fish’s defining features are worth a picture. Their name comes from their tiger-like stripes on an orange body. But don’t expect to catch sizable tigers. While some cite tigers as 18-20 inches, I have only caught tiger trout under 10 inches.

In my experience, when it rains, it pours: If you catch a tiger trout, chances are that stream will yield another. It’s best to keep your location a secret if this is the case.

A small tiger trout caught by David’s wife, Nataya, in western Wisconsin.
A small tiger trout caught by David’s wife, Nataya, in western Wisconsin


Splake are a hybrid between female lake trout and male brook trout. Unlike tiger trout, splake can reproduce, but this is rare due to competing spawn times and behavior. 

You will find splake in lakes rather than rivers or streams, which may sound obvious considering half their genetics come from a lake trout.

Deciphering splake from a laker comes down to size and the caudal fin. While lake trout tend to have more girth and mass, splake can be slender and long. A splake will also look like a large brook trout, but its tail fin will be forked rather than flat. 

Related Questions 

Are Hybrid Trout Sterile? 

Not all hybrid trout are sterile. The most common hybrid trout, the cutthroat, reproduces in the wild to contribute to its abundant population. 

But tiger trout are sterile and do not reproduce. Their population depends on reproduction between a male brook and female brown trout. 

Can Trout Mate With Salmon? 

In the wild, Atlantic salmon seldom reproduce with brown trout. Otherwise, there are no known cases of trout and salmon successfully reproducing. 

Fish Pic: Atlantic Salmon on a Flyrod!

Are Stocked Trout Sterile? 

Depending on the species, some stocked trout are triploids, making them sterile. The most common example is triploid rainbows. 

However, stocked brown, brook, and rainbow trout can reproduce in nature. As these groups spawn in their natural environment, they produce wild offspring. 

Native vs. Wild vs. Stocked Trout

Native trout are indigenous to the watershed they call home. These are pure breeds and the most revered type of trout. 

Wild trout are born in nature, but their predecessors were, at some point, stocked. For example, brown trout, which are native to Germany, have wild populations across the U.S. But they have wild populations across the United States. This is only possible because stocked trout from the 1880s led to generations of reproducing browns.

Stocked trout are born on a farm or hatchery and planted into a stream or lake later in life. Some stockers are fingerlings, while others are adult-sized or “brood stocked.”

Final Thoughts 

Rainbow and brown trout can breed to create a brownbow, but this is rare and happens most often in a lab. They rarely crossbreed in the wild because of differences in their spawning habits.

There is no shortage of trout hybrids in the wild. Most notable are splake, tiger, and cutthroat trout. As these populations grow, the genetic purity of native trout dwindles. 

So where do you stand? Is catching a beautiful cutthroat or tiger worth decreasing native populations?

David Linsmeyer Avatar


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