There are Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) found throughout this planet but I honestly consider the Leopard Rainbows of Alaska to be a species of their own. Scientific nomenclature does not however take into account my opinion but anyone who has had the privilege of catching Leopard Rainbows in Alaska surely knows what I am saying. The power when fighting these fish and the sheer beauty when admiring them cannot be matched.
Rainbow Trout are fished for throughout the United States but they are actually native to parts of Alaska. There are Rainbows who after they are born leave the freshwater by migrating to the ocean. They then mature in the salt before migrating back to their natal river. This type of Rainbow Trout is commonly called a Steelhead. The Rainbow Trout we are talking about today are ones that spends their entire life in freshwater. As juveniles, a Rainbow Trout and a Steelhead are indistinguishable but as they mature, they go through different physical changes. Even between just stream-resident Rainbow Trout, differences in general appearance occur based on factors such as diet and habitat. Freshwater Rainbow’s will display a brighter pink stripe and heavier spotting patterns. The contrasting spotted patterns on Rainbow’s that are residents of certain Alaskan streams earned them the nickname of “Leopard” Rainbows.
There are several rivers throughout the state of Alaska that boast Leopard Rainbows but we think they were perfected in the water of the Kanektok River. These beasts seem pretty far removed from the Rainbows of the lower 48 that delicately sip on midge emergers. These Rainbows are voracious carnivores. Their diet consists of salmon flesh, egg clusters, sculpins and our personal favorite, rodents. “Mouse fishing for Leopards” is a term that may sound foreign in most social circles but gets the adrenaline pumping in ours. We will target these beasts both from the jet boat or on foot in small braided channels. Anything less than a 6 wt and you are bringing a knife to a gun fight.
The uniqueness of the Leopard Rainbow fishing on the Kanektok is one that cannot be overstated. Because of this and our admiration for these native river dwellers, we have a strict catch and release policy to protect this incredible resource. I know you have caught plenty of Rainbows before but give the Kanektok Leopards a try and we promise you that you will understand why we consider these to be a species of their own.
More Alaskan Rainbows: