Tuesday, June 15, 2021

All about Brook Trout

brook trout The state fish of New York (and 9 other states). Perhaps the most sought after fish in the Adirondacks due to its elusiveness and beauty. If you have ever caught one, they are a thrill and an absolute gem to the eye. In my experience, no other fish that you try to catch feels like you are hunting with a fishing rod and line. They are tricky, and thus a true challenge. It sure is a splendid feeling catching one.

With that said, the majestic Brook Trout is the appropriate species to kick off the first species account in what will become a series for the Adirondack Almanack.


Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Latin for “spring” is not a trout at all, it is “troutlike” and actually a char. Chars include Dolly Varden, Bull and Lake Trout. These trout are specialized to live in freezing temperatures. Brook trout is a highly sought after game fish especially in the northeast because it lives in pristine water. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people from cities such as New York and Boston would travel by train to the mountains of the Adirondacks to hook one of these beauties.

brook troutRange & Life History

The brook trout expands all of the northeast, down through Appalachian and even south to northern Georgia, and west to the Great Lakes. Biologists have identified two unique traits in genetics- a northern and southern strain- the boundary was identified to be in southwest Virginia. The southern strain has much less genetic diversity than our northern trout, leaving it more susceptible to perturbations. Trout typically live to ten or even up to 24 years.


The brook trout inhabit large lakes and tiny mountain streams- but they require cold, clean, high oxygenated water. They prefer temperatures between 34-72F degrees, however, they are more. They are also sensitive to acidity. They prefer a narrow range of pH levels (5.0-7.5) but lower and higher are possible.


Reproduction occurs in the fall when water temperature reaches low 50s. Courtship begins with the males attempting to drive females to a suitable gravel spot, imitating spawning behavior. Receptive female digs a redd. While the female prepares the redd the male darts back and forth rubbing the females’ fins. The male will fend off other males in the process. Once spawning is finished the female will fan her tail covering the eggs.


These fish typically feed on aquatic insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies. They will eat the occasional terrestrial insect if the opportunity is present. They are also known for cannibalistic behavior, eating their eggs and fry.

As a fisherman I can tell you that I have seen them feed on crayfish and leeches. In streams, minnows and creek chub eggs during the spring.


Current status in the Adirondacks is considered good. Many brook trout died off in the Adirondacks due to acid rain. Not until the Clean Air Act of 1970 and intense stocking regimes by the state did the trout bounce back. Although sedimentation, salinization, and habitat destruction is always a threat.

Fun facts
  • The largest brookie caught in the Dacks was 5lbs 14oz
  • Splake and tiger trout are hybrids of brook trout. Splake is a mix between lake trout and a brook trout. A tiger trout is a Brown trout mixed with a brook trout.

Stay tuned for more Adirondack Species Accounts in the future. I hope to write about new scientific findings from state and federal agencies on current findings and health of species in the Adirondacks.

Photos provided by Ken Johnston


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A native of Ticonderoga, Ken Johnston graduated from SUNY Brockport in 2015 with a combined degree in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology with minors in Business Administration and Chemistry. He has performed research on Great Lake wetlands, Finger Lake agricultural stream health, and harmful algal blooms and is working toward a master's degree in Biology. After graduation, he worked for Darrin Fresh Water Institute on the environmental monitoring program called The Jefferson Project. For the past couple of years, he has been working as a licensed NYS Wilderness Guide and boat captain on Lake George. Ken grew up loving the outdoors and can be found on the trails with his dog, Laikly.

5 Responses

  1. Jim Fox says:

    Clear and informative article about one of our natives that go waaay back. Thanks Ken.

  2. Hoffman says:

    Brookies are called Speckled Trout in some regions, hence the name “Splake” applied to the Lake Trout/Speckled Trout hybrid.

  3. Nice article, Ken. I’d like to share with you some of the work the Cornell Adirondack Fisheries Research Program and Trout Power have been doing re brook trout conservation.

  4. Ray Bohmer says:

    Great article. I recently caught a 16 inch rainbow out of north creek. Quite large (and beautiful) for this small creek.

  5. richard camilleri says:

    Great article….went to school in the ad’s …schroon lake…but presently reside in VA. I miss the park and your article brought back fond memories.

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