Brook Trout vs. Brown Trout: A Simple Guide
Mar 12, 2021 | 3 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Who doesn’t love Trout fishing? Wading a shallow stream or casting into a remote lake, with half a dozen potential game fish waiting to take your line. It’s some of the best angling you could ask for! However, it can sometimes be confusing – you’ve caught a Trout, sure, but which Trout? With that in mind, here’s a quick run-down of two common species: Brook Trout and Brown Trout.

Brook Trout vs. Brown Trout Identification

A graphic explaining how to identify Brook Trout vs. Brown Trout. On the right there is a Brook Trout with a Brown Trout beneath it. On the left, text reads "1. Spots: Lighter than the body on Brook Trout. Darker than the body on Brown Trout." "2. Pattern on Back: Brook Trout have a wormlike pattern. Brown Trout have no distinct pattern" "3. Lower Fins: Brook Trout have a white edging on their fins. Brown Trout have no edging on their fins." "4. Tail: Brook Trout have spots on their tail. Brown Trout have few or no spots on their tail."

At first glance, Brown and Brook Trout look pretty similar. They’re the same shape, and they each have spots on their sides. What’s more, both fish come in a variety of colors. Don’t worry, there are a few easy ways to tell the two species apart.

The first thing you should look at is their spots. Are they lighter than the rest of their body, or darker? If their spots are lighter, it’s probably a Brook Trout. If not, chances are it’s a Brown Trout. While you’re looking, check out the halos around the spots. These will have a bluish tint on Brookies, but will be plain whitish on Browns.

Another clear sign of which fish you’ve caught is its markings. Brook Trout have a distinctive wormlike pattern on their backs. They also have white edging along their lower fins, as well as the bottom of their tail. Brown Trout don’t have any of these things.

Still can’t tell what you’re holding? Take a look at the tail. Brook Trout have splotches and spots all over their tails. Brown Trout tails are usually plain, with a few spots on the top half at most.

Bonus Round: Name That Trout!

A close-up of a Brook Trout held above water

We’ve had a lot of discussion around this image. Some people think it’s a Brook Trout, others think it’s a Splake. We’ve even had a couple of readers call it a Tiger Trout. What’s your take? Let us know in the comments!

Brook Trout vs. Brown Trout Habitat

You now know how to tell Brook and Brown Trout apart. But where should you go to catch them? Both species are incredibly adaptable in their own ways, but they do have their preferred hangouts. Knowing these is the key to landing a monster.

Brook Trout Habitat

beautiful, colorful brook trout in the water

Despite their name, Brook Trout don’t just live in small streams. These versatile fish are at home in anything from tiny creeks and beaver ponds to large lakes and rivers. They can also survive in brackish waters, and even in the ocean. In short, they can show up just about everywhere.

The one thing that Brook Trout are picky about is current. They hunt by lying in wait for food to float their way. Because of this, you’ll rarely find them in sluggish, slow-moving water. At the same time, if the current is too fast, they need to expend too much energy to hold steady in the water. They’re the Goldilocks of the Trout family: Not too fast. Not too slow. Just right.

Brown Trout Habitat

A Brown Trout held by an angler on a boat

Brown Trout are more particular when it comes to finding a home. They like clear rivers and lakes with plenty of cover. They’re quite flexible about the temperature, but tend to be more common in colder waters, especially in rivers and streams.

Despite their love of clear water (or perhaps because of it), Brown Trout spend most of their time holding in cover. They hide in debris and deep pools, or among rocks and overhanging vegetation. They may seem shy, but they’ll still put up the fight of a life once they take your bait.

Brook Trout and Brown Trout may seem similar at first, but these are two very distinct creatures. From the way they look to the waters they live in, there are a lot of differences between them. The one thing they do have in common is that they’re both true game fish, and a ton of fun to catch. So what are you waiting for, get out there and hook one!

How do you identify Brook Trout vs. Brown Trout? Have you caught them both in the past? Where did you do it? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments (9)
  • Craig Olds

    Sep 10, 2020

    There’s a lot of variation in tiger trout, but that picture isn’t one of them. I’m pretty certain it’s a splake. The lack of variation in the color of the spots and the shape of the head, pretty even mix of lake trout and brook trout features.

    Just a follow up. I google splake and that’s one of the first images that came up.
    Doesn’t make it a slam dunk, but, I’m pretty sure that’s what we have.

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      Albert

      Sep 10, 2020

      Hi Craig,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I tried out your tactic and found the image you mean. It’s actually on the photo-sourcing website Shutterstock, where I got the image from to begin with, and is tagged as brown, brook, cutthroat, rainbow, splake, and even salmon. I guess they were trying to cover all bases and it worked.

      You make a fair point about the spots, though. Seems like the jury’s still out!

      All the best!

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  • Richard

    May 10, 2020

    I fish a certain little lake that’s easily a favorite here in the beautiful Utah Mountains at least two, or three times a year and it’s full of Tiger Trout – those being the majority of what we catch. As a result, I can confidently say that the fish in the referred pic above, is absolutely a Brookie – NO DOUBT about if! Thanks for the continued valuable info you share with all of us “FLY THROWERS”

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      Albert

      May 11, 2020

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for getting in touch, and for closing the case on the photo. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the article.

      Tight lines!

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  • Bryan

    Sep 24, 2019

    The picture you have at the top of the part about “brook trout habitat” you actually have a picture of a tiger trout instead of a brook trout.

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      Albert

      Sep 25, 2019

      Hi Bryan,

      What makes you say that?

      To my knowledge, Tiger Trout have wormlike marking all across their body, instead of the light spots on dark green that the fish in this photo has.

      It could potentially be a Splake, though, now that I look at it again.

      What does everyone else think?

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      Jack

      Oct 19, 2019

      That’s a Brook Trout, and a very nice one at that.
      The worm pattern on tiger trout covers more of the body of the fish.

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      Huy

      Oct 20, 2020

      I thought brook trout have red spots with blue halos on their flanks, which the one in the pic doesn’t have. I’m no expert, though.

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      Albert

      Oct 20, 2020

      Hi Huy,

      Thanks for getting in touch. This is a long-running discussion here to say the least.

      I think it’s probably time to replace the image with something more clearly Brookish, but we’ll keep it elsewhere in the article until we get a definite answer.

      All the best!

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