Brown Trout (Salmo Trutta)
Average: 10 to 16 inches.
Trophy: 20 inches in North America; 10 pounds in New Zealand and South America; 20 pounds in northern Europe, including Russia.
5/10 in most locales.
– Most challenging of the trout.
– Wide distribution and availability.
– Vibrant coloration.
Patagonia, Rocky Mountains, New Zealand.
Brown trout are an absolutely gorgeous fish. Coloration varies depending on location. These fish generally display a vibrant gold and silver scale pattern with brown and gold spotting on the sides, and a dark back serving as camouflage. The belly is cream or yellow colored, leading to the “Yellow Belly” nickname. During the fall spawn, these colors are amplified with bright yellows and oranges. Fish fresh out of the ocean may appear very silver in color, resembling a salmon.
Native to Europe, brown trout were introduced throughout the British empire in the 19th century. Their ability to live comfortably in small streams, as well as large, nutrient-rich rivers and lakes, has allowed them to establish self-sustaining populations on nearly every major landmass. Few fish demand anglers to learn such a diversity of skills to land them.
Watching a wheat field colored trout, with sunrise/sunset speckles and golden-hues, slowly rise and delicately sip in a size-16 dry fly is—and has been—the pinnacle of fly fishing. To catch these fish on a regular basis requires a deep understanding of its habits and habitats. Often only the most subtle and delicate patterns draw responses from these fish, especially when they are keyed in to a specific stage of a particular hatch, more pronounced if fishing over a glassy surface. But, as predators, they also have a mean streak—offer disruptive streamers during fall and other times of the year and the biggest browns may tear out from under a cutbank and hammer a fly.
The experienced, well-rounded angler takes a variety of flies and techniques to the water for brown trout, and modifies them on the go. On any given day they might match big Hexegenia mayflies, or dead-drift Mysis shrimp, or skitter a mouse pattern on the surface. Whatever it takes should be every angler’s motto when trying to bring a trophy brown trout to the net.
Fly fishing is not all about catching a fish—brown trout live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Whether you are fishing the crystal-clear rivers in Patagonia or New Zealand, the freestone steams in the Rocky Mountains, or the magnificent untouched lakes of Iceland, you’ll be treated to great landscapes whether you get that once-in-a-lifetime brown or not.
Brown trout are found across the globe occupying a large variety of freshwater ecosystems and a few saltwater environments. They thrive in cold water, but have a higher heat tolerance than other trout, making it possible for them to live in warmer waters often associated with other species, such as smallmouth bass. Brown trout are distributed throughout the United States with populations in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, the Catskills and eastern cold-water rivers, the Great Lakes, and large populations throughout much of the western United States, extending north in the Canadian Rockies. Native to Europe, brown trout are also found in Ireland, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Wales. They are also prominent in Iceland with sea-run and inland populations. A population exists on Russia’s Kola Peninsula as well.
New Zealand brown trout grow to large sizes in lakes and rivers, as do populations in Australia and Tasmania. Patagonia offers brown trout in rivers and lakes with strong sea-run populations entering the southernmost rivers in Tierra del Fuego. South Africa and parts of Asia also have brown trout.
Brown trout are salmonids and consist of three significantly different morphs. While morphs may appear identical, they are in fact very different, both behaviorally and genetically. The most common, Salmo trutta morpha fario occupies freshwater river systems, while Salmo trutta morpha lacustrine inhabits freshwater lakes, venturing into rivers only to spawn. Salmo, trutta morpha trutta, is the sea-run, or anadromous morph of brown trout which, similar to steelhead, spend their lives in the ocean and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.
Brown trout are opportunistic feeders with a diverse diet, ranging from aquatic and terrestrial insects to small mammals, birds and other fish. The trout is shaped to face into currents, filtering water through its gills while absorbing dissolved oxygen. Fin size varies based on environment, but a mature specimen has a large tail fin, and distinct adipose, pectoral and ventral fins for balance and power. Large males develop a pronounced kype. Brown trout spawn during fall, when they pair off and dig large nests (redds) in the streambed. Females use this area to deposit eggs, which are fertilized by males. Males become especially aggressive and combative during this period as they compete for reproductive rights.
Similar to rainbow trout, brown trout can be caught using four main techniques; floating dry flies, swinging wet flies, drifting nymphs, and stripping streamers. While many anglers have dedicated setups for each of these techniques, a 9-foot, 5-weight, medium-action fly rod, with an appropriately sized reel and floating line suffices in most situations. A 9-foot leader is standard in most locations. When nymphing, a 4X fluorocarbon tippet is a solid starting point. When swinging streamers, feel free to move up to 3X. When fishing dry flies, use mono tippet in the 5X range—mono floats better than fluorocarbon.