Historically, locals have been aware of the peculiar characteristics of the native Brown Trout that inhabits the Pyrenean waters, but it was not until 2001, when Salvelinus denominated it “Zebra Trout” for the first time that this unique species, started gaining international recognition.
Four dark stripes cover its body vertically, hence its name. The Zebra Trout is able to modify its color pattern in a way never witnessed in another trout species. This cunning creature can change colors between stripes into yellowish tones in less than 60 seconds, fusing with the plant pattern in specific river areas. Salvelinus not only named this singular trout species, but they have been the pioneers in scouting and following Zebra Trout populations throughout the Pyrenees.
The Zebra Trout; a trout like no other
When the Zebra Trout is active, one should throw the correct imitation, and make the proper presentation while remaining undetected. The first attempt must be successful. At the slightest suspicion that something is not right, these specimens will disappear towards the bottom, and will not reappear again for hours or even days.
The Zebra Trout belongs to the Mediterranean ecotype of the Brown Trout, the most ancient trout group that inhabits the rivers flowing into the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea. It was surely here where these specimens took refuge from the ice in the last glacial period; and survived. Currently, 95% genetically pure populations exist in rivers historically not repopulated or in those with particular water regimes.
Zebra Trout's behavior is an enigma, very little is known except for its impressive adaptation to the surroundings. Its body is usually pale with few spots of light coloration. The few orange, reddish, and black stains highlight its four dark stripes making it almost invisible in clear freestone rivers.
Characteristics of a master of disguise
If you visit the river focused on fishing, your experience is going to be vastly different from when you go there to learn about the behavior of a particular animal. Iván Tarín has invested thousands of hours of observation in better understanding the Zebra Trout. He only speaks of what he has witnessed, and for Iván, the Zebra trout looks nothing like the other trouts he has encountered in Europe, England, Slovenia, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina, Iceland, or the United States.
Zebra Trouts are increasingly wary and very selective in which food items they will respond to. They systematically stop eating, remain still, and lose interest in any fly, artificial or natural, once the lure has been refused. Changing flies will not work once the Zebra Trout is alert. After a scare, it will take them several hours to recover their normal behavior.
Bites often come when they are least expected. When a Zebra Trout grabs the fly it is time to set the hook as fast as possible – they can take the fly and spit it back out in a nanosecond to disappear like a greased lightning into the bottom of the river.
The Zebra Trout is the oldest trout species in Europe and one of the most powerful, being able to jump containment dams and small man-made dams in a single attempt. With pectoral fins one-third of their body length when juvenile, the strength of these trouts is famous. Hook into a twelve-inch trout on a 4’ or even 5’ fishing rod, and, if you are able to horse it in, you would think you would have caught something much larger. Similarly, if you lack finesse when fishing the fine tippets required to fool rising fish in even fast water, you will be losing fish and flies.
The oldest specimens acquire mostly nocturnal habits. Their hard mouths, powerful fins, cunning, level of awareness and experience make deceiving one of these monsters an arduous task. Some lower reaches in freestone rivers grow unusually large specimens reaching incredible sizes.
Studying the magnificent Zebra Trout is taking Iván Tarín a lifetime.
A living fossil with picky eating habits
The diet of the Zebra Trout changes as the fish gets older. Zebra Trout begins by eating mostly invertebrates and crustaceans. But as they grow older and increase in size, their diet starts to focus on other fish and small mammals. Anglers can use large streamers and even traditional featherwings.
”I look into a deep river pool and see a giant Zebra Trout jetting off, under the deep well there were strong waters, a chaos of rocks and rapids. The scared trout, instead of swimming upstream into the deep pool, turned around and threw itself downstream like the devil jumping over the rapids. All of it without being hooked! A unique reaction.Iván TarínFounder of Salvelinus
”I see a 22-inch Zebra Trout from a bridge when a fisherman approaches. He gets closer, and as soon as his lure gets in contact with the water, the trout, which was 20 m (65 ft) away from where the lure was, submerges into the canyon depths and disappears forever.Iván TarínFounder of Salvelinus