Brook Trout

Brook Trout

Several brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) were swimming near the shore of Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA) recently. Impulsively I tried to photograph them. I have no idea how to take pictures of subjects under the water, so my efforts were not stellar. However, the pictures are adequate enough to introduce the brook trout.

A native of northeastern North America, the brook trout has been introduced to the remainder of the United States, Canada, South America and Europe where habitat is suitable for its survival. A member of the salmon family, the brook trout is actually a char, even though it is called a trout. Char are separated from trout by their mouth structure.

A beautiful fish, the brook trout is basically brown or olive with wormlike marking across the back and red spots, sometimes surrounded by a bluish halo, along its sides.  The lower fins have a white front edge then a narrow black stripe. The remainder of the lower fins are orangish. The large mouth extends past the eye. The tail fin is square, giving rise to another common name, squaretail. Males can become bright orange on their sides during the breeding season.

Brook trout require cool water of high purity, preferring spring-fed water in the 57° to 60° range but live in temperatures as low as 34° and as high as 72°. (The species name, fontinalis, is from the Latin and means “from a spring or fountain”.) Spawning occurs in the fall. The number of eggs produced depends on the size and age of the female. After using her tail to dig a spawning bed (redd) in a gravely area the female lays her eggs while one or more males fertilize the eggs as they are expressed. After spawning the female covers the eggs with gravel. Incubation depends on water temperature: at 35° requiring 144 days while at 55° only requiring 35 days.

Brook trout have a diverse diet and will eat just about anything including crustaceans, amphibians, insects, mollusks, invertebrates, smaller fish and even small mammals that fall into the water.

This short-lived species, usually less than five years in the wild, is the state fish of eight states: Michigan, Virginia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia and New York.

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