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This week's Feature Blog

What is it About Brown Trout?

By: Mark Romanack

Captain Matt Yablonsky of Wet Net Charters caught this beautiful brown trout while filming an episode of Fishing 411 TV near the mouth of the Niagara River. Brown trout do not naturally reproduce well in most waters, so annual stocking efforts are often needed to keep success rates high.

​When it comes to sport fishing, anglers often want what they can’t have. It seems that some of the species that are most difficult or expensive to manage and stock, become the very species we covet. This is precisely how I feel about brown trout. Having cut my teeth learning to troll for brown trout in both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, it’s a bitter pill to admit I rarely troll for brown trout in Michigan waters anymore.

​ Despite the fact that Michigan once was the “place to be” if you wanted to catch trophy brown trout, these days things are different. While Michigan stocks a lot of browns, most of these fish are stocked into rivers rather than Great Lakes waters.

​So my quest to find excellent brown trout fishing has forced me to put the boat on the trailer. So be it, if I have to travel to catch brown trout I’m going to make the most of it.

Big browns like this one caught by Jake Romanack out of Milwaukee Harbor are the kind of fish dreams are made of. This fish hit a “Green Pirate” 3.5 Mag Lip a plug that consistently catches fish everywhere we take it. 


​Wisconsin has continued to stock brown trout heavily into Lake Michigan in recent years. While stocking efforts vary from year to year, on average Wisconsin has stocked 500,000 browns annually. The majority of these fish are stocked at or near Milwaukee where anglers can enjoy excellent fishing in April. December is also a good month to find trophy brown trout in and around the Milwaukee area. Some years the marinas in Milwaukee freeze providing anglers the unique opportunity to ice fish for trophy brown trout in protected waters.


​The Wisconsin DNR has done an excellent job of planting browns in and among the Apostle Islands. The habitat here is excellent for brown trout that thrive on rocky structure. Because it’s further north than most brown trout fisheries, the growth rates are slow and the action gets going a little later in the spring than Lake Michigan.


​To be fair, the brown trout anglers in the Keweenaw Peninsula are catching are not Michigan DNR fish. They are actually Wisconsin DNR fish stocked in western Lake Superior that have discovered a liking for the “Copper Country”. The prevailing current in Lake Superior carries those brown trout east where they find smelt and ciscoes to eat and plenty of structure to hide out among. Typically these browns mix into schools of naturally reared coho and stocked splake provided by the Michigan DNR.


​The ports of Olcott and Wilson west to the mouth of the Niagara River consistently produces noteworthy brown trout fishing in April and early May. Like any brown trout water, water clarity in the spring pretty much dictates if fishing is good, bad or otherwise. The ideal conditions are when murky water from tributary streams and the Niagara River settle in along the south shore, attracting baitfish and brown trout in close to shore. This fishery extends west into Ontario waters all the way to the Welland Canal.


​Rochester, Fair Haven and Sodus Point may have the best brown trout fishing found anywhere in the Great Lakes. In addition to excellent stocking efforts, this part of Lake Ontario has extensive hard bottom structures close to shore. Brown trout thrive here because they don’t have to travel far to find all the food and cover they need.

Brown trout were once common in the Michigan waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In recent years however the author rarely targets brown trout near home. Instead he travels to other ports that produce consistently better brown trout action.


​Eastern Lake Ontario from Oswego east to Mexico Bay, Port Ontario and Henderson Harbor ranks as world class brown trout water. Browns are so available here charter captains often leave them alone until wind and rough water makes it impossible to get off shore to target the more in demand steelhead and chinook salmon. Again, this area has an abundance of excellent structure that is close enough to shore the browns rarely leave. Even in the middle of summer, captains routinely pull limits of browns when they can’t get off shore to target the salmon their clients are primarily interested in catching.


​So for anglers who are interested in targeting brown trout in Great Lakes waters, the above destinations should keep you busy. A trophy sized trout could come from any of these waters, but if I really wanted to box a truly big brown trout, the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan would be my target water.

​This area consistently produces brown trout north of 20 pounds! Now that’s something to ponder.


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