The wilds of Southwestern Wisconsin are home to four different trout. The native species, the brook trout, is actually from the char family and has been here since the beginning. The other residents are either imports or hybrids. The import is the brown trout. Brown trout were brought here in the holds of ships by European settlers. Rainbow trout are not native to the area and are hatchery rejects. The other resident of the area is the “Tiger Trout”.
The male brook trout(above)and female brown(below) are the father and mother of the Tiger.
The tiger trout is a sterile hybrid cross between a female brown trout and a male brook trout. The fish exhibits unusual markings found in neither parent. Tiger trout are rare in the wild, appearing only in areas where brook and brown trout share spawning grounds. The cross can only happen in one direction. Brown trout sperm can not impregnate brook trout eggs due to being too large. Tiger trout follow the same life cycle as a brook trout and die out in three to five years.
Female tiger above. Male tiger below
This interspecies cross is unusual, in part because each fish belongs to a separate genus (Salvelinus for brook trout and Salmo for browns). It happens rarely in the wild, but can be (and is) easily performed by fisheries biologists or hatchery technicians.
This wild (non-hatchery) tiger trout was caught in Southwestern Wisconsin. It was caught on a silver panther martin size six by me in Crawford County Wisconsin. The majority of my 13 tigers I have caught have been caught in Crawford County. A typical tiger caught in the wild is between 8 and 16 inches long.
Male tiger above. Female Tiger Below
Tigers are pretty fish. The normal vermiculations (wormlike markings) found on the backs of most brookies become enlarged and often contorted into stripes (hence the name 'tiger'), swirls, spots, and rings. The trout also exhibit a greenish cast, which lets you know, when you hook one, that there is something different on the end of your line long before the fish is in hand. Tigers also get their name from their wild abandon when it comes to feeding.
Naturally-occuring tiger trout generally appear only in streams that have higher brook trout than brown trout populations. And while they don't appear often, they are becoming more commonly found in the Midwest and New England.
Many states throughout the United States have active stocking programs for tiger trout. Massachusetts, for example. The state record measured 26 inches and weighed 9 pounds, 7 ounces. Angler Michael Shelton caught the fish in Peters Pond, near Sandwich.
Wyoming also boasts an active stocking program. The state-record tiger was caught on July 26, 2006 by Greg Salisbury. It measured 16 1/2 inches long. The lake was stocked the year prior with 12-inch tigers.
Tiger trout were stocked in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters between 1974 and 1977, but this stopped due to poor hatch rates in Wisconsin hatcheries. The egg sacs were thin and this made a poor survival rate in fertilized eggs. All tigers caught in Wisconsin these days are the result of natural reproduction. They are not hatchery fish. Lake-run tigers had (and still have) amazing growth rates compared to small stream fish. The world record tiger trout was caught in Lake Michigan on an alewive in the middle of the night in 1978. The monster measure over 20 pounds. This is an insane growth rate for four years. Some biologists think it was a blessing in disguise that the tiger were not stocked anymore. They looked at the growth rate and the potential of the tiger trout wiping out many other native species in the Great Lakes and think “What If?”
Male Tiger above. Female tiger below.
Wisconsin has a booming population of tiger trout. Many have been caught in the last 12 years in Southwestern Wisconsin. They show no preference for flies or live bait. The best way to find a tiger is to find a stream with a large brook trout population and a stream with many springs. The springs are the key for the water temperatures to be optimal for the hybrid to gestate. Tigers are so rare in Wisconsin, they are not even mentioned in the trout fishing regulations. Most tigers are caught in tiny water and the cover is tight and a small shorter rod is recommended. Happy hunting for your “Tiger” in the wilds of the Wisconsin Driftless Area.