Brook Trout in New York State – Appearance, Habitat, Spawning, Tips

Brook Trout (salvelinus fontinalis) are a native species to the waters of New York State. Their native range extends throughout the Northeastern United States, as well as further south into the Appalachian mountains.

close up of a brook trout 

They are the official state fish of the empire state. These fish are an iconic symbol of wildness and beauty throughout our state, making them an extremely popular choice for fishing. 

Brook trout, while native to the region, have been on the decline. This is partly due to invasive species including yellow perch and brown trout out competing brookies for resources, as well as human activity and climate change. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has worked to protect and restore brook trout populations in recent years. Fishing regulations have been put into place to ensure their continued survival and help keep our waterways healthy. 

How to Identify Eastern Brook Trout

Brook Trout, sometimes referred to as a speckled trout, can be identified by 

  • colorful spots, ranging from olive green to yellow to red. 
  • white or pale yellow belly
  • they usually between 6-12 inches in length
  • they weigh an average of 1-2 pounds.

Brook Trout can live up to five years if they are in a healthy environment with sufficient food sources and clean water.

Other Trout species found in NYS

According to the DEC, in addition to brook trout there are 16 other types trout species found in New York State.

Among these sixteen trout species are Atlantic salmon, brown trout, lake trout, rainbow trout, and splake.

Brook Trout Habitat

small streams and rivers make for great brook trout habitat

The ideal habitat for Brook Trout in New York State is clean water with plenty of oxygen and a good food source.

This includes streams and rivers that are free of pollutants, have adequate shading from trees and have a cold temperature range (less than 72°F).

Brook Trout also prefer areas with rocky bottoms so they can hide among the rocks and avoid predators. 


Maturity for brook trout can be achieved as early as age 1 year in small streams where they remain small due to their environment, but is usually reached at 2 years.

Spawning occurs between September and October, when water temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Brook Trout will gather in groups to spawn, with the dominant male brook trout taking charge of defending the female’s redd, or nest. Female brook trout lay their eggs in a depression they create by using their tail and the dominant male will then fertilize them.

Fry (young fish) emerge sometime between February and April, depending on water temperatures. After they emerge, the fry will stay close to vegetation and other protected areas until they become large enough to move on.

5 Great Places to Fish for Brook Trout in New York State

1. Ausable River: The Ausable River is located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains and is a prime spot for Brook Trout fishing. This river winds its way through forests, mountains, and valleys, offering plenty of spots to find these fish.

2. Saranac Lake Chain: The Saranac Lake Chain is a network of interconnected lakes in the Adirondack Mountains. This area is home to an abundance of Brook Trout and offers anglers plenty of opportunities for fishing.

3. Keuka Lake: Keuka Lake is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and is well-known for its Brook Trout fishing. The lake is surrounded by lush forests, providing ample habitat for these fish to thrive.

4. Monhagen Creek: Monhagen Creek is a tributary of the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier of New York State. This river is home to a healthy population of Brook Trout, as well as other aquatic species such as Smallmouth Bass and Catfish.

5. Salmon River: The Salmon River is located near Lake Ontario in Central New York and is famous for its excellent trout fishing. Anglers can find an abundance of Brook Trout in this river, as well as Brown Trout and Steelhead.

Natural Prey and Food Sources for Brook Trout

Brook Trout feed primarily on insects, crustaceans, and small fish such as minnows and darters.

In times of scarcity, they have been known to eat amphibians, mollusks, and other aquatic invertebrates.

Top Live Baits for Brook Trouts

1. Mealworms: Mealworms are among the most popular live baits for Brook Trout, as they are readily available and easy to use. They can be fished under a bobber or on a jighead and make an ideal meal for most Brook Trout.

2. Wax Worms: Wax worms also make excellent live baits for Brook Trout, as they are small in size and have a high-fat content. These worms can be fished on a jighead or used to tip spoons and spinners for extra appeal.

3. Maggots: Maggots are another popular bait choice for Brook Trout, as they are small and easy to use. Maggots can be fished on a jighead or floated under a bobber for an effective presentation.

4. Crickets: Crickets are larger than some of the other live bait mentioned, but they can still make great Brook Trout bait. They are best used in deeper water where the trout will not have to chase them.

5. Minnows: Minnows are considered one of the best live baits for Brook Trout and can be used in a variety of ways, including under a bobber or on a jighead. They also make excellent bait when fishing deeper water.

The Best Lures and Flies for Brook Trout

picture of a brook trout being reeled in on a line with a fly.

1. Spoons: Spoons are one of the most popular lures for Brookie fishing in New York, as they are easy to use and can be fished at different depths. Add a wax worm or maggot to the hook to make it even more appealing.

2. Spinners: Spinners also work well for Brook Trout, as the spinning motion and flash of the lure will attract their attention. Choose a size and color that best suits your situation and you’ll be sure to hook some nice fish.

3. Jigs: Jigs are an excellent choice for deeper water, where other lures may not reach. They also work well in fast-moving water, as they can be fished near the bottom with relatively little effort.

4. Streamers: Streamers are great for fishing for Brook Trout in New York because of their large profile and unique movement in the water. They can be cast or retrieved to attract fish from a distance or drifted along with a slow current for a more subtle presentation.

5. Soft Plastic Baits: Soft plastic baits, such as worms and grubs, are excellent choices for Brook Trout fishing in New York because they can mimic natural food sources and entice the fish to bite. They are also great for slow presentations in deeper water.

Remember to experiment with different lures and flies until you find the one that works best for your situation.

Fishing Tips for Brook Trout Anglers

Man posing in front of a river with a brook trout

1. Use a light line and a light rod: Brook Trout are easily spooked, so it’s important to use a light line and rod that will not scare them away. Opt for fluorocarbon or mono lines in a 6-10 pound test for maximum sensitivity and stealth.

2. Fish the edges: Brook Trout are typically found near the edges of streams and rivers, so focus your efforts there. Look for areas with slower water and plenty of structures like logs or rocks that provide cover for the fish.

3. Fish slowly: Brook Trout don’t like to chase after their food, so it’s important to cast and retrieve your lure or fly slowly. This allows the fish to inspect it for longer and increases your chances of a successful catch.

4. Present different baits: If you’re having trouble catching Brook Trout, try presenting them with different baits and lures until you find one that they’re interested in. You may want to switch between live and artificial baits or try different colors and sizes.

5. Be aware of your surroundings: Brook Trout can be easily spooked by loud noises or sudden movements, so it’s important to remain quiet and aware of your surroundings while fishing. This will help you stay hidden from the fish and increase your chances of success.

Fly Fishing for Brook Trout in New York State

Brook Trout are a popular species to target for fly fishing in New York, providing many anglers with an exciting and enjoyable challenge. To help you get started on your fly fishing adventure, here is a quick guide to the gear, patterns, flies, and techniques that you need to know.

Fly Fishing Gear For Brook Trout

When fly fishing for Brook Trout, A 3-weight fly rod paired with a floating weight forward fly line is the ideal set up for brook trout fishing. For smaller streams where there’s limited space to cast, shorter rods anywhere from 7 foot 6 inches to 9 feet provide an advantage; however, standard 9-foot rods work just as well.

Waders are also recommended, as they provide warmth and protection while wading in the water.

Make sure you have a good pair of polarized sunglasses for spotting fish in the water.

Flies For Brook Trout

There are many different types of flies that you can use when fly fishing for Brook Trout, including nymphs, streamers, and dry flies.

Nymphs imitate small aquatic insects and are typically used in faster currents and deeper water.

Streamers are larger, heavier flies that imitate baitfish and can be used at any time of year.

Dry flies are designed to float on the surface and imitate flying insects like mayflies and midges.

Fly Fishing Techniques For Brook Trout

When fly fishing for Brook Trout, it’s important to keep your movements slow and steady. This will help you stay hidden and keep the fish from being spooked.

Cast your line upstream of where you think the fish are hiding and let it drift downstream naturally.

Be sure to change your cast periodically to cover different areas and depths in the water. Re-casting too often can spook the fish, so be patient and wait for them to take the bait.

Rules and Regulations for Brook Trout Fishing in New York State

Angler holding a brook trout

The DEC is committed to protecting and restoring Brook Trout in New York State. Their regulations ensure that anglers fish responsibly by having an open season from April 1st – October 15th.

During open season, anglers have a daily catch limit of five trout on inland streams and lakes, two of which can be over 12 inches long.

The daily limit for brook trout on ponds and lakes is also five, but with no size restrictions.

The DEC enforces catch and release outside of the open season for brook trout.

The DEC has also implemented various conservation efforts to augment wild brook trout populations such as habitat restoration, stocking brook trout in native waters, prevention of invasive species, and more. 

If you are planning on fishing for Brook Trout in New York State, make sure to check the DEC’s regulations before heading out! For a comprehensive look at up-to-date DEC regulations for Brook Trout click here.

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