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The brown trout, known most commonly as the

German Brown or the Loch Leven Brown

(native to England), is generally recognized as one

of the smartest gamefish in the salmonid family.

This trout has both freshwater and anadromous

populations native to much of Europe and parts

of western Asia.

Due to widespread popularity, the brown has been

introduced to watersheds throughout the world. They were planted in North America beginning in the

late 1800s, and subsequently in New Zealand, Australia, South America and Africa.

As with other members of the trout family, they have proven an adaptable fish that can develop self-sustaining populations, which thrive in both inland and ocean-fed environments.

Brown trout tend to grow bigger and live longer than their trout brethren. The fly-caught world record is 35 pounds, a sea-run fish from the Rio Grande in Argentina. They will resourcefully consume a variety of aquatic insects and invertebrates as well as other fish. While they can rise delicately and selectively to a well-presented dry fly, they are also known to attack crayfish, baitfish and mice imitations. Browns typically prefer structure, such as an undercut bank or downed tree.  They rely on cover for both protection from predators and for ambushing unsuspecting prey. Brown trout are also frequently nocturnal feeders, making the larger, more intelligent specimens an even more challenging quarry.  Because they are such a resourceful and aggressive trout, they are known to push out other fish from the prime feeding, holding and spawning waters.   And as brown trout grow larger, other fish begin to comprise a significant portion of their diet.  These traits have diversely impacted many native trout populations where browns
have been introduced.

As its name would indicate, the brown trout is brownish in color, but there is a surprisingly wide variation in appearance. Generally, they are an olive-green to brown shade on the upper back, which often evolves to a golden-yellow along the sides and a gray or off-white color along the stomach. Spots on the brown trout are mostly black and usually more prominent and larger than on other trout. The spots are commonly bordered by a lightly shaded halo, adorning the mid-section and back, but rarely extending to the tail fin. Often there will be a row of red spots along the lateral line, although in the Loch Leven brown the red color is absent. Another distinguishing feature of the brown trout is the developed vomer bone located in the roof of the mouth. This bone is lined with “vomerine” teeth situated in a zigzag pattern. These teeth, which generally become more distinct as the fish matures, can prove sharp when the angler is trying to dislodge a hook set in the upper mouth.

Brown trout typically spawn during the late fall and early winter in a stream environment. During the mating season, the males develop a hooked lower mandible, similar to that of a salmon, and their yellow coloring becomes more vivid along the belly region. As with other trout, the female digs a redd with her tail, preferably in a gravel bottom. Up to two males will deposit sperm as the female simultaneously releases her eggs into the redd. Smaller brown trout under 12 inches can have an egg count in the hundreds; a large female over eight pounds might spawn over 6,000 eggs.  The female will then move upstream of the redd and beat her tail fin on the bottom, sweeping gravel across the nest. The redd is then abandoned until the eggs hatch, which is triggered by warming water temperatures in the early spring.

As with other members of the trout family, brown trout have adapted to saltwater in certain geographies. Sea-run browns can grow quite large, such as those found on the very tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego. At this fishery, it is not uncommon to catch anadromous browns in excess of 15 pounds. But whether it is this prized sea-run specimen or a 10-inch brown in a tailwater, the brown trout is a challenging and highly sought gamefish.

Click an image to enlarge

Don Muelrath
Fly Fishing Adventures

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