Gronaw: The mystical world of brown trout

Gronaw: The mystical world of brown trout
Adult male brown trout develop a hooked-jaw or "kype" during the autumn spawning period similar to other trout and salmon species. (Jim Gronaw photo)

For many years now, perhaps decades, I have often dreamed of catching, or at least hooking, a beast of a brown trout.

“Beast mode” is variable, and a big fish in one water may be somewhat common in others. In a small stream, a 16- to 20-inch class brown trout would likely be considered an exceptional fish and anything much larger would fortify bragging rights for many years to come. In a Great Lakes tributary stream or river, the fall and winter run of brown trout could see numbers of 30-inch class fish in prime water, during peak times.


Along some of the harbors and city marinas, monster browns in the mid teen to 20-pound class show up every season. And if you are traveling to South American regions of Patagonia or the lower Andes, a 30-inch brown is an exceptional fish.

I recently watched an episode of the fishing show “Dirt Bags” on the WFN network that focused on fly fishing for gigantic browns in Iceland. The two co-hosts are easy going, laid back adventurers whose main goal is to catch the biggest fish, where ever they go. In absolutely horrible, high-wind and soaking cold rain conditions, they valiantly fought the elements and fly-caught numerous 28- to 34-inch sea-run browns in water that was barely deep enough to support such fish.

Their goal was to land a 20-pound brown on the fly … and they came pretty close, settling for a steelie colored female that went 19 and change. Wow, just wow!

Meanwhile, back in “Real World, USA,” my efforts for a borderline respectable brown trout continues as I often have to be satisfied with a pellet-fed, hatchery-reared, hook-jawed male brown trout that spent most of its life chasing high-protein food morsels that look more like gum drops than a natural food source.

It is what it is, and I’ll march onward and continue to fish local creeks and streams that have naturalized populations of wild brown trout. Streams like the Upper Gunpowder (and its tributaries) that hold a few surprises. Beaver Creek near Hagerstown has some deeper haunts and some wily fish of girthy proportions.

Throw in nearby Codorus Creek that I know holds 24-inch class giants and the many Southern Pennsylvania and Western Maryland streams that hold both wild and stocked fish that I know would put a smile on any anglers face. The Catoctins hold a few big ones, too.

The first “high-end” brown trout I ever saw came from a tiny Carroll County stream several decades ago and was caught by my good friend Terry Reeves on a small Mepps spinner. The fish came from the stream, Piney Run, that has long since been under water and is now Piney Run Park and lake.

His fish measured 24 inches and went 5 pounds, and was a daunting sight of a hook-jawed male to come from such diminutive water. I know of at least one other angler who routinely targeted adult browns from the same water and landed several comparable, if not larger, brown trout that had likely spent their entire lives in the stream.

This stout November brown trout had its origins from the hatchery raceways, but was nonetheless a memorable fish that struck a 1/64th oz. hair jig.
This stout November brown trout had its origins from the hatchery raceways, but was nonetheless a memorable fish that struck a 1/64th oz. hair jig. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Such is the way of urban brown trout angling.

Sometimes, holdover fish will reproduce, and a cycle of naturalized fish will be set in motion, sometimes under the nose of urban sprawl and development. Among the “brown trout elite” these little-known creeks and runs are spoken in hushed secrecy as to protect their location and prime holes. I know of at least two other creeks within 20 miles of my home that contain 20-inch browns that remain under the radar.

Like anything else, it takes work to find quality waters, regardless of the specie.

To this day, I have yet to “officially” crack the 20-inch benchmark on stream-caught brown trout with an 18-inch fish from Opossum Run in Adams County. Likewise, my son Matt caught splendid 19-inch male from the same creek. From still water environs, I have managed a number of fish that were right at the 20-inch mark and most of those were caught in recent years benefit of the hatchery truck.

Despite their pampered upbringing and concrete raceway environment, they still gave good account of themselves and displayed the classic spot patterns, dominant spawning kype and acted like brown trout that you would have found just about anywhere.

Yes, I enjoyed them all.


There are many late fall and winter options for brown trout regionally with the limestone streams of southern Pennsylvania leading the way for chances at quality fish and a quality experience. Larger browns tend to be apex predators in small water scenarios. Larger lures, bigger streamers and even bulky livebaits such as live night crawlers and minnows can produce adult sized fish.

Check the regulations and seasons before you head out. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a shot at a 20-inch brown this winter, or maybe a 24!