Brown Trout

Brown Trout have been defying anglers since their Northern American debt in 1860. Here, we unravel the mystery to find out how exactly you can catch Brown Trout on your next fishing trip. 

What is a Brown Trout?

The UK and Germany first introduced Brown Trout (species name: Salmo Trutta) to Northern American waters during the second half of the 19th century, when 4,900 of this originally Icelandic species were eventually released into the Baldwin River. Since then Brown Trout, now one of the three most prolific North American trout species alongside Rainbow and Brook Trout, have gone on to thrive across the region. 

Most often characterized by their brown coloring (though colors including silver and gold have also been sighted,) Brown Trout typically display some form of ringed spotting across the flank which is most often black, but may also appear red or orange. Unlike Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout have no tail spots, and the fins are brown without the telltale white edges of the Brook Trout. However, with one of the highest degrees of genetic variation from any known vertebrae, there’s a great deal of difference among Brown Trout, which has led experts to assign them at least 50 separate species. Size is perhaps the most notable difference, with a 60% scope, while spot coloration can also vary a great deal. 

While no subspecies of Brown Trout have yet been identified, there are different recognized phenotypes, including – 

  • Salmo Trutta Morpha Fario: Local Brown Trout that inhabit only rivers and streams. They are uniquely only found in freshwater and are typically the smallest of all Brown Trout.
  • Salmo Trutta Morpha Trutta: This sea-run version of the Brown Trout spends its life in the ocean, only migrating to freshwater locations to spawn during fall.
  • SeeForellen Brown Trout: Open to some controversy, there have also been reports of a SeeForellen, lake-based Brown Trout since 60,000 of them were released into Lake Superior by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 

Where to fish for Brown Trout

Famed as a wily opponent for any angler, Brown Trout can be a lot harder to find than species such as Brook Trout, which are far more likely to attack without forethought. By comparison, Brown Trout will typically remain hidden by seeking shelter under anything from loose rocks to submerged logs and even branches. 

Most commonly, Brown Trout prefer large, slow-flowing, shallow streams with water that rests at between 44-67 degrees. Despite being one of the hardier Trout species (along with Rainbow Trout,) temperatures upwards of 68 degrees can create significant stress for Brown Trout, and catches become increasingly unlikely in the face of these conditions as feeding is difficult. If temperatures exceed 80 degrees for more than 24 to 48 hours, such conditions can prove fatal for Brown Trout. 

While Brown Trout are now prolific across Northern America, certain locations can drastically increase the chances of a successful angling session, especially across the Great Lakes region which includes self-proclaimed ‘trout town’ Roscoe, Illinois. Montana has also earned itself a top spot as one of the North’s best trout fishing locations thanks to Missoula and West Yellowstone. 

Further to these regions, specific Brown Trout fishing locations worth visiting include –

  • Lake Superior, Wisconsin

Home to four different types of trout, Lake Superior has been a thriving location for Brown Trout since they were released into the area from 1975-1980, and then again in 1983. The release of a further 60,000 Brown Trout in 2013, and plans for more releases that should see around 240,000 Brown Trout in the area, have made this a fantastic spot for anglers looking to catch even this elusive species. 

  • Grand Lake, Colorado

The gold-medal waters of Colorado’s Grand Lake are also host to a wide range of Trout species, with Brown Trout very much among them. As the largest natural body of water in Colorado, Grand Lake’s subalpine climate certainly makes it a viable spot for some great Brown Trout fishing.

  • Snake River, Idaho

Considered one of the finest trout fishing rivers in the country, the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho flows for 66 miles across high mountain valleys and rugged canyons to create an environment in which, as anglers continually find, Brown Trout thrive.

Brown trout fun facts

  • Brown Trout, also known by their scientific name, Salmo Trutta, are currently the most genetically diverse known vertebrates. Brown Trout variations can successfully spawn together, hence why they have been assigned to as many as 50 different species. 
  • The size of brown trout can vary by as much as 60%, though an average Brown Trout measures at around 40-80cm, and can weigh as much as 15kg.
  • The largest brown trout ever found was in New Zealand in March 2013, and weighed 42 pounds, 1 ounce.
  • While humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, Brown Trout has an impressive 38 to 42.
  • The average lifespan of Brown Trout is around 20 years in the wild, which is significantly longer than the 11 year average of other trout species. 
  • Brown Trout are a self-sustaining species, which has enabled them to thrive with a ‘least concern’ rating from conservation bodies across the world.
  • Brown Trout reach sexual maturity between 3-4 years when a typical female will produce around 2,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight. Unlike other fish, Brown Trout don’t die after spawning.
  • Female Brown Trout release pheromones to attract males of the species. 
  • Brown Trout are carnivorous and typically prey on small vertebrates like crayfish, snails, or even other small fish. 
  • Brown Trout play an active role in sport fishing, and for this reason has been introduced from Europe to locations across the world, North America, Bhutan, and Australia.
  • Catch and release is an essential tool in the management of fragile wild Brown Trout fisheries.
  • Brown Trout caught on a fly are far less likely to die after release than those caught with bait.

Top Brown Trout fishing lures & tips

Due to their reclusive nature, catching Brown trout can be a lot harder than, say, Rainbow Trout, and typically relies on a gentle, patient, and informed approach. While there’s no guarantee of catching or even seeing shy Brown Trout during a fishing trip, there are certain tips that can increase the chances for any angler. 

Given their sensitivity to mild climates, most anglers find that late spring is the best season to catch Brown Trout, as temperatures here are ideal for prime feeding if bait represents local insects, while summer fishing requires an early start to increase the chances of a catch. Fall can also be a prime time for Brown Trout fishing as the species migrates to spawn, with creek-side fishing proving especially promising for results. 

The best live bait for catching Brown Trout really depends on the size of the trout in question, with smaller trout preferring crustaceans while larger, more mature Brown Trout will typically feed on small fish. The baits with the highest success rates typically tend to include –

  • Minnows
  • Salmon eggs
  • Creek chubs
  • Crayfish
  • Frogs
  • Etc.

Obviously, understanding the natural habitat of Brown Trout as discussed above is also essential for selecting the ideal fishing spot to increase your chances of a catch, with lake trolling near rocky areas of water proving particularly lucrative, especially when paired with either fly fishing, spinning, or baitcasting. 

Brown Trout are especially attracted to lures or bait that create many pulsations below the water, meaning that spinner or spinning spoon bait typically work best. Lure colors should also aim to mimic the color palette of the Brown Trout’s natural environment, meaning that brown, silver, white, gold, and even orange or red can all work well.

Can you eat brown trout?

Brown Trout has long been considered one of the tastiest kinds of trout in our waters today and can form the centerpiece for a range of wonderful delicacies that have even seen it becoming a staple of even Southern cooking despite a lack of Brown Trout in those states.

Despite the sometimes expansive size of Brown Trout, smaller members of the species (preferably less than two pounds) provide the best eating experience. This is because the famed strong fishy taste of trout can be overpowering with a larger fish, but much easier to manage in a smaller one. Most commonly, Brown Trout meat will appear white, though red variations are possible depending on diet and environment. Reports generally state that the taste variation between Rainbow and Brown Trout is negligible, with a preference typically coming down more to personal taste than anything else.

Traditionally, Brown Trout has been best cooked on a grill after being cleaned and filleted. There’s no need to take the scales off a small Brown Trout, and the already strong flavor profile of this fish means that seasoning, too, is surprisingly easy to get right, with just a sprinkling of black pepper and salt, and perhaps a little lemon juice, being all of the additions necessary. 

Aside from being an amazing meal in itself, the ever-increasing population of Brown Trout in primary Northern American waters has also seen this fish becoming a key part of a range of other culinary treats, including baked trout, trout chowder, trout salad, and even cold smoked trout.