Can You Catch Brown Trout in the Ocean? Sea-Run Browns

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Brown trout: A fish from Europe, now in many places.

You can catch brown trout in the ocean. Known as sea-run brown trout, you can catch them in North America, South America, and parts of Europe. These fish are born in freshwater rivers and streams, move out into the ocean, and return to those same freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.

There are levels to trout fishing. For many anglers, it starts with time spent fishing for trout in a lake or local pond. From there, it evolves to fishing for trout in streams and rivers. While many anglers stop there, some take a step farther and go after sea-run trout. Sea-run trout offer even more of a fight and challenge than trout living in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds.

Sea Run Brown Trout 

Many sea-run brown trout spend the first one to four years of their life in freshwater. They fatten up, mature, and prepare to journey into the ocean. Once they move into the ocean, they’ll spend six months to one year there until they return to freshwater. 

They’re around four to six pounds when they return to freshwater. Some sea-run brown trout complete the spawning process six or seven times in their lives. The more the fish complete the spawning process, the larger they become. They spend more time feeding and fattening up after each trip to freshwater. 

Depending on where you fish, you’ll find 15- to 40-pound sea-run brown trout. South America has massive sea-run browns, while the United States and Canada usually catch sea-run browns in the four- to 10-pound range. 

Experts say sea-run brown trout aren’t natural migrators like salmon and steelhead. Environmental factors, genetics, and metabolism play a role in brown trout moving in and out of freshwater to spawn. 

Rio Grande flows with Sandia Mountains, mirrored in water.

When to Fish for Sea-Run Brown Trout

In America, anglers find sea-run brown trout on both coasts and in the Great Lakes region. On the West Coast, the Trinity River in California is the only river with reported sea-run browns. Otherwise, you won’t find rivers with consistent sea-run brown populations. 

Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Erie all have relatively healthy populations of brown trout. Every year, brown trout migrate out of the cold Great Lakes waters and spawn in the attached rivers and streams. These sea-run browns can grow upwards of 20 pounds. 

While the Great Lakes technically aren’t oceans, many experts consider the migrating brown trout to be sea-run due to their similar behaviors compared to those that migrate out of the ocean.

On the East Coast of the United States, Connecticut is one of the most popular states to find sea-run browns. The sea-run browns that enter the Long Island Sound and travel upriver must fight through aggressive fish and challenging conditions to enter their spawning grounds. 

Anglers also find sea-run brown trout in Newfoundland, Canada. 

In South America, anglers have the most success landing sea-run brown trout in Argentina. The Rio Grande is one of the most legendary fisheries in the entire world, and it hosts a sizable sea-run brown trout population. If you want a shot at the best sea-run brown trout fishing in the world, prioritize the Rio Grande.

Big fish caught in Poland's spring using a fly.

How To Fish for Sea-Run Brown Trout

Sea-run brown trout are crafty. They don’t die after they spawn, so they must learn survival strategies. The long journeys from saltwater into freshwater aren’t easy. They spend their days dodging hungry fish, challenging water conditions, and anglers. With some patience, you’ll find that the effort to land a sea-run brown is well worth it. 

Generally, sea-run brown trout are the most active during the fall and winter months. They spawn in the fall but don’t focus much of their time on feeding. Their primary focus is completing the spawn. Targeting them in the winter and spring is smart because they’re looking to fatten up after the spawn. 


You’ll find that many anglers who spend time targeting sea-run brown trout prefer fly fishing. I can’t help but agree. Fly fishing for trout is one of the purest forms of entertainment. 

You’ll want anywhere between a 7- and 10-weight fly rod if you’re fly fishing for sea-run brown trout. Fish less than 10 pounds don’t need anything more than an 8- or 9-weight. However, those Rio Grande monsters may need a 10-weight, so be prepared with a heavy rod. 

If you’re spin fishing for sea-run brown trout, have a 6’ or 7’ medium-light or medium rod. You want the power to make longer casts and handle strong fish. 

Tackle and Line

If you’re fly fishing for sea-run brown trout, have floating, sink tip, and sinking line. If the water you’re fishing is especially deep, you’ll want sinking or sink tip line. However, you want a floating line if the fish hover near the surface. Sea-run brown trout are temperamental and aggressive, so the more equipment you have, the better.

Also, have a 0X saltwater leader handy. Sea-run brown trout have sharp teeth and can easily break your line, so a strong leader is necessary. 

If you’re spin fishing, use braid with a thin monofilament leader. You have the power to cast heavier lures, and you won’t spook a fish that’s terrified of line. Sea-run browns are skittish; any glimpse of your line will send them far away. A lighter monofilament leader puts you at risk of snapping, but you must stay hidden, so it’s a risk you must take. 

Trout fight strong current in clear stream.


When looking for places to target sea-run brown trout, look for the section of a river or creek with brackish water. Also, if the bottom is gravel, that’s even better. They want cover and protection and don’t venture too far away from the ideal spawning grounds in freshwater. 

Fish the Tides

When the tides rise, brown trout start moving. Incoming tides bring food, so brown trout aren’t afraid to leave their hiding places and hunt for the perfect meal. Cast out in front of the fish and retrieve your line when they’re out hunting. 

As the tide lowers, fish return to safety. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Traditional Trout Lures

Yes, sea-run brown trout eat saltwater fish, but their genetics keep them attracted to traditional nymphs, streamers, and dry flies. I have successfully used baitfish, crayfish, shrimp, and crab streamers when fishing for sea-run browns. 

I’ve also used stonefly nymphs and Chubby Chernobyls and caught fish. I like to be prepared with all different types of flies when I go after sea-run browns. It’s hard to predict exactly what they want. 

If you’re spin fishing, Mepps Spinners and Panther Martins catch sea-run browns. Also, plastics, Rooster Tails, and Kastmasters continue to catch fish. 

Don’t Be in a Hurry

Take your time when fishing for sea-run brown trout. Let your fly or lure float naturally in the current before you retrieve it. Make a few slow strips or reels, and let it fall. The more dead drifting and swinging you do, the better. Fish will find your lures and flies. 

Use your best finesse fishing techniques when targeting sea-run browns. 


Sea-run brown trout live in some phenomenal areas. They provide the aggressive personalities saltwater fish possess while keeping their skittish freshwater tendencies. Expect to be challenged whether you’re targeting them in California, Connecticut, or Argentina. You need to take your time; don’t rush the process. You’ll find a method that works, but the perfect retrieve and fly changes daily.

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