Are Brown Trout Char? Trout and Char Differences Explained

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Brown trout inside the net.

Even though they share some similar characteristics, brown trout and char are not the same fish. Char are part of the salmonid family. Brown trout are technically part of the Salmo genera, and char exist within the Salvelinus genus. They look similar but live in different places.

Anglers find brown trout and char in some of the most beautiful places on earth. They thrive in cold waters, often in areas of higher elevation surrounded by beautiful vistas. Char and brown trout are delicate fish that need specific conditions to survive. They are a challenge to catch and a blast to fight. 

Brown Trout 

The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is one of the most popular game fish in the world. They’re one of the more common fish in the trout family, and anglers worldwide target them yearly. 

Even though they’re native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia, they’ve been dispersed worldwide in waters that support them. Both coasts of the United States and many waters in between host populations of healthy brown trout. 

Ideal Conditions

Brown trout live in cold freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes. There are lake-run brown trout that live within many of the Great Lakes. Also, anglers can catch sea-run brown trout from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Brown trout need highly oxygenated water filled with crustaceans and insects and temperatures consistently below 65 degrees. 

They need cover and structure to hide in when they aren’t feeding. Plus, water depth changes allow fish to go deep during the warmer parts of the day and move up shallow during the mornings and evenings when it’s prime feeding time. 

You’ll find them in higher-elevation mountain streams with various current speeds and changes in water depth. They sit in slower water, waiting for food to move past them. They dart into the current, grab the food, and return to safety. 

In lakes, brown trout sit near cover and structure next to drop-offs. They prefer being able to move through different depths in search of food. Often, brown trout that live in lakes swim with one or two other fish.

Wild Brown Trout fish inside the net.
Wild Brown Trout


Brown trout get their name from their brown and yellow bodies covered in black, brown, and red spots. They’re one of the more recognizable fish within the trout family. Most brown trout are 10-20 inches long and weigh a few pounds. 

Occasionally, brown trout grow to over 20 pounds, but that’s rare unless they’re lake or sea-run. Brown trout sometimes have silver bodies, but they’re always recognizable by the red spots covering their body’s lower parts.


Brown trout are some of the more aggressive fish in the trout family. Since they’re hearty and can survive in various water conditions, they don’t get sluggish unless water temperatures get extremely warm or cold. 

They’re primarily ambush predators, so they hide while waiting for the perfect strike opportunity. If they’re swimming in schools, they’re bold and willing to spend time in open water while they hunt for food. 

At times, they’re at the top of the food chain. If so, the large brown trout hunt at night and during low light to get the most food. 


Brown trout feed on insects, crustaceans, smaller fish, and smaller mammals. Their favorite insects include midges, mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. Most of their diet comprises insects, but if they have easy access to larger prey, they don’t shy away from it. 

Brown trout feed in all levels of the water column. They primarily feed on or near the bottom but move up to the water’s surface when the insects hatch.

Native Brook Trout in Danny's hand.
Native Brook Trout


Char are a part of the Salvelinus genus. The char species anglers are most familiar with are brook trout, lake trout, bull trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic char. Arctic char are freshwater fish that live further north than any other fish.

Ideal Conditions

Char need cold water to survive. Whether fishing far north for Arctic Char or in the Midwest for brook trout, you want to look for water that consistently stays below 60 degrees. They can live in lakes and rivers if the water stays cold. 

Most rivers that hold brook trout and other members of the char family are spring-fed and free-flowing. You’ll also find them in tailwaters below dams. 

Char prefer water with areas of heavy cover and structure. They like to sit deep in holes or under banks and wait for food to swim near. 

If they need to sit in faster currents to find cold water, they will. They’re not afraid and act as the primary aggressors in all the water they live in. 


Char take on a variety of different appearances. 

Brook trout usually have green and white bodies with orange spots. The orange and bright spots are a sure sign of a trout. 

Bull trout have brown and gray bodies with yellow or cream-colored spots on their sides. The colder the water, the more pronounced their colors. 

Lake trout don’t look entirely different than bull trout with their gray/green bodies and lighter colored spots. 

Arctic char can be anything from bright orange to solid silver with bright spots. They take on a variety of colors depending on the type of water they live in. 


All char species are the most aggressive fish in the water. Anywhere they live, they take over and make it difficult for the native fish species to survive. Even though they aren’t always the largest fish, they make their presence known. They aren’t afraid to sit in cover and act as ambush predators or spend time hunting for whatever they can find in the open water. 


Char eat insects, crustaceans, smaller fish, and small mammals. They’re aggressive and willing to go after any meal that looks appetizing. Their lack of fear drives them to eat large meals that sustain them for days.

Danny fishing on the river.
Fly Fishing for Trout


The primary similarity between brown trout and arctic char is their behavior. 

They’re aggressive, eager to feed, and spend time in schools as well as alone. Neither fish is predictable, but you can always count on them to be aggressive and feed consistently in the mornings and evenings. 


The main differences between char and brown trout is their location and physical appearance. 

Arctic char are the furthest north-distributed freshwater fish. They can survive in the Arctic despite the challenging conditions. 

Brook trout, lake trout, and bull trout live in the United States but need cooler water than trout. 

The other major difference is their appearance. Trout usually have light bodies and dark spots, while char have dark bodies with lighter spots. 


Brown trout and char are related but not the same. Even though they may look similar, char are more aggressive than trout. They’ll dominate the water they live in. Brown trout also act aggressively but shy away from char if they live in the same waters.

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