Little Kern Golden Trout

Oncorhynchus mykiss whitei

Native Trout Fly Fishing

A Little Kern Golden trout from a meadow stream in the Sierras


The Little Kern golden trout is native to the Little Kern River and its tributaries. Little Kern goldens have been isolated from contact with other forms of trout for a long time and share the closest relationship with fish from the South Fork of the Kern River and Golden Trout Creek. While the California golden trout get all of the recognition for being one of the world's most beautiful trout, the Little Kern golden is only slightly less colorful and still is a very beautiful fish.

Life History Information

The Little Kern River drainage is comprised of small stream habitat and as such these fish only exhibit a stream resident life history. Under these conditions the Little Kern goldens reach a maximum size of about 12 inches, with an average of about 5 - 7 inches (Behnke 2002). These trout usually reach sexual maturity at about 3-4 years old and spawn in late May or early June after runoff has subsided. The typical female will lay between 41 and 65 eggs per year, which hatch after about 26 days at 54 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (USFWS 2007). The preferred habitat of the Little Kern golden trout is pools with undercut banks and their diet is made up of aquatic and terrestrial insects.


In 1978 the Little Kern golden trout were list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), when it became evident that these fish were vanishing throughout much of their native range. At the time they were listed the 100 stream miles of habitat that they once called home had been reduced to just ten miles of small streams (Moyle et al. 2008). As with other species of trout the leading causes of the decline of this fish has been the introduction of non-native trout and habitat degradation. Like other isolated subspecies of trout the Little Kern golden trout are very poor competitors and the introduction of brown, brook and rainbow trout has devastating impacts on them. Beyond competition, hybridization with introduced rainbow trout dilutes the gene pool and eventually leaves a hybrid swarm behind where a pure population once existed. Livestock grazing also occurs in the watershed and can have a significant impact on quality of habitat available to these fish. Effects on habitat include increased sedimentation and nutrient loads, changes in stream channel morphology and a reduction of shade and cover (Knapp and Mathews 1996). There are approximately 150 miles of trails in the Little Kern drainage and recreational use of the area may have negative impacts on the fish, with pack animals having similar impacts as grazing by livestock (USFWS 2007).


The Little Kern golden trout has a slightly subdued coloration when compared to the California golden trout and is somewhat intermediate between the California golden and the Kern River rainbow trout. The back on the Little Kern golden trout is an olive-green or coppery color and transitions to golden yellow color below the lateral line, which can be quite bright on some individuals and dull on others. The belly on these fish is an orange color like that found on the other two Kern drainage subspecies. Purplish oval parr marks are typically retained throughout the life of these fish. The lateral band on these fish is a red-orange color and the same coloration is found on the gill plates. Little Kern golden trout typically have more spots than the California golden and the spots are generally only found above the lateral line as well as on the caudal and dorsal fins. The fins are an orange or yellow color and the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins have a dark border tipped with white, or orange on the dorsal fin.

Stream Resident Form

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Native Range

Native Trout Fly Fishing

A map of the native range of the Little Kern Golden trout. Data Source: Behnke (2002).