The rivers and lakes that are home to the largest Brown Trout in North American

The majority of large brown trout from North America are from the great lakes or the surrounding tributaries. There are also sizeable populations of large brown trout in tailwaters located throughout Arkansas.

In this article, I will discuss what makes these fisheries special and will highlight some of the largest trout caught from them.

The Great Lakes – Home to some massive brown trout

The great lakes are home to some of the biggest brown trout in the country, this is not surprising considering the immense amount of water the lakes contained. Out of all of the great lakes, it is Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan that are responsible for the largest brown trout.

Why does Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan produce larger brown trout than the larger lakes such as lake superior largely comes down to local conditions and the stocking of faster growing brown trout variants.

1) Food:

Lake Michigan produces an abundance of forage species such as the numerous round goby or the schooling alewives, which provide trout with nearly an endless source of food.

This natural forage is also supplemented by an enormous amount of stocking. Dumb, innocent hatchery fish prove to be an easy, energy rich meal for mature wild and holdover fish. While historical stocking numbers were significantly higher, over the past three years Lake Michigan still received over a million hatchery fish.

  • 500,000 coho Salmon
  • 460,000 Rainbow trout (steelhead)
  • 450,000 Brown trout

2) Temperature:

Trout are normally considered to be cold water fish, they thrive in cold, clean water after all.

Now there are exceptions, and water can actually get too cold stunting their growth potential. It is believed, that the natural water temperatures in the great lakes over winter is cold enough to slow their metabolism limiting their growth.

However, due to warm water discharge from factories and harbors along the Michigan coast, it is theorized that the feeding season is prolonged well into the colder winter months.

3) Genetics:

The state has been stocking Seeforleen or the lake dwelling strain on Brown trout. This strain of brown trout is iconic for growing much larger than the other variants. This is because they mature later, allowing them to pack on condition before spawning.

While the Seeforleen strain of brown trout is known for their large size, it is unlikely that the current world record. A 42lb10z trout caught from the Tekapo Canals in New Zealand is off that strain simply because they were never introduced into the country. So given ideal conditions, it seems possible that all strains of brown trout can reach immense sizes.

If we dig further and consider brown trout caught by any methods, including netting. Then Seerforleen strain certainly takes out the title with fish over 70lb being landed in the 1940’s, Austria. So there is certainly potential for Seerforleen stain to surpass the current all tackle world record to be surpassed given the correct conditions.

Lake Ontario

Brown trout over 34 pounds have been caught from Lake Ontario. Fishing close to shore is generally best as Summer turns to fall.

From September, as the shallow near shore waters start to cool, brown trout leave the deeper hot weather heat refuges and move into the shallows to feed heavily in preparation for spawning late in the fall.

Because smaller fish make up such a large portion of their diet, it is recommended to target them with large articulated Streamers, or spinning lures that imitate baitfish. Spoons are popular from the shore, while jerkbaits are excellent for trolling.

On June 10, 1997 a 33.2lb (15.07 kg) brown trout was caught by Tony Brown while trolling a Smithwick Rogue (jerkbait) off Oswego County, New York. This Brown Trout still currently remains the New York State Record.

The largest brown trout caught from lake Ontario was landed on September 1994. It weighed an impressive 34lb (15.75kg). Tell this day it remains the Canadian National record. It was caught by Mississauga angler Rick Matusiak who was fishing from the shore at Lakefront Promenade Park. The lure which caught the trout was a 1/3-ounce Clown Little Cleo spoon.

Lake Michigan

These beautiful brown trout were caught pier fishing in Lake Michigan in mid-September, angler unknown.

The North American record brown trout was caught from Lake Michigan. It weighed in at an impressive 41.7lb. For anglers wanting to catch trophy brown trout, few fisheries are more productive than Lake Michigan.

In my opinion, at least, it holds more potential for a record breaking fish than even the Tekapo canals in New Zealand where the current world record brown trout was caught.

Offshore usually produces best over the warmer summer months, come fall the brown trout move towards the shores where they feast upon the minnows. From October through to march, they targeted near to shore. Often, they will hold in the cover beneath piers and marinas where they predate upon round gobies. Later in the fall, they will start migrating up the tributaries for spawning.

Fishing from the Marinas might sound like an easy place to target such trout, but their ability to break anglers off by retreating under structure once caught is legendary. Using heavier line, might sound like an easy solution but these mature trout are not so easily fooled and leader material 10lb or lighter is usually required for the best chance of hooking one.

While these large trout still feed upon insects, the best chance of catching them is usually by fishing a lure that represents bait fish. Articulated streamers, spoons, and jerkbaits are popular options. Some fishermen do prefer to fish live baits such as shiners or minnows.

I will now list some of the largest brown trout caught from Lake Michigan.

The record for the largest brown trout from the great lakes is currently tied. The record was set by a 41.7lb monster caught by Thomas Healy of Rockford, Michigan on September 9, 2009. The trout was caught while migrating through the Manistee river, a Tributary of Lake Michigan during its spawning run. It was hooked on a #8 silver Rapala Shad Rap.

This record was matched the following year, on July 16 by a 41.8lb Brown trout caught by Roger Hellen in Lake Michigan off Racine Hellen hooked the trout on a blue green dolphin spoon while trolling near Windpoint

These records are tied because the new record needs to “weight at least half of 1% more than the existing record. At just 1 oz heavier, rather than the required 4oz resulted in a draw”.

Lake Taneycomo, Missouri

Large brown trout, the silvery color suggests it has been living in a lake.

Lake Taneycomo has a reputation as a world class trout fishery. But it has not always been so, Lake Taneycomo transitioned from a warm water fishery full of bass and catfish to a cold-water fishery full of large rainbow trout, these were later supplemented with stocked brown trout.

The transition from warm water fishery, to cold water was due to the construction of table Rock Dam, causing Lake Taneycomo to be fed by cold water from 160 feet below the surface of the newly formed Table Rock Lake. For this reason, the upper portions of Lake Taneycomo is much cooler than the lower lake.

The combination of year round cold water and an abundance of food allowed the rainbows to grow to impressive sizes. The trophy rainbow fishery was not to last and the size and number of trout started to deteriorate. Long story short, brown trout stocking began and some of them have gone on to reach record size. The last five Missouri record brown trout have all come from Lake Taneycomo.

Lake Taneycomo is an interesting waterway, while it is called a lake it has several distinct characteristics. When the power station, is closed. The water builds up and the lake forms. But when the power station is forming, the water level rapidly drops and Lake Taneycomo starts to flow as fast as any tailwater fishery.

In recent years, the lake was stocked with triploid brown trout, being genetically sterile all they do is eat and grow large. This is the reason why several state records have fallen in recent years.

The largest Brown trout caught from Lake Taneycomo is

In 2019, trout fishing guide Bill Babler caught a 40lb 6oz brown trout from Lake Taneycomo. This is also the only record-size trout that I knew of to have been caught on a soft lure, in this case, a pink Berkely Powerbait worm.

Arkansas Tailwaters

White River, Arkansas

At first thought, Arkansas does not seem like a likely candidate for the home of some of the largest brown trout in the country, and if it weren’t, for the tailwaters beneath the hydroelectric dams it will likely remain that way.

The two most famous rivers in Arkansas are the Little Red and the White River. I have already discussed the White River as it flows through Lake Taneycomo, Missouri. So from now on will concentrate mostly on the little Red.

So why is the Little Red River such productive fisheries?

Like many tailwater fisheries, the water which emerges from the massive dam at Greer Ferry Lake is icy cold, and consistent. Two essential characteristics of a trophy trout fishery.

The Little Red offers 29 miles of trout fishing, but the most common trout are not brown. But stocked rainbows that are released in enormous numbers. These rainbow trout, provide a bonus food supply to the wild brown trout that also inhabit the river.

Finally, the Brown trout are not easy to catch. The largest specimens are mostly nocturnal, and the Little Red River has one final trick. At night, dense fog often forms over the river making fishing nearly impossible.

The fog is often at its thickets during the spawning run, which occurs from mid-October through to November. This fog offers the trout a lot of protection and severely limits the angling pressure at the times they are most vulnerable.

While 40lb brown trout are not a common occurrence, large brown trout certainly still exist in the Little Red River and a double-digit trout is a real possibility.

Noteworthy trout caught in Arkansas Tailwaters

The most noteworthy trout was caught by the late Howard “Rip” Collins on Mother’s Day (May 9, 1992). The trout collins caught weighed 40lb 4oz and it was caught from the Little Red River on a 1/32-ounce olive green marabou jig. Collins magnificent Brown trout put the Little Red River on the angling map and it held onto the all-tackle world record until 2009.

Do not be mistaken that the glory days of the Arkansas tailwaters are beyond then. 23 years later on a snowy 27th of February 2015 fisherman, Calvin Johnston hooked a stunning 38.7-pound brown trout from the white river near the Rainbow Drive Resort in Cotter. It was caught on a rainbow trout pattern minnow imitation behind a spoon.

2 thoughts on “The rivers and lakes that are home to the largest Brown Trout in North American”

    • Thanks for the info regarding the Clinch River, sounds like an interesting tailwater with some big brown trout potential.

      Also, the site where the TN state record brown was caught, weighing in at 28 lbs. 12 oz.


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