Where did your family come from? Maybe you have just moved to Montana from another state, or maybe you have lived here all your life. Were your grandparents born here? How about your great-grandparents? For most of us, our families came to Montana from some other state, or maybe even from another country. That's also the story for our feature fish, the Brown Trout. If you lived in Germany and caught a brown trout, you would call it a Bachforrelle.
Brown trout, or browns as they are commonly known, are not native to Montana. They were brought to the state from Europe and first stocked in the Madison River in 1889. Sometimes you may still hear someone call them a "german brown" since that was one of the places where they were originally found.
Browns are members of the trout and salmon family, which has lots of other members in Montana. Brown trout have adapted very well here, and are very popular with anglers across the state. But bringing brown trout to Montana has also caused some problems. Other trout, like the native cutthroat, cannot compete very well with brown trout. Browns are aggressive, and sometimes will chase cutthroats out of good spots to live in a stream or river.
Trout are considered "cold-water" fish, which means that they survive best in cool and cold water, and cannot live in places where the water gets too warm for them. Brown trout are better at surviving in water that is a little too warm for other kinds of Montana trout. They also seem to prefer places in streams and rivers where the water moves a little slower than the rest of the current. Like some other trout though, they also do very well living in lakes and reservoirs.
Montana's trout lay their eggs, or spawn, at different times of the year. Rainbows and cutthroats spawn in the spring or early summer, and brook trout and bull trout spawn in the fall. Brown trout also spawn in the fall, and the timing of their spawning season might be one way in which they have adapted well to Montana. By spawning in the fall, the eggs and small trout spend the first few months of their life in the streams when the water is cold, and drought is not likely to affect them. Spring spawning trout have a more difficult time, since their young sometimes have to cope with low water from a drought in their first few months.
One way in which browns are different from other Montana trout is their diet. Trout are known by anglers for eating lots of small insects. But brown trout, especially big brown trout, seem to pass on eating little bug, and instead, seem to have an appetite for other fish. Big brown trout also like to eat at night, after most of the anglers have gone home. So a big brown trout can be one of the most difficult fish in the state to fool.
If you go fishing for brown trout, there are lots of different ways to catch them. Lures like spinners and small plugs can tempt a big brown into biting, but make sure you use lightweight, thin fishing line; remember how smart those fish can be. Live bait like worms and minnows can work very well too, just check the current fishing regulations to be sure if it is legal to use live bait where you would like to fish. If you are a flyfisher, there are lots of flies out there that might fool a brown trout. Flies that imitate insects might work, but to catch a big brown trout you'll probably need to use a streamer, or some other fly to imitate a small fish, or something like a big juicy leech.
So once fishing season opens, grab your angelrute (fishing rod) and a few angelhakens (fishhooks) and get outside to go Forellenangeln (trout fishing) and try and find a big old Bachforrelle (brown trout). You may live in Montana, but you'll be looking for a fish that came to our state from Germany.