About Trout

TROUT  – The Second “T” in TCTU

Practice Catch & Release

  * Don’t play fish to exhaustion. To prevent a fatal lactic acid build up, bring fish in quickly and use a landing net.

  * Handle fish with wet hands, grasping them across the back and head.

  * Don’t remove swallowed hooks; just cut the line.

  * Don’t keep the fish out of the water for more than 10-15 seconds.

  * When placing fish back in moving water, face them upstream in their natural position.

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

Brown TroutOriginally a native fish of Europe and Asia, the Brown Trout was introduced to Minnesota in the early 1900’s. The Brown Trout can be identified by its square tail, streamlined body, and blackish-brown spots overlaid on a medium to light brown background.

In many places throughout the Driftless Region (the area of SE Minnesota, Wisconsin and NE Iowa that the glacier’s missed, thus leaving the unique geography of the region), Brown Trout are able to reproduce naturally, while in some areas the fish must still be stocked to over-winter. Hatchery Brown Trout have been selectively bred in the area to improve genetics. A visit to a DNR hatchery can make for a fun trip in itself.

In Minnesota, Brown Trout are found throughout the eastern and central portions of the state. The state record for Brown Trout is 16 lbs, 12 oz., caught in Lake Superior. Most Brown Trout found in our Minnesota rivers and stream are in the 9-15 inch range, though many larger fish have been witnessed (see the Vermillion page).

The Brown Trout prefers cold, well-oxygenated waters, typically those that maintain temperatures between 40F and 70F degrees throughout the year. Typically, you will find Brown Trout in slightly warmer sections of a river than Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout, though they often live together in the same waters.

The life of a trout can be quite difficult. There are many predators of this fish, which makes the Brown Trout especially wary. Predators include: Other large fish such as Northern Pike, animals such as Raccoons, Minks and Otters, various birds of prey and of course…people.

Brown Trout begin to reproduce around ages 2 or 3 years, when females dig out redd’s in the gravel bottoms of the stream or river. At that point, the female lays eggs, which the male comes by to fertilize. The eggs are then covered by the female with gravel. This typically happens in the fall (October or November). The eggs then hatch in late winter (February or March).

Trout prey on many different food sources, including insects, small minnows (Sculpin’s and Muddler’s for example), frogs, crustaceans, and other small trout. While most Brown’s feed throughout the day, the biggest fish tend to feed at night, and usually feed exclusively on larger food items such as other fish.

Fly fishing is a popular way to fish for these fish, and there are entire books written on this topic alone.

The Brown Trout is one of the primary species of fish Trout Unlimited is dedicated to preserving in our coldwater fisheries.


Brook Trout

Brook TroutThe Brook Trout is really a member of the Char family of fish, but we like to call them Brook Trout because it sounds more, well, cozy and surreal. There are several names for the Brook Trout, including Brookie, Speckled, Coaster, and Sea Trout.

Brook Trout are native to Minnesota, which makes them one of only two native trout (along with the Lake Trout) to Minnesota. A Brook Trout is identified by its dark brown to green background, with a distinctive marbled pattern of lighter shades across the back and flank. The belly and lower fins are often red in color, with white leading edges on the lower fins.

In the Driftless Region, Brook Trout are most commonly found near the headwaters of our streams and rivers where the water is presumably colder and more oxygenated. In fact, much like the Canary in the Mines, how the Brook Trout fares is often an early indicator to the overall quality of the river itself. As water warms due to such factors as urbanization and improper storm water runoff, the Brook Trout often finds the water too warm to survive. The Minnesota record for a Brookie is 6 lbs., 5 oz., caught in the Pigeon River in Cook County.

Brook Trout are commonly found where water temperatures are between 45F and 60F degrees. On the “North Shore” of Superior, many rivers and tributaries contain dam-locked Brook Trout. In the Driftless Region, only the coolest and cleanest headwaters support our beloved Brookies. Brook Trout are also found in many northern lakes. Brook Trout reproduce naturally in many environments in Minnesota, but are also stocked extensively throughout the state.

When it comes to natural reproduction, the Brook Trout seek out shallow, cold, well-oxygenated sections of the stream. The female digs out a redd while depositing the eggs while the adjacent male releases milt. In the churning of the redd by the female, the eggs are covered with a light coating of gravel, until they hatch in early Spring.

Trout have many predators, including other fish, birds of prey, furry critters like the Otter and Mink, and of course… people.

Brook Trout are not particularly “picky” about what they eat. While young brook trout primarily feed on insects, larger brook trout will feed on anything from leeches, to crustaceans, to other fish, to snakes, mice and other critters.

Fly fishing is a popular way to fish for Brookies, and a great way to introduce a kid to fishing. Young Brook Trout are eager to strike at a small fly, jig or spinner.

The Brook Trout is one of the primary species of fish Trout Unlimited is dedicated to preserving in our coldwater fisheries.


Rainbow Trout

Rainbow TroutThe Rainbow Trout was introduced to Minnesota by way of the Western US. The river-bound Rainbow is identified by the pinkish stripe running down its side, the numerous small spots on its body and its overall blue-green tint. The lake-dwelling Rainbow is typically silver in color, and is known as the mighty Steelhead or Kamloops. In coastal regions of the US, the Steelhead has the ability to move from salt water to fresh water to perform its spawning run. The Rainbow is known for it magnificent leaps out of the water, and its affinity for fast moving water.

In the Driftless Region, ‘Bows are commonly stocked in area streams and rivers. Throughout Minnesota, Rainbow Trout are also stocked by plane in remote lakes. Because the Rainbow Trout is able to withstand slightly higher temperatures than the Brook Trout, it is able to survive in waters where the Brookie may not. The Rainbow Trout is a coldwater fish, however, and will not survive a river that peaks out at temperatures over 65F degrees for any prolonged time period. The Minnesota state record is 17 lbs, 6 oz. caught in the Knife River in Lake County.

Unlike Brook’s and Brown’s, Rainbows typically begin to spawn in early spring. The females dig a redd in the river bottom, and the eggs are fertilized by the males. The eggs remain there, until they hatch sometime in July. Most Rainbow trout need to be 1-5 years old to begin spawning. There are species of ‘Bows that have been bred to spawn at different times throughout the year through selective breeding, creating Spring-Run and Fall-Run Steelhead terminology so popular amongst fisherpeople. The Steelhead of Lake Superior spends most of its time in the chilly waters of the lake, and returns to its birthplace in the stream to breed. In many instances, rivers have become impassible due to man-made obstructions in the river. In these cases, it is common for the DNR or other organizations to install step-ladders, which allow the fish to move past the obstruction to make its spawning run.

Rainbow Trout do not naturally reproduce in SE Minnesota. They are commonly stocked in SE Minnesota rivers when they reach 9-11 inches, though some fingerlings are also stocked.

Trout have many predators, including other fish (especially the Brown Trout), birds of prey, furry critters like the Otter and Mink, and of course… people.

Rainbow Trout like to feed on insects and crustaceans, though the adults typically feed on other fish.

‘Bows can put up tremendous fights, and their leaping ability is a quite the sight. When fishing for Steelhead, heavy tackle is the norm. When fishing for Rainbow Trout in rivers and streams of the Driftless Region, fly and spinning tackle suitable for other species of trout usually acceptable.

For the parent looking to introduce a kid to Rainbow Trout, there are several great places in the State of Minnesota to give a try. The small town of Lanesboro has ample opportunities to introduce a child to the ‘Bow at some of the family ponds. Another favorite pastime is to go to the fish pond at the MN State Fair, where one can see some monster fish swimming around (fishing is not allowed here, of course).