Oncorhynchus mykiss stonei
A McCloud River redband from a small spring fed stream in northern California
The McCloud River redband trout are native to the McCloud River in northern California above a set of barrier falls and in isolated headwater streams. These trout represent a primitive form of rainbow trout that is thought to have invaded the Sacramento River drainage prior to the arrival of coastal rainbow trout(Nieslen et al. 1999). These trout were originally described as the species Salmo stonei in 1894 in honor of Livingston Stone who operated the nation's first fish hatchery, which was located on the McCloud River.
The McCloud River redband trout exist as stream resident populations in the McCloud River and its tributaries above the Middle Falls. Many of the streams in their native range originate on the slopes of Mount Shasta, where soil is composed of porous volcanic ash and as such many of the streams are isolated bodies of water that begin as springs then sink back into the ground a short distance downstream. Trout in these small stream populations reach a maximum size of around twelve inches with a lifespan of three to seven years. The redbands found in the larger waters of the McCloud River may reach sizes of twenty inches and weights up to three pounds. McCloud River redbands are opportunistic feeders and have a diet primary composed of aquatic insects and supplemented with terrestrial insects in the summer, which may make up as much as fifty percent of their diet (Behnke 2002). These trout typically reach sexual maturity at around two years of age and spawn primarily in June (USFS 1998).
The redband trout of the McCloud River drainage are highly susceptible to hybridization with hatchery rainbow trout and pure populations are now limited to a handful of small isolated streams where hatchery trout were not stocked. Predation on juvenile redbands by brown trout and the spread of diseases from introduced fish are also thought to be a major cause of the declines of McCloud River redband populations (Moyle et al. 2008). Beyond the introduction of non-native fish, logging and grazing have degraded the quality of the stream habitat available to the McCloud redbands threatening the viability of these populations. Grazing activity has occurred since the mid 1800's when homesteaders began settling in the McCloud River basin. At that point in time there was little impact on the basin's native trout, but by the 1940's there were over 35,000 animals; primarily sheep grazing in the basin (USFS 1998). Shortly after the end of World War II grazing dropped off considerably and habitat improved, but some grazing allotments still remain today and continue to cause habitat degradation. As grazing began with the arrival of the homesteaders so did logging and although practices have improved since the 1970's it continues have impacts on the watershed to this day. The major impacts from these activities include loss of riparian habitat, trampling of the banks, sedimentation and increased stream temperatures. Due to the small isolated nature of these populations, a natural disaster could jeopardize the continued existence of these fish. This makes it important to not only maintain the populations that remain, but remove the non-native fish and restore the McCloud River redbands to their former habitat.
McCloud River redbands have an olive or bronze coloration on their backs. Their sides are a yellowish color that may be quite intense and fades toward the ventral region, with an orange coloration found on the bellies of some sexually mature individuals. There used to be some confusion as to whether these trout should be classified as rainbow or cutthroat as some individuals have an orange cutthroat mark. These fish get their name redband from a pink to brick red stripe along their lateral line, and their gill plates are a rosy or brick red color which is rather intense on some individuals. McCloud River redbands are heavily spotted above the lateral line and have a few spots below. Purplish colored elliptical shaped parr marks are often retained into maturity on stream resident fish but fade on migratory fish. The dorsal fin may be tipped with either orange or white and the lower fins are tipped with white.
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