Can Brook Trout Live in Saltwater?

Happy angler with big sea trout on the fly rod

I live in northeastern Utah. I’m around 800 miles from the nearest ocean. The main sport fish in my area is the Brook Trout. I’ve caught a bunch of them in my 53 years. They’re plentiful and always willing to bite. On a good day, I can catch and release over a hundred of them in one of the small creeks within driving distance of my home. I’ve wondered before if Brook Trout can live in saltwater like other trout and char species do. According to my research, the answer to that question is yes.

Sea Run Brook Trout are Called Salters

According to the book “Trout And Salmon of North America” by Robert J Behnke, some Brook Trout along the Atlantic coast migrate into bays and estuaries to feed.

This takes place in the months when stream temperatures rise. These fish never venture more than a few miles from river mouths. They will remain at sea for up to three months. Such fish are called salters.

According to Benke, in the 19th century, these fish were erroneously classified as a separate species. Salters, also known as sea trout, take on a silvery appearance when they live in saltwater. They look very different from Brook Trout in freshwater.

The difference in appearance between Brook Trout in fresh water and saltwater lead to the misclassification, which recognized Salters or Sea Trout as a separate species.

Salters of New England

According to the sea-run Brook Trout website, there were hundreds of rivers and streams from Long Island to Maine with Salter populations before the industrial revolution. These fish were prized for their eating quality, size, and fighting ability. New England’s Salter Brook Trout became the focus of America’s first sport fishery.

In the 1800s, there were exclusive fishing clubs on the more famous Massachusetts and Long Island Salter streams. By the turn of the 20th century, dam building and other habitat degradation had taken a huge toll on sea-run Brook Tout populations. Only a portion of their former abundance remains.

Today remnant Salter populations hang on in title creeks and rivers but go unnoticed for the most part. The SRBCT is an organization of academics, fishery biologists, ecologists, non Governmental organizations, and private citizens; their goal is to preserve and restore wild native coastal Brook Trout in their native range. Source

New England Salter Brook Trout Waters

Red Brook

Red Brook is a 4.5-mile-long spring-fed stream. It begins at White Island Pond and empties into Buttermilk Bay after running its course. For much of its length, it is the boundary between Plymouth and Wareham, Massachusetts.

Red Brook is one of the few New England coastal streams that support anadromous fish. Sea-run Brook Trout uses Red Brook to Spawn.

The idyllic Salter Trout habitat in Red Brook results from a restoration effort dating back to the 1870s.

In 1867, Massachusetts appointed Theodore Lyman III to study the causes behind the decline in anadromous fish in the state’s coastal streams.

Lyman determined that dikes and dams used to divert factories, mills, and cranberry bogs were the main cause of the fisheries’ decline.

In around 1870, Lyman began buying land along the banks of Red Brook. By the 1970s, the Lyman family owned 638 acres along Red Brook. The Lyman family deeded the property to Trout Unlimited in the 1980s on the condition that they would restore the stream’s fishery. Trout Unlimited signed an agreement with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife that created the 638 acre Red Brook reserve in 2001.

Quashnet River

The Quashnet River is also called the Moonakis river after it crosses into Falmouth and becomes an estuary by either name. It is one of the few free-flowing rivers on the upper Cape Cod. The majority of coastal streams are diked or diverted to provide water to cranberry bogs. The Quashnet has not always been free-flowing. In 1832 a dam was built on the Moonakis river to power a grist mill, and later the dam was enlarged, and an additional mill was built on it. The mills burned in 1894 and were never rebuilt because other sources of power had replaced water power. The dam was breached to draw down the millpond; then, the valley floor was ditched and converted into cranberry bogs. The cranberry bogs were flooded with saltwater in 1954 during hurricane Carol. The bogs were abandoned after this.

Since that time, the state of Massachusetts has required most of the river and its banks, and the State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, in partnership with Trout Unlimited along with many volunteers, have labored to rehabilitate the river and bring it back to its former state as a cool, clear quality trout stream. source

Dennys River

The Dennys River is in the Downeast region of Maine. It is the outlet of Meddybemps Lake. It flows approximately 23 miles before joining the Hardscrabble River estuary. The Hardscrabble Estuary drains into Dennys Bay.

This River was once famous for its Atlantic Salmon runs. The Salmon have all but disappeared. There are ongoing efforts to bring them back.

The Dennys River is also home to a good population of Salter Brook Trout.

Stanley Brook

Stanley Brook is located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. It Flows for 3.7 miles through Acadia National Park before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Seal Harbor.

This stream has a population of sea-run Brook Trout.

Old Stream

Old Stream is a river in Washington County, Maine, that holds a good Salter Brook Trout population.

The Carmans River

Although it’s not in New England, I’m going to include this river here. The Carmans River is one of the four longest rivers on Long Island, New York. It is approximately 10 miles long and runs through the city of Brookhaven.

Along with stocked Browns and Rainbows, the Carmans River has sea-run Brook Trout.

The River lies within Southaven Park. Consequently, there is a small daily fee to fish there.

Hudson Bay

The sea-run Brook Trout that inhabit the tributaries of Hudson Bay are different from those you find in the United States in that they are huge. Some of the rivers and streams flowing into the bay never see a fisherman.

If you have the time and resources and you are not scared of the Polar Bears, a trip there ought to be on your bucket list.

Sutton River

The Sutton River Flows through northwestern Ontario. It eventually terminates at the south shore of Hudson Bay.

The Sutton River is world-renowned for its abundance of trophy brookies of both native and sea-run variety.

To book a trip into this area, contact Hearst Air Service.

The Winisk River

The Winisk River is in northern Ontario, Canada, and flows east to Winisk Lake. From there, it runs in a northerly direction to Hudson Bay.

The Winisk River is home to trophy Brook Trout of both the native and salter variety.

To fish this river, you’ll need a good guide service to assist you.

Try Wild Wind Tours at Peawanuck, Ontario.

Do Brook Trout Go To The Ocean?

Now you know the answer is yes; some of them do. Sea-Run Brook Trout are not as numerous as they once were in the US, but they do exist. In eastern Canada, they’re numerous, and they grow to trophy-sized dimensions.

When you go after these fish with a fly rod, leave your dry flies at home. They’re used to eating baitfish.

Drift a streamer with the current and then slowly retrieve it upstream.

Good luck and good fishing.

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