Best Bet for Brown Trout

News & Tips: Best Bet for Brown Trout

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is possibly the most popular of all the trout species targeted by fly fishers. Be it their willingness to rise to dead-drifted dry flies or give chase to a swinging streamer; brown trout are fancied the world over. Originally the brown trout was imported from its native waters in Europe and western Asia to lakes and streams in New York and Michigan in 1883.

Brown trout are one of the most widespread species of the trout and salmon family.

Brown trout have thrived in their new home, and have taken up permanent residency in all of our upper Great Lakes waters. Currently, brown trout are one of the most widespread species of the trout and salmon family. The reason for the brown's great success in the U.S. is that this fish can live in higher water temperatures than the other salmon and trout; also it is very adaptable to varying bodies of water.

Although the brown trout is such a plentiful species, do not be fooled into thinking that fishing for these freshwater predators will be easy; browns can be the most finicky eaters of all the different trout species. A good understanding of the fish's behaviors and plenty of time out on your favorite waters will help give you a shot at landing a true lunker of a brown.


Since brown trout spawn in tributary streams through September and October, they begin to take up residence near stream outlets in spring and early summer. After entering into a particular stream, brown trout spawners actively seek out shallow, gravel or rocky areas where they can commence the spawning process. Female browns create redds in the gravel bottom, where the spawning fish will eventually deposit the eggs and *** of the new generation. The process is completed when the female covers the bed with gravel.

On average, lake-run adult browns weigh about 8 pounds, although many of the individuals who frequent the river are much larger. Of all the different trout species browns enjoy a rather long life span that can reach upwards of 13 years.

Fishing Techniques

When thinking about successful brown trout fishing techniques, no single technique stands out from the rest. Many different flies can be used to get the fish to bite, but tailoring yourself to the specific seasonal feeding personalities of the browns increase your chances of hooking fish and hooking them consistently.

As with all other trout groups, winter browns are a group less prone to chasing fast moving presentations and flies fished with erratic movements. Cold temperatures produce lackadaisical feeding behavior in fish so getting your fly in the strike zone is a necessity. Nymph fishing is probably the best technique to utilize during the cold winter months seeing as it is a quiet presentation that covers lots of water. Nymphing is excellent for repeatedly placing your fly in the strike zone with minimal effort.

Depending on the body of water, you will be fishing in cold water more often that not, a floating line coupled with long leaders will be most productive. Heavily weighted nymph flies and an indicator system are a necessity to get down deep and attract attention from fish while still allowing the angler to detect light takes. Bead flies are a good idea for these types of fishing conditions because they have a little more weight than standard nymphs plus extra flashing to get those lazy fish feeding.

Summer fishing for browns can be a little more enjoyable for the angler seeing as you will have the opportunity to present the fish with many different floating patterns. If you are fishing a body of water that is unknown to you or it is very early in the morning, searching flies swung close to cover paired with timely strips can produce a voracious bite. If you are looking to catch fish on dries, long casts towards overgrown grassy banks will produce best. Cast upstream and across from your target at a forty-five degree angle and allow the fly to drift drag-free downstream.

If you are fishing terrestrial patterns, then a loud plop on the entry and a few strips during the drift will help to get fish looking at what you are offering. Another good idea for summer fishing is to use a dry and dopper technique for browns. This technique is simply attaching a high floating dry pattern like a deer hair grasshopper to the end of your line and running a second smaller nymph pattern from the hook of the first fly. In this aspect you will be covering a few different zones of the water column and allowing the fish to choose what they prefer best.

BestBetBrownTrout2The dry fly in this presentation will also act as attractant for the nymph and as a strike indicator. Last but not least is the wet fly approach to brown trout fishing. As terrestrial insects fall to the water surface, most will drown and get pulled below the waters surface, where browns will feed on them relentlessly.

Having a few soft hackle patterns that emulate these drowning critters will again help you to increase your odds in catching browns. The wet fly swing is a relatively easy technique whereby the anglers' casts downstream at a 45-degree angle to their target and lets the fly swing slowly across the current until it reaches a position completely below the angler. Repeated casts down and across will effectively cover lots of water and shows potential fish your fly at many different angles and speeds.

Lake dwelling brown trout are a shy bunch from their aggressive river cousins. They hide in shallow water, weed beds and rocky, boulder-strewn areas, and prefer a water temperature of 65-75 degrees F. To best target these fish, a slow sink-tip line should be used with a thin, long leader. Casting into the weed beds and allowing the fly to sink slowly to the bottom is a good idea too, but retrieving the fly in a life-like manner is the key to getting strikes from fish. For smaller flies a twist hand retrieve will do the trick while for nymph and streamer patterns, an erratic slow strip pause retrieve is needed.

Fly Selection

Brown trout are notorious for eating almost any desirable food item that it can fit into their mouths. Browns regularly consume a wide variety of aquatic insects and invertebrates, as well as tiny fish and crayfish. Along with these aquatic forms of food, browns seem to have a particular taste for land insects like ants, beetles, gnats, caterpillars and inch worms. They are known also to eat frogs and the occasional mouse. With such a diverse diet coupled with longevity and intelligence, you can see how one might find it a little hard to choose the right fly on any given day.

To the delight of most fly fishermen, and sometimes to their frustration, brown trout are also known to be voracious surface feeders that are a delight to catch on a dry fly. Unfortunately for most, browns can be very discriminating between a natural insect and a well-crafted imitation making for some very long, slow days in the river. When trying to decide what fly to use on your next fishing trips keep in mind that similarly with all other types of trout no one fly can guarantee that you will catch fish. A good idea is to try and tailor your flies to the water conditions that you will be fishing and to the time of the year it is. For brown trout this customizing of your fly box can be very crucial to one's success.

In early spring, brown trout will be actively searching out aquatic insect forage. The stream bottom critters this time of the year are very large chucked full of nutrients making them a tantalizing treat for browns. Caddis cases and mayfly nymphs are your best bet to keeping the action steady, with the darker shaded patterns producing best. Most hatching nymphs in spring need to be dark in color so that when they hatch they can draw in as much heat as possible to dry out and start their short life cycle. Mottled dark browns, black, and olive will be what you see most from hatching aquatic insects so having flies with these colors is a good idea.

As you move more towards the long dog days of summer, brown trout will certainly still be feeding on nymph patterns but a shift in their diet will become prominent. Browns are the ultimate opportunistic feeder and what better time of the year to take advantage of this behavior than summer with all the hatching terrestrial insects. If you plan on fishing early morning in midsummer then a good idea is to use a large searching pattern such as a leech or woolly bugger. Browns have a tendency to tuck themselves tight into cover and slowly stripping these patterns in and out of cover will produce tantalizing strikes.

BestBetBrownTrout WWSRedfishTroutAssortment
Many different flies can be used to get the fish to bite.

Around noon it is a good idea to switch up from your searching pattern and move to using terrestrial patterns especially if there is a breeze out. Bugs will get swept from the fields and woods into the water and browns will be there waiting to feed. Grasshopper patterns with deer hair that float high in the water column are a good bet to start out with while moth, ants and beetles also produce well. If you are interested in fishing terrestrial patterns but are confused as to what the fish might be feeding on take a few simple minutes to walk through the woods and see what is about. Spotting grasshoppers and moths should be no problem, but it takes a keen eye to watch for ants, caterpillars and beetles.

During fall and early winter the feeding habits if the brown trout seem to digress a little. Yes, you can still catch plenty of trout with nymphs but using minnow imitations and egg patterns seems to produce the biggest fish. As the lake run fish begin to enter the streams in order to spawn their respective diets have been focused mainly on baitfish so using large streamers with lots of flash is a good way of inviting a strike. Once the fish start to make their way to the redds their appetites will slow a bit, but yarn eggs in bright oranges and pinks will catch some good fish. At this time of the year another good approach is to use aggravator flies such as leech or baitfish patterns. Seeing as the fish's appetite has slowed, their strike on the patterns will be simply because of aggression and instinct.

Weather & Sunlight

Heavy rain, as with all other trout species, can be a very important variable in the size and number of fish you catch. As the level of the body of water increases and the clarity decreases due to rain, browns will be drawn out of their tight cover to feed on drowned insects. This pattern of moving out from cover will make it very hard for fly anglers to target fish simply because fish could be feeding anywhere throughout the river. During the spawn, the rising water will allow lake-run fish to travel safely up small creeks and rivers to their upstream spawning grounds.

While rising rivers help bring spawning fish upstream, dropping water levels will hold lake runners in deep holes providing ideal fishing conditions. If you are looking to catch lunker brown trout with any success, you have planned your fishing trips around these rising and falling water conditions in fall. Ideally fishing for browns is best if you can reach the river 1-2 days after a light rain, or 3-4 days after a heavy rain. The water level should be just starting to drop and have a slightly tinted color.

The amount of sunlight on the water is not as important to brown trout fishing as other species of trout. If you present these freshwater predators with the right fly they will take it regardless of the conditions or water levels. With that in mind do not forget that fish are very quick at picking up shadows on the water and spook easily, so when the sun is high be sure to keep out of the rays and be aware of casting your shadow on the water. When fishing remember to always start your day off downstream of where you want to end up and work your way upstream. By fishing upstream you will be approaching the fish from behind and not kicking river bottom sediment into the holes that you want to fish.

This colorful and feisty fish will provide exciting fishing. It can be a strong, ferocious fighter and a challenge to any experienced fly fishing enthusiasts.