Do Rainbow Trout Have Scales? A Trout’s Pattern & Protection

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Close-up: Colorful trout skin with pink and brown scales.

A rainbow trout’s iconic color makes them appealing to anglers worldwide, but that beauty often overshadows their makeup and anatomy

Contrary to what you see at first, a rainbow trout’s body comprises tiny scales that give them speed and protection. 

Rainbow Trout Scales 

Although a rainbow trout’s skin appears scaleless, tiny scales cover its body. Inspect the body next time you catch a rainbow trout or any other trout species. You will notice tiny round scales enveloping the body.

Do Steelhead Have Scales? 

Steelhead and rainbow trout are the same fish but with different life cycles. Slight anatomical differences exist because of habitat and migration patterns. 

However, steelhead still have scales. Because of their larger size, a steelhead’s scales should be prominent and easy to identify. 

Rainbow Trout Color Pattern 

To many people’s surprise, a rainbow trout’s iconic color does not come from scales. Instead, their pink, green, and gray palette comes from their skin. 

But, if you’ve caught enough rainbow trout, you’ve noticed that not all trout are alike. Gender, age, habitat, and diet affect a rainbow trout’s color. In my experience, this is the beauty of trout fishing – even an underwhelming fish can have vibrant colors worthy of a picture. 

Huge trout with colorful stripes found in Barrancoso River!

How To Handle Trout 

If you’re going to catch and release trout, you should be aware of a trout’s makeup and how to preserve its health. Mucus engulfs a trout’s body to protect it from parasites and diseases. 

When handling trout, wet your hands and use a rubber net to keep them in the water. Doing so retains the protective slime for long-term health. Next time you’re watching trout videos on YouTube, check the comments. Viewers will be sure to remind the angler to wet their hands if poor handling is apparent. 

A beautiful Wisconsin brown trout safe and sound, ready for release in a rubber net.
A beautiful Wisconsin brown trout safe and sound, ready for release in a rubber net

How To Clean Trout


One benefit to harvesting trout is that cleaning these fish couldn’t be simpler. 

Some prefer keeping the trout’s head; others remove it by cutting the spine near the gills. I prefer cleaning the trout along the stream. If you do this, keep the head in case a warden needs to measure your quarry.

With a sharp knife, lay the trout belly up. Insert your knife below the trout’s gills, and run the edge through the belly to the caudal fin.

Once the belly opens, you can run your thumb along the spine to remove the insides. Next, rinse the flesh and spine to remove any intestine remnants. 

When cleaning the fish streamside, I like to place my catch in a water-filled Ziplock bag. This keeps the fish fresh for a better taste. 

Scaling Trout 

Scaling your trout is optional, and most fishermen skip this step. In fact, many people eat the skin after grilling their trout. Even if you don’t want to eat the scales, the flesh will flake off the bone and skin. 

Related Questions 

Do All Trout Have Scales?

All trout have scales, but some are harder to notice than others. For example, I find that brown trout have prominent scales despite being small. Conversely, brook trout scales are difficult to notice as their skin can be rubbery. 

Western Wisconsin Brown trout. Notice the prominent round scales along the body.
Western Wisconsin Brown trout. Notice the prominent round scales along the body

Do Salmon Have Scales? 

All salmon have scales known as cycloid scales. These scales develop markings similar to a tree. Some fish experts can estimate a salmon’s age by the marks on its scales. 

What Fish Has No Scales? 

Jawless fish, such as lampreys and hagfish, do not have scales. 

Final Thoughts 

Next time you catch a rainbow trout, examine its body – you’ll notice thousands of scales. You might even notice that these scales are clear and allow the skin’s pattern to shine through. 

Remember to wet your hands for an appropriate catch and release. If you don’t, be warned: someone will provide an immediate reminder.

David Linsmeyer Avatar


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