List of Common Jackson Lake Fish Species [Updated]
Jackson Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the United States. Standing 2,064 meters above sea level, Jackson Lake spans 25,540 acres and has a maximum depth of 438 feet. This lake was originally a smaller natural body of water that was created by glacial gouging and melting, but the lake has since been enlarged by humans.
The first enlargement of Jackson Lake was in 1911, when the concrete version of the Jackson Lake Dam was completed. The Jackson Lake Dam impounds the Snake River where the original lake started, and the purpose of building this dam was to increase storage capacity and control water flow for irrigation purposes. Prior to 1911, a dam made out of logs and dirt was completed in 1907 at Jackson Lake to help control the spring floodwaters, but it was only able to raise the elevation of the lake by a few feet.
This temporary dam did end up failing in 1910, which is why the Bureau of Reclamation decided to rebuild the dam using more reliable and permanent materials in the 1911 version of the dam. In 1916, the Jackson Dam was raised 17 more feet from its original height, which increased its storage capacity to 847,000 acre-feet. The Jackson Dam and Jackson Lake continued to be great resources for years for farmers who needed help during times of drought, but in the late 1970s and 1980s, the structural integrity of the dam was called into question.
Jackson Lake was kept at a lower level to prevent a dam break during this time, and in 1989, the foundation of the dam was completely replaced and a grout curtain was installed to make the dam stronger. Today, the Jackson Dam stands sturdy and allows Jackson Lake to be a plentiful resource of water as well as a large and safe recreation area for visitors.
What Activities Are Available at Jackson Lake?
Jackson Lake is a beautiful destination for outdoor lovers, and is located in the southwest region of Grand Teton National Park. The park is full of diverse wildlife that can be spotted during wildlife viewing tours including river otters, ospreys, eagles, moose, and the famous elk. In fact, elk are such a signature species to the Jackson Hole area that one of the 15 different islands found in Jackson Lake is called Elk Island!
Elk Island, as well as the other islands, make popular camping destinations for visitors. Of course, to get to these islands, visitors need a boat, so Grand Teton National Park offers boat rentals for those who want to explore the islands as well as participate in watersports or fish. Fishing is another great activity to partake in at Jackson Lake. Because the waters of Jackson Lake are cold and can run very deep, there are a number of popular cold-water fish species that anglers love to catch. Below are the most common types of fish species found in Jackson Lake.
List of Fish Species in Jackson Lake
1) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout are a popular sportfish at Jackson Lake. This species prefers to live in slow-moving, deep streams, but they are also known to inhabit lakes and marine environments, especially when stocked, like in lakes. Brown trout have a brown or olive green body with dark colored spots, and their undersides are tannish. Adult brown trout range from about 7 – 22 inches in length and weigh anywhere from 1 – 52 pounds. Female brown trout tend to have a larger abdomen and a smaller head compared to males.
Brown trout are very active and sociable fish. Social hierarchies are formed within populations and the males that exhibit the most assertive behaviors, such as quivering, charging, and biting, are at the top of the hierarchy. Brown trout primarily feed on invertebrates and crustaceans, but larger individuals will prey on other fish.
Brown trout have been introduced to waters all over the world, and they are considered invasive in many areas. While they are a popular sport fish, brown trout seem to be having many negative impacts on ecosystems including the decline of other fish species, as well as the alteration of algal biomass in certain waters.
2) Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii behnkei)
Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout are a subspecies of cutthroats that can only be natively found in the Snake River and the river’s drainage areas. It is believed that this subspecies diverged from the Yellowstone cutthroat trout subspecies when a population of Yellowstone cutthroats was isolated in the Snake River after the last Ice Age; however, these two subspecies are genetically identical, so it is hard to be certain.
Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout have olive backs and silvery sides as well as deep red or orange fins. These fish get the “fine-spotted” part of their name from the very small dark spots that fill their bodies, which are smaller than any other spots on other trout species. Just like all cutthroat trout subspecies, Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout also have red or orange slash marks under their jaw. This subspecies can grow upwards of 20 inches in length and weigh up to three pounds.
Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout are known for being feisty and aggressive, which makes them great predators as they mature. Juveniles will primarily eat aquatic insects up until about the age of three, when they become sexually mature. As adults, these cutthroat trout will hunt for other smaller fish species.
Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout have healthy populations within their native range, but they are still threatened by the alteration and blocking of spawning waters resulting from farming, logging, and dam building. In Jackson Lake, the daily creel limit for all trout species (excluding the non-native brook and lake trout) is six fish.
3) Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)
Lake trout are also another desirable sportfish species in Jackson Lake. These fish are mainly found in lakes with very high concentrations of dissolved oxygen, and they are able to survive in deep, cold bodies of water that are low in nutrients. Lake trout have a greenish-colored body that is full of cream-colored spots from the head all the way to the tail, and the lower fins are usually an orange-red color. This species has an average length of 19.7 inches and usually weighs 5 – 15 pounds, but they can get much larger as well.
Lake trout are solitary except during breeding season in September and October. They are piscivores, but if this species has to move to deeper water in the warmer summer months to keep cool, they may have to feed entirely on zooplankton.
Lake trout are an extremely popular sport fish and have been introduced to waters all over the globe including South America and New Zealand. Lake trout are threatened by overfishing and the predation of sea lampreys, but there are many restocking programs that help maintain the lake trout population. The daily creel limit for lake trout in Wyoming is currently six fish, and only one of these fish may be longer than 24 inches.
4) Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Chinook salmon are found in cold clear river systems, much like that of the upper Snake River. This species can be identified by its blue-green back, silver sides, and white belly. There are black speckles spotted along the back, dorsal fin, and tail fin, and they also have relatively small eyes as well as blackish gums. During spawning season, both male and female Chinook salmon turn a reddish color on their sides, but the sexes can be distinguished by the hooked nose and rigid back that the males possess.
Chinook salmon are the largest of the salmon family, and they can easily reach over five feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. Adult Chinook salmon primarily feed on other fishes in the ocean, but the fry and smolt salmon will eat plankton, terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods, and crustaceans.
5) Mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni)
Mountain whitefish are a coldwater species that can be found in streams and lakes with clear waters like Jackson Lake. This species is characterized by its long, slender body with a brown or olive back, silver sides, and white belly. These fish also have short heads with slightly pointed snouts. Mountain whitefish generally grow to about 10 – 16 inches in length in Wyoming. This species has a very small mouth with a tooth patch on the tongue, which they use to eat plankton in the lake, but they can also eat some insects as well.
Mountain whitefish are typically sexually mature at three years of age. These fish wait until the cooler months of late October to early November to spawn, when water temperatures range from 34 – 44°F. Mountain whitefish prefer to be in waters with gravel bottoms because females will broadcast spawn and up to 4,000 of their eggs will lay on the rocky substrate. Males will then swim by the eggs and release sperm to fertilize the eggs at the bottom of the water.
Mountain whitefish develop more slowly compared to some other fish species. Once fertilized, their eggs will develop over the winter for about 6 – 10 weeks, and they will hatch in the spring. Like many other juvenile fish, mountain whitefish fry will feed on zooplankton. In the Snake River area, the creel limit for whitefish species is 25 fish.
6) Utah chub (Gila atraria)
Utah chubs prefer to live in highly vegetated areas over sandy or muddy substrate in Jackson Lake. These fish have deep, compressed bodies with olive or dark blue backs, yellowish sides, and light bellies. Their fins are a dull olive or yellow color, and they have relatively large eyes. Utah chubs generally grow to about 5 – 8 inches and usually weigh around one pound. These fish have a terminal mouth that they use to eat aquatic plants, insects, and crustaceans.
Utah chubs will become sexually mature at around three or four years of age. In late spring or early summer, mature Utah chubs will find shallower waters less than a meter deep to spawn. Female Utah chubs will swim along the bottom of the shallow water and randomly release eggs into the water. Two to six males will swim behind the female and release sperm in hopes of fertilizing as many of the females’ eggs as possible. Once the eggs are fertilized, they will hatch in about one week, but the timing will depend on how warm the water is. Fry Utah chubs will primarily eat zooplankton until they become large enough for an adult diet.
7) Utah sucker (Catostomus ardens)
Utah suckers are a common fish in Jackson Lake, and they are often found near vegetation in water systems. These fish are characterized by their elongated bodies with dark backs, white bellies, and yellowish sides with a rosy hue. Utah suckers have slightly sloped heads and terminal mouths with thick lips, like most suckers.
This species is relatively large for a sucker, as they can reach up to 25 inches in length. In fact, there was a massive Utah sucker that was caught in Jackson Lake during a fish survey that weighed 9.25 pounds! To grow to these large sizes, Utah suckers graze on the lake floor, consuming mainly algae, but they can also eat aquatic insects.
8) Longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae)
Longnose dace are a type of minnow that is widely distributed throughout North America because they are adaptable to almost any kind of water conditions. Their most preferred habitat, however, is cold, fast-flowing water, although they can be found in lakes as well. In lakes, longnose dace can be found where there are rocky substrates and slightly turbulent water.
This species has a darker olive or brown body and a lighter yellow underside. These fish also have dark lateral lines as juveniles, but this line fades as the fish matures. Longnose dace vary in size depending on population density and available resources, but in lakes, these fish grow to about 2 – 3 inches in length and are very light in weight.
Longnose dace have interesting feeding practices that are not often seen in the cyprinid family. These fish have eyesight that is adapted to the dark, which allows them to be nocturnal foragers. A study has shown that longnose dace can see best at dusk, but they resort to feeding at night to possibly reduce the risk of predation.
Longnose dace have a snout that protrudes over their subterminal mouth, and they have small barbels on the corners of their mouths that are believed to help them forage. When it gets dark, longnose dace will search the bottom of water systems with their eyesight and barbels for benthic invertebrates including midges and mayflies.