List of Fish Species in Shoshone Lake 2022 [updated]

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Shoshone Lake
Shoshone Lake is a beautiful safe haven for wildlife, located in Yellowstone National Park. Dirtsc, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shoshone Lake is Yellowstone National Park’s second largest lake, which is located in Teton County, Wyoming. Shoshone Lake is the primary headwater of the Lewis River, and the lake covers 8,050 acres and has a maximum depth of 205 feet. Shoshone Lake was long used by Native Americans in the area, but it was not until the mid-1800s that white settlers began exploring the lake and the surrounding rivers.

During this time, fur trappers utilized the lake for its resources, and the hunters referred to the Shoshone as the “Snake Lake,” dubbed by fur trapper James Gemmell. The lake was then referred to as “DeLacy’s Lake” in 1863, then later changed to “Madison Lake,” then “Washburn Lake.” Finally, Shoshone Lake received its permanent name in 1872 when Frank Bradley, a geologist that was part of the Hayden Survey, decided that the lake should be named “Shoshone”, which was a Native American name for “Snake River.” The name seemed appropriate considering that Shoshone Lake is part of the Snake River drainage system and has a long Native American history.

Today, Shoshone Lake remains a beautiful safe haven for the wildlife of Yellowstone National Park because it is not a high-traffic area, as it’s not accessible by road. Instead of driving, visitors must hike or bike to the lake using one of three trails, or they can kayak or canoe through the Lewis River up into the lake. Despite not being the easiest lake to access, Shoshone Lake rewards visitors’ determination with stunning views and opportunities for activities.

There are only a few species of fish in the lake because, historically, the lake was barren of fish up until the late 19th century due to waterfalls; however, Shoshone Lake did eventually get stocked with different fish. Below are the fish species that can be found in Shoshone Lake today.

List of Fish Species in Shoshone Lake

1) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)

Brown trout
Adult brown trout are 7 – 22 inches in length, on average. Teresa Mayfield / CC BY 4.0

Native to Eurasia and northern Africa

Brown trout are the most popular sportfish at Shoshone 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 Shoshone Lake. 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) Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

Brook trout underwater
Brook trout require clear, cool, highly-oxygenated water in lakes to survive. Marcial Reiley / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Brook trout can reside in rivers and streams as well as in marine environments, and for each habitat, brook trout have very specific environmental conditions that need to be met in order to survive. In lakes, brook trout need clear, cool, and well-oxygenated water in order to survive. Brook trout are characterized by having a dark green or brown back that fades into silver-colored sides. They have cream-colored wavy lines along their heads and back that turn into spots on their sides, and they also have red and blue spots speckled across their body. Brook trout are around 12 – 20 inches long and weigh 2 – 13 pounds on average.

Brook trout are relatively aggressive fish that tend to live solitary lives, and they will resort to more aggressive behaviors when there is a shortage of food or space or if there is an unfavorable change in environment. These fish are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything that finds its way into the water including insects, worms, fish, salamanders, and even small rodents. Because brook trout are extremely sensitive to their environment and need perfect conditions to thrive, there are many threats to their populations. Some of the biggest threats include urbanization and climate change, but scientists are working hard to figure out how to help save this species, and efforts are being made to help keep their populations high in number.

3) Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

Lake trout in hands
Lake trout are popular sportfish that can be caught in Shoshone Lake. Lauren McLaurin / CC BY 4.0

Native to northern North America

Lake trout are also another desirable sportfish species in Shoshone 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 lake trout populations. The possession limit for brown, brook, and lake trout combined in Shoshone Lake is five fish, and only one of these fish can be a brown trout.

4) Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi)

Westslope cutthroat trout underwater
Cutthroat trout are solitary, only interacting with other trout during spawning season. James Telford / CC BY 4.0

Native to northwestern North America

Cutthroat trout have more than 10 subspecies in varying geographic locations, and each subspecies looks slightly different from the others. In Shoshone Lake, the westslope cutthroat trout is a stocked subspecies. These fish have bronze or green backs and greenish-gold sides. Much like all cutthroat trout, they also have red marks on their lower jaws and teeth on the base of their tongue called basibranchial teeth. Westslope cutthroat trout range from about 8 – 12 inches in length.

Cutthroat trout are largely solitary animals and will only interact with other trout during spawning season. This species of trout is also relatively sedentary, and will only be active to migrate or to hunt. Cutthroat trout feed on algae, small crustaceans, and insects when they are young, and adults will feed on just about anything, including other fish. Cutthroat trout are not threatened or endangered as a whole species; however, their populations are being threatened by habitat loss as well as the stocking of other trout species like the rainbow trout. Native trout species like the cutthroat trout must be released unharmed immediately if caught.

5) Utah chub (Gila atraria)

Utah chub in hand
Utah chubs have dull olive or yellow bodies and usually grow to be about 5 – 8 inches long. Bradley Rasmussen / CC BY-NC 4.0

Native to western North America

Utah chubs prefer to live in highly vegetated areas over sandy or muddy substrate in Shoshone 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. Utah chub fry will primarily eat zooplankton until they become large enough for an adult diet.

6) Mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni)

Mountain whitefish in net
If mountain whitefish are caught in Yellowstone National Park, they must be released unharmed. Micah Carrick / CC BY 4.0

Native to northwestern North America

Mountain whitefish are a coldwater species that can be found in streams and lakes with clear waters like in Shoshone 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. Mountain whitefish must be released unharmed if caught in Yellowstone National Park.

7) Mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdii)

Mottled sculpins
The mottled sculpin is a small fish that has a varied diet, including small crustaceans, aquatic insect larvae, and fish eggs. moxostoma / CC BY 4.0

Native to North America

Mottled sculpin are a native species to Yellowstone National Park, but they are not very common in Shoshone Lake. These fish prefer streams or lakes with rocky shorelines and lots of submerged coverings including vegetation and stones. Mottled sculpin have sturdy bodies that are flattened laterally. Their bodies are brown and black, and they have mottling on their whole body, which gives the fish its name. These fish also have very round heads and a small black dot on their dorsal fin.

Males and females look very similar except during breeding season, when males will develop a dark band on the first dorsal fin and a broad, orange band on the edge of the fin. Mottled sculpin are relatively small fish that average about 3 – 4 inches in length. Although small, mottled sculpin can feed on aquatic insect larvae, small crustaceans, leeches, smaller fish, fish eggs, and algae.

Mottled sculpin have a shorter lifespan of about two years, so these fish become sexually mature at one year of age. Males will build nests under rocks during early winter and late spring, and they will try to attract females to the nest by shaking their heads, raising their gills, and undulating their bodies. Once a female is close enough to the nest, the male will drag the female into the nest with its mouth, and the female will flip over and lay eggs on the nest’s ceiling. The male will block the nest to keep the female inside for a few days before he finds another female to lay eggs. The males will guard the eggs until they hatch about 17 days after fertilization, and then the young mottled sculpin will leave the nest and be on their own two weeks after hatching.

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