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Home / Susan Thrasher / Brook Trout Identification

Brook Trout Identification

April 16, 2017
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Middle Tennessee Trout Identification: Part 1- Brook Trout

This is a three-part article, which will cover the three trout species that are stocked in our Middle Tennessee fisheries. During many of my guide trips, clients will often ask how to tell the difference between the trout. The following articles will give you tips on how to quickly identify your catch along with some other interesting facts.

We’ll start with my personal favorite, the brook trout.


The brook trout is Tennessee’s only native trout. Technically, brookies are a member of the char family of fish. Natural spawning (wild trout) occurs mainly in the East Tennessee area. A little over half of the entire brook trout population, are native trout from the southern Appalachian heritage. However, the trout that are found in our Middle Tennessee tailwaters are produced at the Dale Hollow Hatchery and come from northern brook trout stocks. Their life expectancy is relatively short lived at 5 years. Typical sizes found in our tailwaters range from 10 to 13 inches; however, larger holdover fish have been landed.

TWRA Stocking

In recent decades, the first stocking of brook trout in Tennessee tailwaters occurred at the Watauga, Caney Fork, Obey and Clinch rivers.  The Watauga stocking, however, was unsuccessful. Research showed that brookies tended to stray from the main channel. The fish went up into tributaries where they were stranded in warm water.  Due to this, the stocking of the Watauga was discontinued after 2008.

Today northern strain brook trout are stocked into Clinch, Caney Fork, Elk, Obey, and Hiwassee rivers.  They are also stocked on the South Fork Holston River immediately below Boone Dam. TWRA also raises the native southern strain brook trout primarily at Tellico Hatchery.  These fish are used to replace lost populations in their native habitat in East Tennessee.

Here in Middle Tennessee, the typical brook trout stocking numbers range from 3,000 to 29,000 annually (3,000 in the Elk River 5,000 in the Obey River, 29,000 in the Caney Fork River). The number of fish stocked at each river varies based on availability.


Brook trout have a number of distinguishing features, which make them easy to identify. This is a beautifully colored fish with dark olive colored sides. The sides are scattered with red spots circled by blue halos. On their back, you will see dark yellow or mushroom colored squiggly lines. The feature that is most recognizable is found along the leading edges of the pectoral, pelvic, and anal fins. The fin’s edges are tipped in white and stand out clearly against the darker background. The brook trout’s tail fin is less forked than other trout, thus the fish are sometimes called “squaretails.”


Although there is no natural reproduction in our tailwaters, the trout still give their best effort and go through the spawning cycles. Brook trout spawn in the fall, and their coloring during this time is brilliant with vibrant red or orange bellies.


Brook trout require clean, clear, and cold water, which is also well oxygenated. When water temperatures reach into the high 70s, it is lethal to the trout. The ideal and preferred temperature for brook trout is from 57 to 61 degrees.

Feeding habits

The brook trout diet consists of: aquatic insects, terrestrials, crustaceans, small fish, and crayfish. The feeding temperature is between 45 and 65 degrees. At lower or higher temperatures, the fish become lethargic and feeding is very limited.

Special thanks goes to Mr. Frank Fiss, Assistant Chief of Fisheries TWRA, for his insightful contribution to this article. Stay tuned for part 2, where we will look at the brown trout and how this beautiful fish differs from the brookie and rainbow trout.

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About Susan

Susan Thrasher

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My Bio

Susan Thrasher, an FFF certified instructor, is the owner and operator of Southern Brookies Fly Fishing in Lancaster, Tennessee. For over a decade her teaching passion has extended into leading Casting for Recovery in Middle Tennessee and as a staff instructor at the Joan Wulff School of Fly Fishing in the New York Catskills.  In 2007, Susan and Nikki Mitchell founded the Music City Fly Girls, a Nashville based women's fly fishing club with over 40 active members.