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Fly Fishing Getting Started - Types of Trout

Published by Dave Kile [dkile] on 01/21/2014 (1641 reads)
Fly fishing anglers can pursue many types of freshwater fish in the region including bass, carp and sunfish. Undoubtedly, fly fishing for trout is by far the most popular. Millions of brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout are stocked in the Northeast every year. Aside from state and local club stocking efforts, all three species can be found naturally reproducing with varying degrees of success as well.

Trout flourish in waters that sustain fertile, cooler conditions year-round. Pollution has had an obvious negative impact on the success of wild trout populations. Many streams with high acidity or low levels of pH in mining regions have had a difficult time sustaining trout populations. Brook trout especially are the most tolerant of these conditions however their presence was greatly diminished during the twentieth century by deforestation and subsequent warmer water temperatures. Pollution spills that wiped out the insect life have been equally as devastating to trout populations. With improved conservation efforts and time, wild trout are making a strong comeback.

Better water conditions provide improved fertility in a stream so that young trout can feed on plankton, small crustaceans and insects. Mature trout will eat insects, fish, salamanders, crustaceans and even small mammals. Fly fishing for trout requires a keen knowledge of habitat, trout food and the fish. There are differences on how to fly fish for wild vs stocked trout.

Let's take a look at some of the general characteristics you’ll find with the three most common trout found in the northeast region for fly fishing.


Brook Trout - Salvelinus fontinalis
Brook Trout photo by 3wt7X

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Brook Trout are the only stream trout native to the region. Generally brook trout are found from northern Georgia along the Appalachian Mountains and then north into Maine. They are also found in the Great Lakes–Saint Lawrence system over to Hudson Bay region. During the 19th century brook trout were first introduced throughout the western US. They are the official state fish for New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

A typical wild brook trout can be 6"-18" inches dependent on habitat, nutrition and age. They are typically the smaller of the three commonly found trout. Brook trout spawn during the fall starting in late September thru November. Of the annual stocking in Pennsylvania by the PFBC less than 20% of the annual stocked trout are brookies. Fly fishing for wild brook trout in small mountainous streams is it’s own pursuit by many.

Habitat: Brook trout generally live in small to moderate-sized streams, lakes, and ponds. They thrive in cool temps (34-72 degrees), clean and well-oxygenated water conditions.

Identification: body coloring is generally dark brown-green, the upper body and top have a wavy or a marbling pattern called vermiculation that extends onto the dorsal fin, the sides and belly shade is lighter, body is marked with light colored or yellow spots with smaller red spots surrounded by a blue halo and white leading edge on pelvic and anal fins.


Brown Trout - Salmo trutta
Brown Trout photo by 3wt7X

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout are not a native species to the United States and they were introduced from Europe during the 19th century. They have become very successful across the country in many streams and lakes. Wild brown trout are typically larger than the native brook trout and are commonly found 12"-18". Larger brown trout can be found up to 30 inches and some can live well past 15 years. In Pennsylvania, about 1/3 of all streams stocking by the PFBC is with brown trout.

Habitat: Brown trout can be found in a wider range of water conditions. They prefer water temps from 50-60 degrees but can sustain themselves into the lower 70's. They are typically a little less tolerant of low pH conditions as compared to native brook trout.

Identification: body color is surprisingly not brown in color with black and often red spots on the sides, the lower belly section is yellowish, the tail fin typically has no spots.


Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss
Rainbow Trout photo by 3wt7X

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbow Trout are native to the Pacific coast of California to Alaska. Pennsylvania and other east coast states introduced rainbows during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The average size range for rainbow trout is 10"-14" inches, with some individuals reach 20+ inches. Opposite of brown and brook trout, wild rainbow trout spawn in the spring time. There are only a few naturally reproducing populations of rainbow trout on the east coast, but the species does very well in hatcheries and is the predominate species used in stream stocking. In Pennsylvania over 50% of the stocked trout are rainbows.

Habitat: Rainbows, much like brown trout, are a little less tolerant of low ph conditions. It is even suggested they can tolerate temps up to 75 degrees.

Identification: dark-greenish to silver back, red-pink stripe along lateral line, blackish spots on sides, head, dorsal fin and tail

Beginners can follow along and learn more in the Beginners Forum.

Additional Online Resources
http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishfacts/
http://www.fish.state.pa.us/pafish/fishhtms/chap15trout.htm
http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7016.html
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