One Special Fin

A discussion of native trout and the difference they make.

Nick Siino and Max McCool

1/5/20242 min read

One Special Fin

Every trout has a dorsal fin— a large fin on the crux of its back. Every trout has pectoral, pelvic, and ventral fins on its underside. And finally, every trout has a tail fin. Some trout have one more: an adipose fin. There’s some debate in the scientific community on what this extra fin does, if anything. Some of the trout you catch probably won’t have one, but some will, and those are the special ones. They’re wild. And if you’re really lucky, they might even be native. Native fish are natural inhabitants of the river. Their populations were there before human intervention, and they did not grow up in hatcheries and they are as important to the ecology of our rivers as the river itself. While this fin may seem unimportant at a glance, to us, it means everything.

Before releasing trout, hatcheries clip these fins so we can identify them later. This helps scientists and anglers get a sense of how many have been put in the river versus how many were already there, and helps determine which trout anglers can take on most rivers. The history of this practice is best learned from scientific articles, however, and that's a separate post. The purpose of this article is to celebrate the adipose fin— a reminder of a wilder time before our environment was engineered by humans. Native trout were here long before us and they will always be here if we do our part to conserve their environments.

Catching a native trout is a special experience, and you can almost always tell from the first second you feel it. That brief interaction connects us to our land and reminds us of the way things were. More importantly, they are sensitive species, sometimes referred to as indicator species. They won’t tolerate water that’s too warm, dirty, or lacking in insects. They need tree cover and steadily flowing water. When you find yourself holding one, you know there’s hope for that water; it’s healthy enough to support a delicate species. Native trout are a benchmark for steam conservation. The better we do, the more there will be.

We started Basalt to Breakers to protect these fish and their native waters. We encourage responsible angling as a means for Oregonians to connect with their local environment. Most importantly, we started this project to inspire advocacy for a healthier environment that can be enjoyed for years to come, for the native trout and the people that rely on their native ecosystems -- all of us.

Please feel free to take a look at some our initiatives and what we are doing to preserve native trout populations in Oregon. If you are able, your donations are greatly appreciated and help us impact the future of native trout in Oregon. We will also be releasing additional details for the Oregon Native Trout Challenge soon, so be sure to follow us for updates.