Tiger trout are the sterile offspring of brook and brown trout that can appear in the wild, although not with consistency.
The zig-zag patterned hybrids first noticed by biologists in the 1940s are reliably reproduced in hatcheries by fertilizing brown trout eggs with brook trout milt, according to scientists.
Then the eggs are zapped with electricity.
The result is a voracious predator.
None of this Frankensteinian hocus pocus matters to anglers except that the hybrid’s appetite makes the fish easy to catch, and tiger trout can grow big.
For North Idahoans with a hankering to hook a fat, 20-inch tiger that fights like a feline, there is good news that goes by the name of Deer Creek Reservoir.
The fishing spot northeast of Orofino, surrounded by former mill towns with names like Jaype and Headquarters, has been around since 2003 when it was built to provide a recreational fishing spot for rainbow and cutthroat trout. But Idaho Fish and Game soon noticed an unwanted invasive species in the lake. Golden shiners, probably left over from a bait fisher’s bucket dump, can quickly overtake a lake, biologist Joe DuPont said.
Fish and Game purged the lake and restocked it twice, but the shiners kept returning.
That’s when the department opted for a new approach.
Tiger trout were stocked in the lake and have quickly grown big as they feed on the small bait fish.
For anglers like Thomas Lamphere of Kamiah, the fish at Deer Creek, not far from his home-based fly tying business (Lamphere Fly Fishing), are ready made for the streamers he cooks up on the tying vice.
Lamphere, who also manages Nature Spirit Fly Tying, a fly-tying material wholesaler located in nearby Kooskia, has caught a lot of big tiger trout at Deer Creek, and enjoys the experience so much that he has developed his own flies especially for the reservoir.
He secures his Idaho Flatwings, a streamer that imitates baitfish, to 12-pound fluorocarbon line that can withstand the big bangs that tiger trout make when they hit a fly.
Regular tippet? He foregoes it.
“They hit so hard, it snaps it,” Lamphere said.
Lamphear grew up on the coast and regularly chased big sea run fish with streamers. When he took the job at Nature Spirit he brought along his love of streamer fishing and uses it on the Clearwater and now, at Deer Creek.
He caught a 12-inch brook trout on his first ever cast at the lake using a 7-inch pike fly. On his next cast he caught an 18-inch tiger trout.
“On back-to-back casts,” Lamphere said.
He was hooked.
“We’ve seen 25-inch fish in there,” Lamphere said.
Although he has caught his share of 18-inch plus tigers in Deer Creek including a 21-inch fish, the trout’s rapid growth rate means many of the ones he tossed back will likely be 20-inches or bigger this year, he said.
“They grow so fast, they get nice and big,” he said.
DuPont said his department started stocking 8- to 12-inch tigers in the lake two years ago to outcompete — and feed on — the shiners and so far the strategy has worked.
“Our surveys in 2016 and 2017 found the tiger trout averaged almost 12 inches in length with several fish reaching 17 inches,” DuPont said. “Some of the tiger trout grew 5 inches within the first summer of being in the reservoir.”
Fish and Game also surveyed the tiger’s food source.
“To our pleasure their major food source was golden shiners,” DuPont said.
It wasn’t long before state record fish were being pulled from Deer Creek.
“In one amazing day in 2017, the state record was broken three times,” DuPont said.
Last year an angler set a new record with a 22-inch tiger trout.
Because of the popularity of the fishery, the Fish and Game Commission set a new rule for the lake that limits the trout take to six. Only two tiger trout may be kept, with none being under 14 inches.
Lamphere is already preparing for more of this year’s trips to the reservoir that is accessed by Highway 11 from Weippe, or from Orofino via the Grangemont Road.
“They are pretty easy to catch, and they will take just about anything,” he said.