Brook Trout Pattern Feature

By Doug Saball

Introduction: This feature is a the next installment of a series of articles being created as a group effort by members of the Streamer List to provide some background information on the species of forage fish we most commonly try to immitate with streamer patterns. Many thanks to the list members who contributed patterns and other information! 

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

This description of the Brook Trout was submitted by Doug Saball

The brook trout is native to North America.  It is found from the Canadian Maritime Provinces, including offshore islands, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec.  West through the Great Lakes drainage of Ontario, north to James and Hudson Bays including Belcher and Akimiski island, coastwise to northeastern Manitoba.  Where it occurs in the Nelson and Hayes River
systems and north along Hudson Bay coast to Seal River.  In the United States the brook trout is found from the Atlantic seaboard of Maine to Cape Cod, in the Appalachian Mountains southward to Georgia, west in the upper Mississippi and Great Lakes drainage to Minnesota, north to Canada. (1)

The brook trout has been successfully introduced widely throughout many parts of the world because of its appeal as a sport fish.  These extended ranges include parts of western North America, South America (including the Falkland Islands), New Zealand, Asia, and many parts of Europe. (1)

The brook trout can usually be distinguished by body coloration alone.  The back is olive-green to dark brown and sometimes black.   Overlying the back are dark wavy or worm-like lines (vermiculations) which also appear on the dorsal and caudal fins. The sides are iridescent bluish or greenish with numerous large yellowish spots and a few smaller red spots encircled in a blue halo.  The most identifying feature is the vivid milk-white leading edge followed by a black streak and then reddish coloration of each of the lower fins.  The tail fin will also serve as an identifying characteristic as it is square or very shallowly forked.  The teeth on the roof of the mouth are confined to only a small cluster near the front and do not occur along its length as in the Atlantic salmon, brown trout, and rainbow trout.  Males at breeding time develop a hooked lower jaw (Kype) and their lower flanks become brilliantly suffused with reddish-orange. (1,2)

Juvenile brook trout are very similar in coloration to young Atlantic salmon.  Both have dark and light alternating vertical bars, and the spots on the side are not pronounced in the brook trout.  The distinction is the forked verses the squarish tail and the upper teeth in the brook trout.

Brook trout are cold water fish.  They are never abundant in habitats that do not provide some water where temperatures are less than 60-65 degrees F.  It is more rigid in its temperature requirements than rainbow or brook trout and as a rule will not be found in streams where 68 degrees F are exceeded for an extended amount of time.  Temperatures above 77 degrees F are fatal if sustained for a prolonged period of time.  In lakes and ponds with higher temperatures where brook trout are found usually cold water springs or other sources of cold water are near by.

The brook trout spawns in late summer or autumn depending on temperature and latitude.  Through the southern reaches it spawns during September, October, or November, but it may take place as early as August in northern Canada and as late as December in the south.  Spawning usually take place over gravel beds in the shallow headwaters of streams but may also be in gravelly shallows of lakes if spring upwelling and a moderate current are present.  Mature brook trout may travel many miles upstream to reach sufficient spawning grounds.  The males usually arrive first and often outnumber females.  Individual males may display some territoriality with aggression increasing when joined by a female.  One male and female perform actual spawning; however, each may spawn with different mates during the reproductive period.  The female clears away debris and silt from the nesting area by a series of rapid fanning movements of the caudal fin made while on her side.  The circling and courting movements of the larger male produce currents that assist in cleaning the area.  Both mail and female will dart ate any intruders to drive them away.  Spawning occurs during the daytime, in contrast to night spawning by lake trout. (1)

Several different accounts of the spawning act have been recorded for brook trout.  One account stated that the female turned on its side, flipped its tail several times and the eggs shot out.  Another reported that the female took a position on the bottom of the nest, with pectoral and pelvic fins spread against the stones, and at her side the male arched his body to hold the female against the bottom and both vibrating intensely as eggs and milt were discharged.  There are several extrusions followed by a resting period.  The eggs are adhesive for a short period after extrusion which allows those not lodged in gravel from being washed away. The number of eggs produced by a female varies with her size.  A 4-inch fish produces less than 100 eggs; a 14 or 15-inch fish produces over 2,000 eggs, while a 22-inch fish will produce over 5,000 eggs.   After spawning is completed the female covers the eggs with gravel in a similar manner as when she constructed the redd.  Hatching takes about 140 days at 35 degrees F. (1)

A brook trout's rate of growth depends on the habitat it is in.  A four year old brook trout inhabiting a perpetually cold spring brook may be only six inches in length and weigh only an ounce or so.  However, a brook trout of the same age inhabiting a relatively rich lake habitat may be as much as four pounds.  Brook trout are a relatively short-lived fish.  Age studies throughout North America have demonstrated that brook trout more than three or four years of age are relatively rare.  Individuals as old as seven years old are occasionally taken, but two and three year old fish make up the bulk of anglers catches.  Maturity is not related to size.  In a New Hampshire cold mountain streams fully mature specimens have been taken as small as 3 1/4 inches long. (3)

Brook trout are carnivorous and feed on a wide range of organisms.  Young and medium sized trout eat large numbers of aquatic insect larvae and terrestrial insects.  During the cold months they rely on insect larvae found on the bottom.  In the warmer months the diet shifts to adult insects taken on the surface.  Brook trout are a daytime feeder but during the summer feeding may be restricted to the cool of the morning and evening.  Brook trout engage in a limited amount of cannibalism, eating their own eggs at spawning time and their own young in the spring. (1,2,3)

Etymology: Salvelinus - an old name for char; fontinalis - living in spring.

Common names: Brook trout, Eastern brook trout, speckled trout, aurora trout, brookie, square-tail, speckled char, sea trout, salters, sea-run trout, common brook trout, mud trout, coaster, eastern speckled trout, native trout, mountain trout, breac, and squaretailed trout. (1, 3)


(1) Bulletin 184; Freshwater Fishes of Canada, W.B. Scott, Crossman E.J., Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Ottawa 1973.
(2) Freshwater Fishes of New Hampshire, John F. Scarols, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, division of Inland and Marine Fisheries, 1973.
(3) Fishes of Maine, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, 4th edition, 1976.

Pattern Listing

Contributed By: Pattern Name:
Lindsey Grandison Kelsey Brook Trout
Lindsey Grandison Brook Trout Deceiver
Roger Whitcomb Cains River Brook Trout
Bob Petti Trout Fin
Bill Stotz Brook Trout Clouser
Chris DelPlato Thunder Creek Brook Trout
Stan Jakubaszek Chief Needabeh
Stan Jakubaszek Little Brook Trout (Slaymaker)
Phil Foster Trout Fin Bucktail
Wes Autio Parmacheene Belle & Beau
Robb Nicewonger Little Brook Trout
Dave Talley Black Marabou Brookie
Doug Saball Litt'l Brookie
Bob Skehan Flatwing Brook Trout

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