What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat?

Read this article before you hit the water in pursuit of cutthroat trout! It'll give you all the information you need to help you catch them.

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What do cutthroat trout eat in their day-to-day lives? Cutthroat trout have a varied diet consisting of everything from insects like nymphs, beetles and grasshoppers to fish eggs, leeches, mollusks, crustaceans and even larger prey like mice and other fish.

While cutthroat trout are surprisingly selective eaters during different seasons and at certain periods of the day, they also tend to be very opportunistic and will gorge themselves when the getting is good.

Don’t miss our Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Trout.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat?

Cutthroat trout spend 90% of their time feeding under the surface of the water on insects and other smaller prey. Worms, smaller fish and crustaceans make up some of the trout’s diet, but theyʼre also perfectly content filling themselves to the brim with as many insects as they can find.

what do cutthroat trout eat

Cutthroat Trout Eat Crustaceans

Trout are huge fans of crustaceans. Certain lakes and rivers donʼt hold populations of crustaceans due to their water temperatures, but trout will never say no to one of them if they have the chance.

A freshwater shrimp in a white backgroundShrimp

Freshwater shrimp are common in tailwaters. The cold water is a great place for these shrimp to grow.

When they begin spawning, trout will gorge themselves and eat as many as they possibly can. Freshwater shrimp are a treat for cutthroat trout.

The Avalon Shrimp is one of the best shrimp patterns.


huge crayfish on a white backgroundCrayfish

Crayfish are another treat for cutthroat trout. Generally, trout will eat these in lakes and ponds if they have a chance.

Crayfish live on the bottom of the water column, so when a fish is looking down, theyʼll be searching for crayfish. Always anticipate that trout are willing to eat a crayfish fly.


A small scud is a great cutthroat trout foodon a white backgroundScuds

Scuds are also bottom-dwelling crustaceans. When a scud is molting, their shells are soft, so cutthroat trout eat many of them at that time.

Similar to freshwater shrimp, scuds live in tailwaters and spring creeks.

Don’t forget about the fly fishing scuds technique and how to fish them.


An aquatic sowbug on a white backgroundSowbugs

Sowbugs are common in the extremely cold waters that many trout call home. Below a dam or in a spring-fed creek, youʼll find healthy populations of sow bugs.

They look similar to worms, but their harder exterior makes them a heartier meal. Plus, theyʼre available year-round.


Watch the What Do Trout Eat Video

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Cutthroat Trout Eat Mammals

Trout aren’t afraid to eat mammals if theyʼre presented with the opportunity. One mammal in particular is especially tasty to them.

a mice as fishing baitMouse

A cutthroat trout with a chance to eat a mouse is on a mission. Mice are generally eaten at night since theyʼre more likely to fall off vegetation or the bank in the dark.

Trout will feed on mice as aggressively as they will on any other type of food.

Cutthroat Trout Eat Amphibians

Amphibians arenʼt always a common food source for cutthroat trout, but their carnivorous sprit appears when one makes its way into a cutthroat trout’s feeding area. Theyʼll eat almost any amphibian they can find.

A frog on a white backgroundFrog

When frogs are spawning in the spring, the cutthroat trout are close. Not only will trout eat frog eggs, but theyʼll also eat frogs if they get a chance.

Trout living in lakes and ponds usually have the most success with frogs.


orange spotted Salamander on a white backgroundSalamander

Salamanders are an extra special treat for cutthroat trout. The warmer areas where trout live are often home to salamanders, but theyʼre not in their aquatic phase for very long.

If a trout stumbles upon one, theyʼll eat it.


Cutthroat Trout Eat Mollusks

Mollusks aren’t below cutthroat trout in any way, shape or form. Snails and mussels are easy meals, so when a trout sees one, theyʼll eat. Trout dwelling in lakes and ponds generally have more success feeding on mollusks.


snail on a white backgroundSnails

The harder exterior of a snail can be a challenge for cutthroat trout, but when theyʼre out of their shells and moving around, trout will take advantage and make a quick meal of them.

Rocky and muddy bottoms are popular places for snails to dwell.


mussel on white backgroundMussels

Mussels are an easy meal for cutthroat trout. If a lake has been taken over by zebra mussels, youʼll find trout feeding on them when they get the chance.

If it has meat, trout won’t say no! As long as theyʼre familiar with it, they’re comfortable eating it.

Cutthroat Trout Eat Worms

Cutthroat trout and worms are like two peas in a pod. Thereʼs a reason many trout waters ban the use of live bait. Itʼs too effective! Whenever a trout gets a chance to eat a worm, itʼll devour it.


A close up picture of an earthworm as fishing baitEarthworm

Earthworms donʼt commonly enter the water, but when they do, cutthroat trout eat them.

Trout living in streams and rivers generally have a better chance at scoring an earthworm since the current can wash them into the water.


A close up picture of a leech as fishing bait on a white backgroundLeech

Leeches are a favorite food of cutthroat trout living in lakes and ponds. Areas with heavy cover and vegetation generally are home to nice populations of leeches.

If a trout is able to stumble upon a few, theyʼll make a quick meal of them.

Cutthroat Trout Eat Smaller Fish

Cutthroat trout are strong predators and theyʼre not afraid to go after smaller fish in the water. Whether itʼs smaller trout, panfish, or small minnows, itʼs all fair game. If they feel as if they have a good chance to kill it, theyʼll eat it.

A close up picture of a minnow as fishing bait on a white backgroundSame Species Minnows

Cutthroat trout are known to eat spawning trout. When they become small minnows, one of their main predators is their own kind.

Trout have strong cannibalistic tendencies, so keep that in mind if youʼre fishing for them.


A close up picture of a minnows as fishing bait on a white backgroundOther Minnows

Any other minnow a trout can find swimming near them is a good meal. As soon as cutthroat trout grow over 6 or 7 inches, they begin eating and hunting with a more aggressive attitude.

Baitfish and other species of minnows will entice trout.

Cutthroat Trout Eat Fish Eggs

Fish eggs are an extremely easy meal for cutthroat trout. If theyʼre in the water with steelhead or salmon, theyʼll feast on their eggs whenever they get the chance. Theyʼll also eat other trout eggs if they can.

salmon egg for brook troutSalmon Eggs

Salmon runs throughout the summer and fall are gorging times for cutthroat trout.

They find the beds and sit downstream of them waiting for egg clumps to float their way. Trout look forward to this time of year.


Other Cutthroat Trout Eggs

If a cutthroat trout stumbles onto a red from a brown trout, theyʼre going to eat those eggs. The same thing could happen if the roles are reversed. Trout eggs are a valuable meal for larger trout.

Cutthroat Trout Eat Terrestrials

Come late summer, cutthroat trout are licking their lips in anticipation of terrestrials. Terrestrials are land-dwelling insects that fall into the water due to heavy winds or pure clumsiness. They’re generally hearty insects that provide a good amount of nutritional value to trout. Theyʼre a nice treat after a summer of smaller insects.


Cutthroat trout absolutely love grasshoppers. On a breezy day, youʼll see many grasshoppers falling into the water. If the bank of the water is filled with grass, grasshoppers will be present.

Trout wait along the banks for one of these insects to fall. It wonʼt take long for them to pounce.


A close up picture of a beetle as fishing bait on a white backgroundBeetles

Beetles are another favorite of cutthroat trout. Beetles, like grasshoppers, will sit in the grass along the banks of lakes and rivers. Theyʼll also be found in trees!

A stiff breeze will knock them into the water and into the hungry mouths of trout. They’re found both in the center of the water and along the banks.


A close up picture of an ants as fishing bait on white backgroundAnts

Ants are absolutely a priority for cutthroat trout. Many anglers believe that ants are the most productive of the terrestrial flies. Ants with wings will be on the move, but may find themselves blown right over the water with nowhere to go.

As soon as one of them hits the water, it doesn’t take long for a trout to find it.


A close up picture of a mayflies as fishing bait on white backgroundMayflies

Mayflies hatch both in the mornings and the evenings, so cutthroat trout will eat them all day long.

If youʼre fishing an area with heavy tree cover, youʼll find that many mayflies sit in the trees above the water early in their adult life.

Mayflies only live a couple weeks and they hatch right out of the water, so trout love to eat them.


A close up picture of a caddisflies as fishing bait on white backgroundCaddisflies

Caddisflies are a great early summer fly. They hatch directly out of the water, so a swarm of these flies on the surface doesn’t last long in the presence of cutthroat trout.

Theyʼre not overly huge, but theyʼre plentiful and trout do whatever they can to eat them.


A close up picture of a moths as fishing bait on white backgroundMoths

Moths are one of those sneaky insects that many anglers donʼt think about using. Theyʼre a common insect for cutthroat trout to eat at night.

If youʼre fishing in an area that has artificial light nearby, you can guarantee some moths will fall onto the water.


A close up picture of a small green midge as fishing bait on white backgroundMidges

Midge flies hatch all year round. They hatch every single day in the thousands. In the midst of a true midge hatch, youʼll see hundreds of fish jumping out of the water to feed.

Itʼs a sight to behold. Theyʼre small flies, but cutthroat trout canʼt ever get enough of them. When in doubt, use a midge.


A close up cicada on white backgroundCicadas

Cicada flies arenʼt always around in large numbers. However, when a big hatch is occurring and theyʼve fallen on the surface of the water, you can see cutthroat trout regurgitating these flies because theyʼve eaten so many of them.

When theyʼre around, cicadas are loud and easily seen. Wait for those warmer months.

They hatch near trees, so find a wooded area to fish.


A close up of a dragonfly on white backgroundDragonflies

Dragonflies spend their lives growing under the surface of the water. Cutthroat trout anxiously wait for them to turn into adults and eat as many of them as they possibly can.

A large attractor fly is a good enough representation of a dragonfly.


Stonefly for brook troutStoneflies

Stoneflies may be at the top of the list of a cutthroat trout’s favorite food. Theyʼre large, plentiful and a perfect option for trout.

Nymphs grow at fast rates, and the adult flies are easy targets for trout. Many western United States rivers have healthy populations of stoneflies.


Cutthroat Trout Eat Nymphs

Nymphs are a favorite of cutthroat trout. As mentioned earlier, they spend 90% of their time feeding below the surface. Nymphs live entirely below the surface while theyʼre preparing to hatch as adults, so trout feed on them in their vulnerable stages. If youʼre fly fishing for trout, be confident fishing with nymphs.


How To Tie a Caddis Nymph Fly Tying Tutorial

Caddis Nymph

Caddis nymphs are favorites of cutthroat trout. They stay in a nymph stage for one to two years of their lives if they arenʼt picked off by a trout. They live under rocks or logs as they mature.

Due to current, many of these nymphs will get dislodged and bounce downstream. This is where trout take advantage of them. In early summer, youʼll find trout gorging on these.


Black Midge Fly PatternMidge Nymph

Cutthroat trout and midge nymphs are inseparable. Midges are growing and hatching all year, so trout never stop eating them.

Theyʼre generally the most common insect in the water. Rocks and logs are home to thousands of these nymphs. Theyʼre around 3 to 10 millimeters in their nymph stage.


Photo of the mohican Mayfly

Mayfly Nymph

Mayflies are similar to midges in their popularity with cutthroat trout. Mayflies often hatch around June, so they become dislodged in May as they begin to develop into adults.

Theyʼre unable to protect themselves in the nymph stage, so theyʼre always an easy meal for trout.


A close-up photo of a stonefly.

Stonefly Nymph

Stoneflies are an absolute favorite of cutthroat trout. They only live in moving water, so rivers and streams host large populations of them. Stonefly nymphs can live upwards of three years on the bottom of the water.

They grow to a large size and push out of their exoskeleton right before they move into the adult stage.

Trout love them!


Dragonfly Nymph

Dragonflies begin their lives in or right near water, so cutthroat trout eat dragonfly nymphs all their lives.

In their nymph stage, theyʼre a larger fly that trout determine to be a good meal. Like many other nymphs, dragonflies can live around two years.


Cutthroat Trout Eat Moss & Algae

Moss and algae are a regular part of a cutthroat trout’s diet! While they prefer insects and minnows, they’ll eat plant life if it’s readily available and there aren’t many insects around to eat. Trout generally live in highly oxygenated areas with a large amount of aquatic plants, so it’s no surprise that they love them.

Cutthroat Trout fishing

Cutthroat Trout Eat Stones & Rocks

Stones and rocks aren’t something that cutthroat trout actively seek out, but they do often hold nymphs and plant life that’s appetizing to cutthroat trout. They’ll pick up the rocks and eat the nymphs or plant life that they want.

Cutthroat Trout Have a Seasonal Diet

A cutthroat trout’s diet and feeding patterns aren’t overly different than the rest of the trout species. There are seasons when they feed and gorge themselves and others when they spend most of the time conserving energy.

Cutthroat Trout Feeding

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Winter?

In the winter, cutthroat trout spend as much time as possible conserving energy. Cutthroat trout will sit in the sun as much as they can during the warm parts of the day. This is where the hatches occur and food lives.

Whether they live in lakes, rivers, streams or ponds, they don’t want to have to expend much energy to eat.

When it’s not sunny, they’ll cruise in the shallow water looking for any small insects, hatches, minnows or sculpins that are living in the colder water. They’re not overly complicated. As long as it’s an easy meal, they’ll eat it.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Early Spring?

In the early spring, life starts moving fast. When the ice clears and water temperatures warm, the insects start hatching at a faster rate and the fish are hungry. Whatever is moving is most likely going to be eaten. Insects like stoneflies, mayflies and caddis are the primary diet.

Also, crustaceans and small minnows are favorites of cutthroat. It’s a great time of year to fish for cutthroat. The fish aren’t looking as closely at the food they’re eating since they’re so hungry!

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Summer?

In the summer, the feeding process slows. Water temperatures begin to warm and fish spend the warm parts of the day as low in the water column as possible. They want the coldest water temperatures they can find. Also, they won’t feed during the middle of the day.

They don’t want to expend too much energy and overheat. They’ll sit and wait for the air temperatures to cool and the hatches to happen in the evenings. Dry flies are the favorites of cutthroat in the warmer months.

Terrestrials start hitting the water surface in late July. Cutthroat absolutely love this time of year. They’ll sit by the shore and wait for those large insects to fall on the surface! It’s a great time of year.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Early Fall?

In the early fall, the terrestrials are still around, so cutthroat will eat those as long as they have the opportunity. Caddis, mayflies and stoneflies will also be finishing up their primary hatching season at this time of the year. The cutthroat know this, so they eat as many of them as they possibly can. The trout are beginning to enter their final feeding frenzy before the winter weather hits.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Fall?

In the fall, cutthroat trout eat as much as they can before the weather gets too cold. Fish can sense when the weather is going to turn, so they ramp up their feeding before it’s too late. Trout eggs, minnows, terrestrials and any remaining insect hatches are fair game for cutthroat. Sculpins and crustaceans are also prevalent in the fall.

Similar to the spring, all is fair game in the fall! Take advantage of this time of year. It’s perhaps the best fishing that you’ll find during the entire year.

When Do Cutthroat Trout Feed?

Cutthroat trout feed similarly to most other fish. They have their prime feeding hours, and during the rest they sit and digest. It’s a fairly repetitive cycle, so you can predict when and how much they’re going to feed.

Cutthroat trout

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat at Dawn?

At dawn, cutthroat trout feeding begins. As the sun begins to rise, the hatches occur. The sunlight warms the water and the insects start to hatch. Fish are ready to eat at this point! Don’t make the mistake of missing this time of day.

Even before the sun has crested the horizon, you’ll notice that the fish are breaking the surface. Even if they aren’t, you can guarantee they’re eating nymphs and crustaceans below the surface! It’s one of the prime feeding times for cutthroat.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat Midday?

Midday, cutthroat trout feeding slows. The water and air temperatures warm, so the fish aren’t as eager to have a feast. They want to sit deep in the water column and wait for the temperatures to warm. This doesn’t mean that they won’t feed, however.

They’ll spend time looking at the bottom and take any easy meal they can find. Streamers are actually a good fly to use. If you can bounce it along the bottom, you’ll have a decent amount of success. Don’t give it too much action, but a little will do the trick.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat at Sunset?

At sunset, another prime feeding time begins! Hatches start to occur once again and the fish are waiting anxiously. Larger hatches often occur in the evening, so fish try to fill themselves before the insects aren’t as prevalent.

The fish are looking up towards the surface, so whatever is along the bottom or in the middle of the water column isn’t as important as it may be during the day.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat as Dusk?

At dusk, the big fish come out to feed. There’s more cover, so they’ll be a little bolder in where and how they feed. They want big meals. Mice, minnows, crayfish and even small birds are on the menu for trout at dusk.

When you hear the pops on the surface of the water, you can safely assume that the big fish are coming out to play!

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat at Night?

At night, cutthroat trout are hit or miss in terms of how active they are. Some of the larger fish will cruise around in the shallows in pursuit of some easy meals, but many will let their food digest and wait for the hatches to occur in the morning. It’s more of a survival effort at night for many of the smaller cutthroat.

There are larger predators looking to feed, so keep that in mind! If you want big fish, you have a solid chance at finding them in the dark of night.

A Cutthroat Trout’s Diet Changes With Its Environment

Since there are a variety of species of cutthroat trout all across the world, their feeding habits and tendencies change depending on where they live. Even the same species of cutthroat that live in different environments have different habits. It’s important to know the tendencies of the fish you’re targeting.

Cutthroat Trout Feeding

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Lakes?

Lake-bound cutthroat trout are most aggressive during the spring. They must live in cold-water areas that freeze over during the winter, so as soon as conditions improve, they begin to feed as much as possible. Insects, crayfish and smaller baitfish are their primary diets.

As the season progresses and the temperatures warm, they don’t eat as much. However, once fall hits, a feeding frenzy occurs again in preparation for colder weather.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Rivers?

In rivers, cutthroat are primarily focused on insects. Mayflies, caddis, terrestrials, stoneflies and anything else that hatches in the water is fair game. Mature cutthroat will still eat fry, minnows and sculpins. They’ll sit in the slower current deeper in the water and feed on anything that passes near them.

They’ll feed in all levels of the water column, but the vast majority of their feeding is under the surface.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Ponds?

In ponds, cutthroat trout don’t have as many opportunities to be picky. Unlike lakes, ponds are smaller bodies of water, and they don’t receive as much water from incoming streams or rivers.

Also, food sources may be a bit less than in a lake or a river. As a result, cutthroat will eat whatever they can find. They still prefer insects, crustaceans and smaller minnows, but they don’t have the choice to be picky. Otherwise they won’t survive.

What Do Cutthroat Trout Eat in Small Creeks?

A cutthroat trout’s diet in small creeks isn’t overly different than a cutthroat trout’s diet in rivers. Creeks generally have a healthy amount of insect life and fewer minnows. The trout eat as many mayflies, caddis flies, terrestrials and stoneflies that they can.

If they can find a crustacean or minnow, they won’t reject it. Those are considered large meals since there aren’t as many.

In Conclusion

Cutthroat trout are a unique fish! In the United States, their populations are dwindling, but continuous efforts are being put in to save them. Their feeding habits are fairly similar to many other trout species, so if you do choose to target them, you don’t have to worry about learning all new information on top of what you already know about trout.

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My name is Danny Mooers and I’ve been fly fishing for five years. As soon as I went to college, I dove headfirst into my obsession for fly angling. Every spare weekend or long break was dedicated to finding fish. I’ve fished all over North America in search of trout, salmon, steelhead and everything in between. I currently write articles for Guide Recommended and Reel Adventure Fishing. Fly angling is one of the most challenging yet rewarding hobbies any person can have. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.  It’s an addicting activity that tests everything from your fine motor skills to your patience, but it’s well worth your time.

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