Trout vs. Salmon: All You Need to Know
May 13, 2019 | 4 minute read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you only know the names of two fish in the world, they’ll probably be Salmon and Trout. These guys are the most popular fish on the market. They’re also the reason fly fishing – arguably, sportfishing in general – exists. People have stocked Trout and Salmon in the most remote corners of the planet, from Argentina to Tasmania and well beyond. But what makes a species Trout vs. Salmon?

An Atlantic Salmon, often mistaken for a Brown Trout, being held out of the water by an angler before being released.
Is this a Trout or a Salmon, and what does that mean, anyway?

There’s a lot of confusion around this famous fishy family. In this short guide, you can learn the difference between Trout and Salmon. Find out how the families fit together and which ones are the tastiest in each group.

Trout vs. Salmon: Meet the Family

You might expect “Trout” and “Salmon” to be some scientific classification. It’s not at all. Is it to do with where they live, then? Nope. The names are actually more branding than biology. For example, Atlantic Salmon is more closely related to Brown Trout than other Salmon species. We’ve covered North America’s Trout and Salmon in more detail elsewhere. For now, here’s a rough guide to how they all fit together:

A chart showing the various families Trout and Salmon fit into. On the left, The fish are listed as Salmon vs. Trout. On the right, they are grouped into their scientific families: Pacific Trouts and Salmons, Atlantic Trouts and Salmons, and Chars. White, red, or black lines connect each group to show where the fish belong.

Pacific Trouts and Salmons

This is the largest group in North America. It includes five different Salmons (Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink, and Chum), as well as the two most widespread Trouts (Rainbow and Cutthroat). They traditionally live along the Pacific coast, and are a common catch from Alaska to California. These days, you can also find most of them in the Great Lakes.

Atlantic Trouts and Salmons

These are the “original” Trout and Salmon. As the name suggests, Atlantic Salmon lives in the Atlantic, and shows up both in North America and in Europe. When European settlers came to America, they named the species they discovered after their favorite fish back home. They also brought Brown Trout with them, which isn’t native to North America.

Chars

You may have never heard of Char, but it’s actually the most widely-spread group of them all. Chars are a type of salmonid that are specially designed to survive in freezing temperatures. They live in cold, northern waters all around the world. Most of the ones in North America are in Canada and Alaska, so American anglers don’t tend to come across them as much.

What tastes better, Trout or Salmon?

A Sockeye Salmon laid on ice at a fish market. There is another Salmon half-submerged in ice behind it, and the tail of a different fish in the top right corner. A sign at the top of the image reads "Sockeye Salmon $10,35/lb"

This is the most important point for a lot of people. Obviously, they don’t all taste the same. Some Salmon taste better than some Trout and vice versa. Here are the most common species for sale in North America, and how they compare as food.

Rainbow Trout

Most of the Trout for sale in North America is Rainbow Trout. The pinkish meat is mild and delicate, and they’re generally the perfect serving size for one per person. Rainbow Trout doesn’t usually taste too “fishy.” It can sometimes have a slight muddy taste, though, depending on where it was raised.

Steelhead Trout

This is actually the ocean-going version of Rainbow Trout. Despite that, the two do taste a little different. A life at sea and a different diet give Steelhead a slightly fresher flavor, with none of the muddy backtaste. They also tend to have darker, fattier meat, similar to Salmon.

Sockeye Salmon

Three raw Sockeye Salmon fillets on a wooden board, with green herbs and salt and pepper laid around them as decoration. The red color of the fish is a clear sign that this is Salmon vs. Trout, which is usually more pink.
Sockeye meat is much redder than most Salmon.

Sockeye are widely considered to be the tastiest of the Pacific Salmons. They’re also the most expensive. Their meat is a deep red, much darker than other fish in the family. Sockeye fillets are the highest in fat, giving them extra flavor and allowing them to cook through without going dry.

Chinook Salmon

Chinook is also premium table fare, even rivaling Sockeye for some people. The meat is usually softer than other Salmon species, with a distinctly rich and buttery flavor. It has a little less fat than Sockeye, though, and isn’t quite as red. Chinook are also the biggest Salmon, if you’re looking to put on a feast.

Atlantic Salmon

Wild Atlantic Salmon is too tasty for its own good. The species was overfished for decades and is now endangered in the wild. Pretty much all Atlantic Salmon is farmed these days. Even so, it’s delicious. The meat is milder and less fatty than other Salmon species, and breaks into large, moist flakes when cooked.

And the Rest!

There are a load more fish to choose from. Most of them are delicious. The one to avoid is Chum Salmon, which is considered the least tasty of the bunch. Chars are generally a lot more oily (especially Lake Trout). If oily fish are your thing, you’re in for a treat. If not, it may be best to stick with staple food fare like Steelhead Trout and Salmon.

Trout and Salmon: The World’s Favorite Fish

A Rainbow Trout being held just above the water by an angler before being released. Water drips off the fish's head, and the angler holds the fish gently around the middle and tail.

The world would be a very different place without Trout and Salmon. They’re some of the tastiest and hardest-fighting fish out there. Whether you’re a fly fishing fanatic or just fond of seafood, you’ve got to save a little place in your heart for this whole family of fish. Hopefully, you now know a little more about how the family fits together, and the main types you’ll find at your local fish market.

What’s your favorite species of Salmon or Trout to catch? Which one do you think is the tastiest? Drop us your fish tales and recipes in the comments below, we’re always happy to hear from you!

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