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Brown trout are active both by day and by night and are opportunistic feeders. While in fresh water, the diet will frequently include invertebrates from the streambed, other fish, frogs, mice, birds, and insects flying near the water's surface. The high dietary reliance upon insect larvae, pupae, nymphs and adults is what allows trout to be a favoured target for fly fishing. Sea trout are especially fished for at night using wet flies.
Freshwater brown trout range in colour from largely silver with relatively few spots and a white belly, to the more well known brassy brown cast fading to creamy white on the fish's belly, with medium-sized spots surrounded by lighter haloes. The more silver forms can be mistaken for rainbow trout. Regional variants include the so-called "Loch Leven" trout, distinguished by larger fins, a slimmer body, and heavy black spotting, but lacking red spots. The continental European strain features a lighter golden cast with some red spotting and fewer dark spots. It is important to remember that both strains can show considerable individual variation from this general description. Early stocking efforts in the United States used fish taken from Scotland and Germany. The Loch Leven strain is more often found in the western United States, while the "German brown" is found more toward the Midwest and East.
Brown trout rarely form hybrids, almost invariably infertile, with other species. One such example is the tiger trout, a hybrid with the brook trout.
Young brown trout feed on insects and other invertebrates such as shrimp, corixa, caddis, stonefly, mayfly, etc. Both larvae and adults are taken and the fish will eat whatever local insect life is abundant at the time. Larger fish are active predators of fish including young brown trout, suckers, sculpins, shad, whitefish and rainbow trout. Larger brown trout will also feed on small terrestrial animals that fall into the water such as baby birds falling from overhanging nests, or even swimming mice/voles. Brown trout sometimes do not actively feed until the late afternoon or early evening but when the weather is cool they will feed during the day as well. The largest browns feed under cover of darkness. Brown trout can be caught with artificial flies, jigs, plastic worm imitations, spinners and other lures.
The species has been widely introduced for purposes of sport into North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries including Bhutan where they are the focus of a specialised fly fishery. First planting in the United States occurred April 11, 1884 into the Baldwin River, one mile east of Baldwin, MI. Brown trout have had serious negative impacts on upland native fish species in some of the countries where they have been introduced, particularly Australia. Because of the trout's importance as a food and game fish, it has been artificially propagated and stocked in many places in its range, and fully natural populations (uncontaminated by allopatric genomes) probably exist only in isolated places, for example in Corsica or in high alpine valleys on the European mainland.
Farming of brown trout has included the production of infertile triploid fish by increasing the water temperature just after fertilisation of eggs, or more reliably by a process known as pressure shocking. Triploids are favoured by anglers because they grow faster and larger than diploid trout. Proponents of the stocking of triploids argue that, because they are infertile, they can be introduced into an environment that contains wild brown trout without the negative effects of cross-breeding. However, it is possible that stocking triploids may damage wild stocks in other ways. Triploids certainly compete with diploid fish for food, space and other resources. They could also be more aggressive than diploid fish and they may disturb spawning behaviour.
Scottish and Irish sea trout populations in recent years have seriously declined due to infestation by sea lice from salmon farms.
Most of our understanding of the biology of sea lice, other than the early morphological studies, is based on laboratory studies designed to understand issues associated with sea lice infecting fish on salmon farms. Information on sea lice biology and interactions with wild fish is unfortunately sparse in most areas with a long-term history of open net-cage development, since understanding background levels of sea lice and transfer mechanisms have rarely been a condition of tenure license for farm operators.