CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Renowned angler and author Ernest Schwiebert called rainbow trout "the trout on the flying trapeze."
The description is well earned. Of all the major trout species, the rainbow is by far most likely to leap from the water when hooked. Small wonder, then, that anglers love rainbows. And because anglers love rainbows, fisheries officials have distributed the rosy-sided fish just about everywhere they could possibly live.
Thriving rainbow fisheries can be found in Argentina, Peru, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and even South Africa - none of which had them originally. Neither, for that matter, did West Virginia, and yet today rainbows account for 80 percent of the trout grown in the state's seven hatcheries.
Mike Shingleton, the Division of Natural Resources' head of coldwater fisheries, said rainbows have been found in Mountain State waters since the late 19th century.
"The first stockings of rainbows here date back to the 1890s. Those were the work of the old U.S. Fish Commission," he said.
The rainbow trout's native range stretched from the Pacific coast of northern California northward to Alaska and westward across the Bering Sea to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Fisheries scientists of the late 1800s discovered that rainbows were easier to grow in hatcheries than Eastern brook trout, which required much colder water; and European brown trout, which tended to have disease problems.
So when West Virginia conservation officials opened the state's first trout hatcheries during the 1930s, they focused on raising rainbows.
"Our brood stock came from the old federal Shasta and Erwin hatcheries," Shingleton said. "Today rainbows make up the bulk of the trout we raise."
In a typical year, DNR hatcheries produce about 1.4 million trout. Of those, roughly 1.1 million are rainbows.
"There are practical reasons we raise so many rainbows," Shingleton explained. "They grow faster for the same amount of food you would feed brook or brown trout. Their eggs also have a better hatching success rate than brookies or browns. Fishermen like them because they're not as easy to catch as brook trout, but they're more easily caught than browns."