Which Trout Fight the Hardest? The Debate Rages On

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Man holding leopard-spotted rainbow trout.

The prevailing school of thought is that rainbow trout and brown trout are among the hardest-fighting trout in the world. Both are known for sheer power, particularly among bigger fish. But the rainbow trout might win out among fly fishers. When they’re hooked rainbows tend to leap from the water as they try to spit the hook.

A couple of summers ago, I gained access to a stretch of private water that flows across a cattle ranch near my home in eastern Idaho. The creek on the ranch was stocked with introduced Kamloops rainbow trout — a subspecies of rainbow trout native to the Kamloops region of British Columbia. 

Among fisheries managers the world over, the Kamloops strain of rainbows is considered to be among the strongest and most acrobatic of all trout. Many experts and anglers claim they are the hardest-fighting trout in the world. 

Rainbow trout lying in the shallow water.
The Kamloops strain of rainbow trout is widely considered to be among the hardest-fighting trout in the world.

I’d have a hard time disagreeing with either assertion. The afternoon I spent on that little creek casting wet flies to its fish more than convinced me that Kamloops rainbows are among the strongest trout I’ve ever hooked. 

In one instance, an 18-inch (about 46 centimeters) rainbow hit my Hornberg wet fly so hard that, when it leaped out of the water, it actually landed at my feet, a good meter from the water’s edge

That’s right. This fish actually jumped entirely out of the creek after it was hooked. I never experienced that before, and I haven’t since that day. But it was enough to convince me of the sheer power these trout possess. 

Open for Debate

Close up image of brown trout inside the net.
Patagonia’s brown trout are bulldogs, but they don’t jump like rainbows do.

Nevertheless, the question remains subjective. Certainly, any angler out there who has caught trout has an opinion on which trout fights the hardest. It really just depends on your own experience and what you’ve witnessed as an angler, right?

Some of you might confidently declare that brown trout are among the strongest trout. Others will happily declare that brook trout are the winners of the pound-for-pound contest. I’d be silly to argue with any of you. 

I’m lucky enough to have caught trout all over the world. I’ve caught big browns and rainbows in Patagonia. I’ve brought trophy rainbows to the net in Alaska. I’ve hooked and landed trophy brook trout in Ontario, cutthroat trout in the American West, steelhead in Washington and sea trout in Iceland

Truth is, they’re all very strong. I would give the edge to trout that migrate to and from the sea when it comes to sheer power. There’s nothing like hooking a steelhead fresh from the Pacific or a sea-run brown trout from the north Atlantic. 

But does sheer strength translate into fighting ability? That’s the question, right?

Fighting for Their Lives

Remember, every time you hook a trout, you’re forcing it into a battle for its existence. It’s in the fight of its life with you. It has no idea that you plan to release it (or harvest it, for that matter). It is simply fighting for survival. 

So, of course it’s going to fight hard. 

But I’ve never had any freshwater trout fight harder than the famous leopard-spotted rainbow trout of southwest Alaska. These rainbows swim the waters of the Bristol Bay drainage, and they are tailwalking brutes when they are hooked. 

They have evolved in a harsh environment. As fry (young fish), they are chased by predators like lake trout, northern pike and Dolly Varden. As they get older, they become the predators, and they feed on salmon fry and salmon eggs. They have even been known to eat mice. 

For whatever reason, these are the hardest-fighting trout I’ve ever encountered. Alaskan rainbows don’t just fly out of the water. They pull hard, and they use the current to make it tougher to land them. 

One other thought that leads me to believe I’m not alone in my opinion. Rainbow trout are, by a wide margin, the species that is most-often stocked for anglers to enjoy. Their reputation for being great fighters makes them beloved by anglers everywhere. 

Jumping Doesn’t Equal Fighting Power

Rainbow trout jump above the water.
Alaska’s rainbow trout jump high and pull like freight trains.

Just because a trout leaps from the water when it’s hooked doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stronger than another trout of a different subspecies. 

Many anglers love rainbow trout because they are prone to jumping when they’re hooked. Others love brown trout because they dive deep and pull like bulldogs

In rare instances, a hooked fish will both jump and pull like a freight train. These are the fighting champs, in my humble opinion. And that’s what you get when you hook a 26-inch rainbow from a Bristol Bay river. 

Final Thoughts

Man holding the rainbow trout under the water.
The rainbows of Patagonia fight hard, but not as hard as their brethren in Alaska.

While I believe that Alaskan rainbows are the hardest-fighting trout, I won’t dispute that other anglers might have a different opinion. And I respect all of the opinions, given that most are based on real-life experience. 

While Patagonian brown trout are truly powerful and cunning when they fight, I’d have to give the edge to Alaskan rainbows. I’ve caught and landed both. I think the rainbows from the Bristol Bay region fight with more desperation than the big browns and the transplanted rainbows of Chile and Argentina. 

Again, there’s likely no definitive answer. But experience has convinced me that rainbows fight harder than other trout.

But remember this: any trout you hook is going to give you the fight of its life. 


What Trout Jumps From the Water the Most?

Rainbow trout are prolific leapers. When they’re hooked they will very often jump out of the water.

What’s the Hardest-fighting Trout?

It’s a subjective question, but most fly fishers would likely tell you that rainbows are the hardest-fighting trout. 

What’s the Strongest Trout?

Again, subjective. And I would venture that you’ll get different answers here. Because brown trout tend to pull hard and dive deep, many anglers would likely say a brown trout is the strongest trout. 

What’s the Biggest Trout?

The biggest trout is the taimen, which is native to Mongolia and Siberia. 

Chris Hunt Avatar


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