ALSO FAMILY OF: Bull trout, lake trout, blue-backed trout, arctic charr, and Dolly Varde
Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis
The Brook trout is a beautifully colored freshwater fish found throughout Canada and the northeastern United States. They belong to the salmon family, Salmonidae. Brook trout, also known as speckled trout, are quickly identified by their beautiful yellow spots over an olive-green back. Brook trout are part of the char genus and not trout. Other charr family members include bull trout, lake trout, blue-backed trout, arctic charr, and Dolly Varden.
Brook trout live in cool, clean, well-oxygenated mountain streams, lakes, and beaver ponds from as far south as the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina to as far west as Minnesota in the United States. Brook trout are the only native trout species east of the Rockies. Brook trout often coexist with brown and rainbow trout.
Brook trout may spend their whole lives in freshwater or live in salt water and spawn in fresh. They are a migratory fish species, and there are two different migratory populations of brook trout known as salters or coasters. The salters in the Northeast are anadromous, meaning they live in saltwater then run upriver to spawn in freshwater. The coasters live in the upper Great Lakes and are potadromous, meaning they live in lakes but spawn in a river.
Range and Life History
The original range for brook trout included much of northeastern North America, which included streams of the Appalachian mountains as far south as Georgia and going west to the Hudson Bay and basins of the Great Lakes.
According to the fisheries biologist, there are two genetically distinct brook trouts strains, which includes the northern and southern strain. The boundary for these strains is the New River drainage in southwest Virginia. The southern strain is often referred to as speckled trout and is less diverse, making these brook trout populations more fragile to change and catastrophic events.
Appearance And Size
The brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis is a bright-colored fish with yellow spots all over an olive green back. This trout species has spots along the top of its back that are worm-like in shape. Along the trout’s sides, the color changes from olive to orange or red. The brook trout has scattered red spots bordered by pale blue along the sides. It has orange or red lower fins with a white and a black streak. The underside of the brook trout is a milky white color. The colors of the Brook trout are much more vivid during the spawning season in the fall. Unlike other salmon fish types, the brook trout has no teeth on the roof of its mouth.
Brook trout are generally slow-growing fish; the average brook trout reaches about nine to ten inches in length. The growth rate, longevity, and feeding habits depend on elevation, available forage, and water temperature. Headwater streams usually have the smallest trout, rarely producing brook trout over six to seven inches. In more productive lakes and ponds, brook trout live longer and achieve lengths over 20 inches and exceed ten pounds.
Brook trout live in small spring-fed pons and streams with gravel or sand bottom and vegetation. The most crucial factor in a brook trout habitat is water temperature. Brook trout thrive in water temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This trout species can tolerate short periods of water temperatures up to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, but they will die 75 degrees if exposed for more than a couple of hours.
The optimal habitat for a brook trout has as many pools as riffles, which are the shallow parts of the stream with choppy water, a rocky bottom, clear, cold spring-fed waters with a stable flow, water temperature, and stable banks with a lot of vegetation and cover. Brook trout are sensitive to habitat disturbance, so a healthy brook trout population is generally considered a sign of a healthy stream with good water quality.
Brook trout feed on a wide range of organisms. These include worms, plankton, leeches, insects, mollusks, and fishes. Brook trout are known to be very opportunistic and will eat various insects, usually preferring adult and nymph forms of drifting aquatic insects. Ants, beetles, and small fish are the next favorites for brook trout when available. Generally, in small southern streams, the brook trout feed primarily on aquatic insects. In contrast, the population of brook trout in larger northern lakes and rivers feeds on insects and larger prey such as mice and minnows.
Brook trout may feed on virtually all life stages (adult, nymph, larvae) of aquatic macroinvertebrates. Terrestrial invertebrates, including beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and grasshoppers, provide a significant energy source during the growing season, while fish and aquatic invertebrates become the primary food source during winter.
Spawning and Lifespan
Fall is the spawning season for brook trout, regardless of the waters they inhabit. Brook trout usually spawn between September and October and mature after two years. However, Brook trout fry shows up between February and April. Brook trout spawn over gravel in streams and lakes, often in the water body’s spring-fed parts. Spawning occurs in water temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pre-spawning starts with the male brook trout attempting to drive a female brook trout towards the spawning area. A receptive female will choose a spot then digs a nest, while the male spends that time driving off other male trout.
After spawning, the female covers the eggs with gravel or small pebbles. Once the eggs are hidden, females will move upstream then begin digging a new nest. The hatched fry will remain in the rocks until their yolk sac is fully absorbed.
The young trout seek shelter in submerged vegetation or shallow water areas near the shoreline. Brook trout usually mature in about two years but may spawn after only one year. Juvenile brook trout average about three to four inches in length.
Brook trout are short-lived; the lifespan is two to three years on average. Brook trout rarely exceed four years old. The maximum age for a brook trout ever reported was 24 years. Generally, the fish living in a healthy, larger stream or river will live to an older age.
Fishing For Brook Trout
Brook trout are a popular game fish among anglers. Until being displaced by the other trouts, the brook trout attracted the most attention among anglers from colonial times. Artificial lures are popular when fishing for trout, usually with flies or worms. Live bait is also used by many anglers and often more productive with less effort. The most popular live baits are maggots, waxworms, minnows, and earthworms.
Brook trout are most active around dawn and dusk; they may retreat to deeper waters during the day.
Mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are among the most popular aquatic insects to imitate while fishing for brookies. Fishing with terrestrial insects such as beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, ants, or spiders is also effective, especially in areas with overhanging trees where these insects would fall from.
The larger fish caught on fly are often on streamers or nymphs right along the stream bottom.
Brook trout are widely distributed, so it is good to assess the river to find the best spots with the highest chances of holding fish. You can find them in almost any aquatic environment that provides the three most important factors: cool, clean water, food (insects, crawfish, minnows), and cover from natural predators.
Gear and Techniques
Popular gear for brook trout fishing includes a couple of 1/16 oz. Spinners, a few red and white bobbers, Size 8 bait hooks, A package of #5 lead split shot, Jar of Power Bait, worms, and a 6-foot spinning rod with matching reel and 4-6-pound monofilament line. A simple worm on a hook has probably accounted for more brook trout than all other baits, lures, and flies combined.
Standard gear for flyfisherman includes a fly rod (a standard 9-foot rod or a short seven-footer for tight streams if preferred), matching fly-fishing reel, fly fishing flies, Spools of 4x and 5x tippet, Weight forward, 5-weight fly line, Tapered monofilament leaders, 4x 7.5 feet long, a variety of streamside tools. Using match the hatch flies is usually a great place to start. Woolly buggers, sculpins, and other large baitfish flies with some action may be enough to trigger a bite as well. Nymph fishing is one of the more popular methods; however, when fishing with nymphs, some indicator system is needed.
Dr. JW Cook caught the world record Brook trout in 1915. The trout (speckled trout) was 34.5 inches long with a circumference of 11.5 inches. The official weight of the trout was 14.5 pounds.
However, Dr. Cook did not immediately weigh his trout after he caught it. This means the fish was dead for days and had been badly decomposed before weighing and became lighter due to decomposition. Officials suspect that the real maximum weight of the trout was around 20 pounds. However, 14.5 pounds remains the official Brook trout record.
A man known as Tim Matheson is recorded to have caught an even bigger Brook trout than Dr. JW Cook. This happened during the inaugural four-week “Fish’ n Win” (October) tournament in Manitoba. Tim Matheson of Manitoba caught a Brook trout that measured 29 inches in length and 21 inches in girth. He seemingly broke the 90-year-old record.
But after measuring and taking pictures of the fish, Tim Matheson and his friend released the Brook trout back into Manitoba’s Barbe lake. Although the fish is not eligible for record status since it was released alive, it is the official Manitoba record of Brook trout. Dr. JW Cook’s trout remains the world record Brook trout.
Brook trout vs. Brown trout
The Brown and Brook trout are commonly found in the same rivers and often mistaken for each other. Both fish have the same shape, are spotted on the sides, and come in a wide variety of colors. Telling them apart can be tricky at first, but there are some easy ways to differentiate them.
The Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) grows to an average of 6-15 inches, while browns grow to 8-24 inches. A fish past 20 inches is more likely to be brown trout than Brook trout.
The Brook trout has pink spots with blue balls surrounding them, while the Browns have red and black spots with while halos surrounding them. Observing their markings is one of the easiest ways to tell the Brown and Brook trout apart.
- Body coloration
Brookies have a grey-green back with worm-like markings. Its belly generally has an intense orange coloration. As for the Browns, its back can come in brown, orange, or copper. The trout’s back has no distinct patterns. Usually, the brown trout’s belly is a less vivid yellow color.
- Lower Fins
The Brook trout has a white edging on its fins, while the brown has no edge on its fins.
Brookies have many spots on its tail, while the brown has very few to no marks on its tail.
Anglers can commonly find the Brook trout in mountain streams, rivers, and smaller creeks. Although they prefer riffle water, they can be found anywhere in a regular trout stream. The Brown trout favors habitats with deep water and cover nearby, mostly living in lakes or deeper parts of creeks and rivers.
When a male brook trout breeds with a female brown trout, the offspring is known as a tiger trout. The tiger trout is an intergeneric, sterile hybrid. It gets its name from the prominent irregular lines that resemble a tiger’s stripes, similar to the markings on the back of a brook trout. They live in many of the same waters as brook, brown, and rainbow trout. This fish is known to be aggressive and get relatively large. They start with a similar diet as other trout species but then switch to a mostly baitfish diet as adults. Tigers average two to five pounds, with the record being over 20 pounds.
Brook trout are an excellent eating fish. They are delicious, cook quickly, and can be prepared in several ways.