The golden trout has golden flanks with a red, horizontal band along the lateral line and 10 dark oval marks, called "parr marks", on each side. Dorsal, lateral and anal fins have white leading edges. In their native habitat, adults range from 6–12 in (15–30 cm) long. Fish over 10 in (25 cm) are considered large. Golden trout that have been transplanted to lakes have been recorded up to 11 lb (5 kg) in weight. The world record golden trout was caught by Charles S. Reed, on August 5, 1948, from Cook Lake in the Wind River Range. That fish was 28 in (70 cm) long and weighed 11.25 lb (5.1 kg). Preferred water temperature is 58–62 °F (14–17 °C).
Years of overexploitation, mismanagement and competition with exotic species have brought these fish to the brink of being designated as threatened. Introduced brook trout ("Salvelinus fontanalis") outcompete them for food, introduced brown trout ("Salmo trutta") prey on them and introduced rainbow trout ("Oncorhynchus mykiss'") hybridize with them, damaging the native gene pool through introgression.
The golden trout was designated the state fish of California in 1947. Populations have been in steady decline for decades. As a result, the California Department of Fish and Game signed an agreement with federal agencies in September 2004 to work on restoring back-country habitat. Conservationists have also been attempting to introduce golden trout to other waters such as to Lake Mohave in Nevada and Arizona.
The golden trout should be distinguished from the similarly-named golden rainbow trout, also known as the palomino trout. The golden rainbow is actually a color variant of the rainbow trout.
In his second autobiography, Press On, Yeager details his annual fishing trips to catch golden trout which he extols as one of the best game fish and best eating fish to be found.