What Makes Trout Famous? It’s a Hollywood Thing

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Trout fish lying in the stone in the above the water.

If you’re a trout angler, you’re probably a lot like me. You have a love-hate relationship with The Movie. In 1992, Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer romanced the rest of the world in the film, “A River Runs Through It.” 

It simultaneously saved and ruined both trout and fly fishing.

Even if you’re not an avid trout angler, you’ve likely seen the film. And don’t be afraid to admit that the movie inspired you to pick up a fly rod and find the nearest trout stream. 

Seriously. Who doesn’t want to cast like Paul Maclean, Pitt’s character in the Norman Maclean memoir directed by Robert Redford? 

For me, the film was validating. Fly fishing and trout suddenly mattered. At the same time, as more and more anglers converted to the long rod, it became a bit more challenging to find room on the water.

 It got harder to find solitude. The influx of new anglers suddenly interested in trout was difficult to endure. 

Even where I live, in the vast American West, trout and fly fishing experienced a new and unfamiliar strain.

While trout have always been special, The Movie vaulted their notoriety into the stratosphere. To say nothing for what it did for (or to?) fly fishing. 

The Fish for Romantics

Close-up image of Brook trout below the water.
Brook trout, like most trout, are beautiful fish.

Trout have always been romanticized. So has fly fishing for trout. Indeed, in the book, “The Compleat Angler” by Sir Isaac Walton, the oft-quoted scribe notably stated, “O, sir, doubt not that Angling is an art; is it not an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly?”

Trout have been loved for centuries. They have inspired artists of all ilk, from painters and sculptors to poets and photographers. Trout might be the world’s most famous fish. 

But why? What makes them so desirable?

First, trout live in beautiful places. If you fish for wild trout, stop fishing for a minute and just look around. No matter where you are in the world, if there are wild trout, there is also very likely some amazing scenery.

Second, trout are beautiful fish. From butter-colored brown trout to deeply striped rainbows, and from mottled marble trout to brook trout in their spawning regalia, it’s tough to beat the visual appeal of trout.

But I think the real reason trout are beloved the world over is a bit more complex.

The Imperialists’ Fish

Rainbow trout are native to the western United States. Today, they’re found all over the world, including in Chile, where this rainbow was caught. 

Pardon the commentary here, but I have a few thoughts:

Trout evolved where western imperial civilizations blossomed. Wild trout evolved in temperate climates — the same climates that were hospitable to the people who, over the last millennium, have colonized much of the world. 

From the Dutch to the English and from the Portuguese to the Germans, trout have followed their imperial masters to all corners of the globe.

Brown trout led the way, making their way from the British Isles and western Europe to every other continent on the globe, save for Antarctica. Today, brown trout swim in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America and in the U.S. and Canada. 

Since the late 1800s, rainbow trout and brook trout from North America have also traveled the globe. Wherever western explorers traveled and exploited natural resources, trout have followed them

Today, two of the best places to fish for wild trout are in Patagonia and New Zealand. Both fishy destinations are thousands of miles away from the native ranges of the fish that now call both regions home. 

A sight-fisher’s game

Man standing at the grassy ground fly fisihing in the brook
Fly fishers love to cast dry flies to trout and watch them eat flies off the surface.

Another reason trout are beloved is because they can be caught in a uniquely visual fashion. Dry-fly anglers are dedicated to catching trout on the surface. 

They use “flies” meant to imitate insects a trout might normally eat, like mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. Generally speaking, the preferred method for catching trout among fly anglers is by using dry flies. 

Watching the trout eat an imitation fly is, indeed, a special thing. For many, it’s the sole motivation behind fly fishing for trout. 

Final thoughts

There are many reasons trout are famous the world over. Most recently, it’s due to the film, “A River Runs Through It,” which romanticized trout and fly fishing. 

But trout are beautiful creatures, and anglers of all stripes love to catch them. Some even love to eat them (although I can think of much more palatable fish to consume). 

Trout are also loved the world over because they have been transplanted to every continent on the planet, except for Antarctica. Trout followed colonial powers from Europe and North America to just about every corner of the globe. 

Generally speaking, wherever there is good habitat that boasts cold, clean water, you can find trout.

Finally, trout provide a uniquely visual target for anglers. They will eat dry flies on the surface, which makes them very appealing to fly fishers. 


How Were Trout Transported Around the Globe More Than 140 Years Ago?

European and American fisheries biologists packed fertilized trout eggs in barrels containing cold water. The eggs were transported in ships hulls, closer to the cool sea water. Upon arrival, the eggs were placed in coldwater streams so they could hatch.

Is “a River Runs Through It” a True Story?

The movie is based on the memoir by Norman Maclean, who wrote about his formative years in Montana. 

Are There Other Fish Besides Trout That Have Been Transplanted Around the World?

Absolutely. Today, peacock bass swim in the canals around south Florida. Arapaima from South America can now be caught in southeast Asia. Carp were propagated around the world as a source of food in developing nations. Trout weren’t the first fish transplanted, but they are likely the most popular transplant.

Why Were Brown Trout the First Trout to Be Transplanted?

Browns are native to almost every drainage in Europe, so it makes sense, as European powers colonized other continents, that brown trout would be the first trout to be introduced elsewhere. 

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