Are Brown Trout Native to Michigan? A Brown’s Native Waters

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Danny holding a fishing rod in the river.

While brown trout are highly coveted in Michigan, they’re not native to the state. Brown trout are native to Europe, Northwestern Africa, and Western Asia. They were introduced to the United States in the late 1800s and have become one of the country’s most heavily targeted game fish.

Michigan has a long-standing history of trout fishing. With nearly 52,000 miles of river and thousands of lakes, brown trout have plenty of room to grow and flourish. Brown trout are some of the state’s most highly sought-after trout species, with populations in numerous rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams. 

Brown Trout in Michigan

Anglers travel from far and wide to land a wild Michigan brown trout. The state record is 41 pounds, so catching a trophy isn’t uncommon. I’ve spent many long weekends targeting brown trout in the miles of rivers and streams across Northern Michigan.

History of Michigan Brown Trout

The majority of brown trout in Michigan are wild. They were first introduced to Michigan in 1883. Michigan was one of the first states to import them into North America. 

Michigan wild brown trout are not native, but they’ve found a way to naturally reproduce yearly. They don’t need any help from humans to complete the spawn. 

Where to Find Brown Trout in Michigan

Anglers find most Michigan brown trout in the northern part of the state because of the consistently cool waters in the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Some of the best brown trout rivers in the country sit within Michigan. The Manistee, Pere Marquette, and Manistee Rivers hold massive populations of healthy brown trout. 

Some inland lakes holding brown trout are Bear Lake, McCormick Lake, Mullet Lake, Higgins Lake, and Burt Lake. 

Anglers willing to tackle Lake Michigan also have success landing massive Great Lakes browns. They can easily grow upwards of 10 pounds. Brown trout sit in shallower sections near other trout. Baitfish live closer to shore, and Great Lakes browns rarely venture far from them. 

I love targeting Lake Michigan brown trout. Catching them feels like you’re fighting a saltwater fish. They’re powerful and put up some of the best fights I’ve ever experienced. 

Great Lakes brown trout are born in the rivers attached to Lake Michigan. After they’re born, they’ll migrate to Lake Michigan, where they eat and mature. In the fall, mature brown trout head back to the rivers and streams and complete the spawn

The most successful time to land brown trout is spring and early summer. Brown trout spawn in the fall in Michigan, so stay away from them as they complete the spawning process. Catching a spawning brown trout can impact the spawning process and potentially kill them. They don’t die during the spawn, but the added stress of a fight may send them over the edge. 

As the spawn finishes, feel free to target them. Lake Michigan brown trout return from their spawning grounds in the spring, so you can catch them as they return to the lake. 

As the summer warms, fish for browns in Northern Michigan. The waters stay cooler for longer than in the southern parts of the state.

Brown trout getting ready to lay eggs in a tiny creek.

Brown Trout Native Waters

While brown trout thrive in the United States and Canada, they are not native to North America.

The majority of native populations exist in Europe. France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden have many streams and rivers with large populations of native brown trout. They’ve been able to reproduce for decades naturally. 

Countries in Northern Africa, like Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, have smaller populations of brown trout higher in the mountains. 

Western Asian countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Armenia, and Afghanistan, have native brown trout populations at higher altitudes. 

Europeans are responsible for introducing brown trout to the United States. As mentioned, Michigan was one of the first states to introduce them, and now there are populations all over the country.

Catch brown trout with a fly rod.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Trout are Native to Michigan?

Lake trout and brook trout are the two native trout populations in Michigan. 

Are Brown Trout an Invasive Species?

Brown trout are considered invasive in several parts of the United States. They are top predators and take away necessary food sources from other native fish. 


Brown trout are a staple of Michigan fishing. They thrive in the cold Lake Michigan waters and spread themselves throughout the state through its tributaries. Anglers have success targeting brown trout in Michigan all year. Whether you’re fly fishing or spin fishing, put Michigan at the top of your list for brown trout fishing.

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