Cutthroat trout have similar diets to most other trout species. They feast on insects, crustaceans, leeches, worms, and smaller fish. They use their aggression and ambush-style hunting skills to feed. Wherever you’re targeting them, assume most of their diet is local insects followed by the larger prey.
Cutthroat trout are sensitive fish. There are over a dozen subspecies found all over the Western United States. Their native populations are fighting hard to stay alive and thrive despite growing populations of other trout and changing water conditions. Thankfully, their aggression and a large diet keep them near the top of the food chain in the lakes, streams, and rivers where they dwell.
Nothing gets trout as active as a healthy insect hatch. Mayflies, Caddisflies, Midges, Stoneflies, and Terrestrials top a cutthroat’s list. Since many live in areas ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the far West Coast, they have ample insect life to feed upon.
Many insects cutthroat eat are born and grow up in the water, so they eat them in all forms. When insects aren’t swarming the surface, cutthroat trout poke and prod along the bottom of the water column in search of larvae and nymphs. These insects, at their young stages, make for easy targets.
Nymphs attach themselves to rocks, aquatic vegetation, and logs. Trout don’t have to work hard to find larger nymph populations. They make for easy meals, and some insects like stoneflies have nymphs that grow over an inch long, so enough of them fill up trout.
As insects near their adult stage, they drift towards the surface. When their wings escape the protective casing, they’ll sit on the surface and wait for them to dry. These insects are known as emergers. They’re some of the easiest targets for trout. Their wings don’t work to escape, so they’re vulnerable.
When an insect’s wings fully dry, they’re in the adult stage. Trout anglers affectionately call these insects “dries,” meaning they sit on the surface with dry wings ready to fly away and mate.
If you’ve seen a swarm of insects near the surface, these are known as hatches. As a fly angler, it’s one of my favorite sites. It means trout are looking at the surface and willing to leave their cover and structure in pursuit of food.
Trout love adult insects. They’re easy to find and eat. Hatches occur all year round, so trout never stop eating them.
In the warmer months, cutthroat wait for the terrestrial insects to hit the water. Beetles, ants, and grasshoppers are their favorites. These insects are large, clumsy, and offer a tasty meal. They hit the water in July and leave by September.
Cutthroat also love crustaceans. Crayfish, scuds, shrimp, and sowbugs are the most common crustaceans trout find. Mysis Shrimp are easy for trout to find in the Western United States. They fill the reservoirs and tailwaters due to the low water temperatures. They migrate through the seasons, so trout always have access to them.
Scuds look similar to shrimp, but their exoskeleton and seven pairs of legs make them different. You’ll find them in lakes, spring creeks, and areas with thick vegetation. The cutthroat living in freestone mountain streams aren’t eating scuds.
Sowbugs sit on the bottom of tailwaters and spring creeks and inch along. Unlike scuds, they’re not overly active and give cutthroats easy access.
Crayfish are more rare in cutthroat waters. Cutthroat like water temperatures between 40 and 55 degrees, and crayfish thrive in warmer waters. However, big tailwaters in the West have populations of crayfish. Cutthroat won’t pass up a crayfish if the opportunity to eat one presents itself.
Leeches and Worms
Leeches and worms live in all different water types. Lakes, rivers, and streams hold populations of leeches. Worms wash into the water after heavy rains. They’re not challenging for cutthroat to catch. The larger cutthroat make leeches and worms a priority. Some can grow over 20 inches, so they’re one of the larger meals cutthroat find.
The larger the cutthroat, the more fish they eat. They’ll eat minnows, smaller cutthroat, and other trout. They’re rich in protein and greatly assist in helping the cutthroat trout grow. Trophy cutthroats don’t eat as many insects if they can access smaller fish populations.
They make for easy meals and fill them up faster than anything else they’ll find.
As a fly angler, a cutthroat-eating fish makes me smile. I can tie on my streamers and see if I can get a trophy to strike.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Cutthroat Trout’s Favorite Food?
Insects are cutthroat trout’s favorite food. Adults, emergers, nymphs, and larvae are all eaten by cutthroat. They eat insects starting at a young age and never stop.
What is the Best Bait for Cutthroat Trout?
Fish eggs, minnows, leeches, crustaceans, and worms work well for cutthroat trout. Make sure you check local regulations before you use live bait. Many states only allow fly fishing for cutthroat with single, barbless hooks.
Do Cutthroat Trout Eat Mayflies?
Yes, cutthroat love mayflies. They’re easy to catch and eat at all times of the year.
Cutthroat trout are voracious eaters. They feed at all times of the year in various conditions. You’ll catch them if you can use a lure or fly that represents the food they’re eating. Insects, crustaceans, worms, leeches, and smaller fish comprise most of a cutthroat’s diet.