Fly Fishing Colorado Rivers | Where did Brown Trout Come From?

For the serious western angler there is no greater prize than the elusive, predatory Salmo trutta. By Rocky Mountain trout standards, Brown trout are especially ferocious. They are notorious for their ambush tactics, darting out from under logs and overhanging vegetation to devour unsuspecting grasshoppers, fish, and even mice. These fish spend their days lurking in the shadows and are wonderfully camouflaged. Anglers rarely catch a glimpse of the big ones except after it is too late. Any streamer fisherman who has missed the brown trout of a lifetime has seen that brief, lightning like “flash”. For most of us, that image has been seared into our memories forever, and haunts us each time we tie on that size 6 Platte River Spider.

Although most of the browns in Colorado are self sustaining, naturally reproducing populations, they are not indigenous to North America. However, due to their voracious nature, they are considered an invasive species in many rivers and streams here in the west. This is mainly due to the cutthroat populations dwindling.

How did Brown Trout Get to Colorado?

Brown trout are native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Specific countries include Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, France, Greece, Armenia, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Brown trout have been introduced in 45 of 50 US states and have self sustaining populations in 34 states. Most of the brown trout that we chase here in Colorado are species from Germany and Loch Leven, Scotland. In 1883 German ichthyologist Baron Lucius von Behr shipped 80,000 red spotted brown trout eggs to his American colleague and angler Fred Mather at the Caledonia fish Hatchery in New York State. In Western Michigan’s Pere Marquette River the first of these fish were released into the wild. Brown trout were the dominant species in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and parts of Wisconsin within 100 years of being introduced. The introduction of brown trout changed the sport of fly fishing in America, greatly boosting its popularity in the early twentieth century. In 1890, seven years after their introduction in the Pere Marquette, brown trout had been shipped to the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. They were on their way to becoming one of the most sought after trophies of the west.

These fish are strong, beautiful, and hard to fool. They command respect from the most seasoned anglers and guides alike. We are blessed with an abundance of huge, wild brown trout here in Eagle County. If you want a chance at a monster, however, you will most likely have to put forth some serious time and effort. A huge brown trout never comes to the net easily. It never hurts to get help either. The professional guides here at Vail Valley Anglers are some of the best trout hunters on the planet. They can put you in the right place to hook one of these awesome predators.

Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer