What Do Brown Trout Eat?

Before you go fishing for brown trout make sure you read this article about their diet and feeding habits.

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What do brown trout eat in their day-to-day lives? Brown trout have a varied diet consisting of everything from insects like nymphs, beetles and grasshoppers to fish eggs, leeches, mollusks, crustaceans and even larger prey like mice and other fish.

While brown trout are surprisingly selective eaters during different seasons and at certain periods of the day, they also tend to be very opportunistic and will gorge themselves when the getting is good.

Don’t miss our Guide To Productive Brown Trout Patterns.

What Do Brown Trout Eat?

Brown trout, while selective, have a large variety of species they will consume. Scuds, shrimp, mussels, leeches, worms, mice, frogs, fish and many others are all on the menu for a hungry brown trout. We’ll dive into the specifics throughout this article.

What Do Brown Trout Eat

Brown Trout Eat Crustaceans

Brown trout will eat a variety of crustaceans throughout their lives. Crustaceans are water animals with a body made up of segments, with jointed limbs and two antennae. There are thousands of crustaceans that live in trout waters and the most common are shrimp, crayfish, scuds and sowbugs.

brown trout eat freshwater shrimp


Shrimp are one of the main species in a brown trout’s diet. Flourishing in fresh, oxygenated water, shrimp are prevalent in most lakes and streams. 

Tying on a freshwater shrimp pattern is a great way to entice the brown trout into eating!

The Avalon Shrimp is one of the best shrimp patterns.


Crayfish are a bigger crustacean and can sometimes reach up to 6 inches. Despite the size, a hungry brown trout will not shy away.

Crayfish are found throughout the U.S. and all across the world. They’re extremely prevalent throughout brown trout habitat.

A stripped crawfish pattern along a rocky bank is a great way to fish for brown trout.

brown trout eat scuds


Scuds, also known as “freshwater shrimp,” are another popular food source that brown trout love to eat. In certain areas, scuds make up over 50% of a brown trout’s diet.

Swinging or drifting scuds under an indicator will oftentimes produce a strike even in the slowest of times.

brown trout eat sowbugs


Sowbugs are extremely similar to scuds. However, sowbugs, unlike many other crustaceans, live their lives completely on land.

With their main habitat being damp areas around lakes and streams, sowbugs are often blown into a body of water or swept up in a current where stalking brown trout are ready to eat. 

Drifting a sowbug fly close to the bank will frequently induce a strike.

Don’t forget to read more about What Do Trout Eat.

Watch the What Do Trout Eat Video

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Brown Trout Eat Mammals

Brown trout aren’t shy about eating larger prey like mammals as well. Brown trout are opportunistic feeders and if given the chance will eat turtles, tortoises and even mice.

brown trout eat mouse as food


Mice are a favorite meal of a stalking brown trout. Mice are often found in grassy areas along lakes, streams and rivers. During times of heightened activity, mainly at night, mice can fall into the water or be swept away by the current.

When this happens, brown trout will pounce. One of the most exciting ways to fish brown trout is to tie on a mouse pattern and drift it along a riverbank late into the evening.

brown trout eat tortoise as food


Brown trout won’t shy away from eating many things, and turtles/tortoises are no exception.

Lakes and streams are home to many different species of turtles and tortoises, and drifting a turtle fly can produce a strike.

Brown Trout Eat Amphibians

Amphibians are an extremely common meal for brown trout. Some of the most common members of the amphibian group are frogs, salamanders and a variety of tadpoles.

brown trout feeding

When one of these species swims by a feeding brown trout, they often become the next meal.

brown trout eat frog for food


Brown trout are aggressive feeders, and the quick twitching movements of prey can entice even the laziest ones to eat. 

Sporadically stripping a frog to mimic those quick movements is a fantastic way to provoke a strike.

brown trout eat salamander for food


Very similar to frogs, salamanders have fast movements that will entice the most docile brown trout. 

Salamanders vary in size and color depending on where you’re fishing, so prior to tying on a salamander fly be sure to check which variety resides in your area.

Brown Trout Eat Mollusks

Brown trout eat a variety of mollusks. Mollusks are invertebrates that have an unsegmented body with a hard shell that they use for shelter and protection from predators. 

Mollusks live mainly in the water and the few that don’t live in damp areas around water. This makes them a plentiful option for feeding browns.

brown trout eat snail for food


The mollusk most often found in brown trout habitat is the snail. Living in essentially every state and country, snails make up a large portion of a brown trout’s diet. 

Floating or drifting snails down a river or small stream is a great option when the bite slows down.

brown trout eat mollusks for food


Closely resembling snails, mussels live in almost all of the same areas that snails do. 

With such prevalence, brown trout will consistently eat mussels throughout the year.

Brown Trout Eat Worms

Worms are a staple of a brown trout’s diet. They’re classified as invertebrates and live in trout waters throughout the world. There are countless variations of worm species, and two of the most common ones are leeches and earthworms.

A close up picture of an earthworm as fishing bait


Brown trout will eat earthworms all throughout the year. Not only are they extremely common in trout habitat, they’re much more substantial than other options. 

Drifting an earthworm through deep pools of a stream or river can produce results.

Fishing with worm flies as bait is one of the best methods to catch more fish.

A close up picture of a leech as fishing bait on a white background


Leeches are another food source that’s extremely common in brown trout habitat. Leeches spend almost all of their time swimming in water or attached to logs or rocks on the stream bed. 

They provide countless opportunities for a brown trout to strike. A drifting leech is seldom ignored by a feeding brown trout.

Brown Trout Eat Smaller Fish

Smaller fish make up a good portion of a brown trout’s diet. Brown trout can be aggressive feeders, and when another fish, minnow or otherwise, becomes available, brown trout are rarely timid.

A close up picture of a minnow as fishing bait on a white background

Same Species Minnows

Brown trout won’t resist eating small brown trout or brown trout minnows if the opportunity arises.

In certain instances, larger brown trout will even attack and eat other full-grown brown trout.

A close up picture of a minnows as fishing bait on a white background

Other Minnows

Minnows are a mainstay of a brown trout’s diet. Found in almost every lake, stream or river that houses brown trout, minnows are a common food source during feeding times.

The bright reflection and jagged movements of a school of minnows will draw the attention of stalking brown trout. Stripping a minnow along the bank is a great option for enticing a bite.

A close up picture of a sculpin as fishing bait on a white background


A less thought of but equally common member of the minnow family and part of a brown trout’s diet is the sculpin. 

Frequently referred to as a bullhead, sculpin are found in trout waters throughout the world. They’re a regular food source of the brown trout.

Brown Trout Eat Fish Eggs

Brown trout will usually add fish eggs to their diets during spawning season. Throughout October and November, rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout spawn (as well as other species of fish). Oftentimes eggs will be swept away with the current, leading to easy meals for waiting browns.

brown trout eat fish eggs

Other Brown Trout Eggs

Similar to brook and rainbow trout, brown trout also spawn in the fall. During the frenzy, eggs are frequently caught up in the current and brought downstream. 

Brown trout won’t turn down an easy meal regardless of the type of egg. They’ll even eat other brown trout eggs.

Brown Trout Eat Terrestrials

One of the most common additions to a brown trout‘s summertime food list are terrestrials. Terrestrials come in a wide variety of types and sizes, with the most popular brown trout selections being grasshoppers, beetles, ants, mayflies, caddisflies, moths, midges, stoneflies and countless others that we’ll discuss below.

A close-up image of a grasshopper


Grasshoppers are a favorite species of a feeding brown trout. As grasshoppers hatch and reside in the grasslands surrounding lakes and streams, many will fall or be blown into the water becoming an easy meal for a waiting brown trout. 

Drifting a grasshopper downstream on a late spring or summer day is a great way to induce a strike.

The GFA Hopper is a top terrestrial pattern.

Photo of a foam beetle


Similar to grasshoppers, beetles live along bodies of water where stalking brown trout lay ready. When a beetle is taken by the wind or falls into the water, they’ll become a brown trout’s next meal. 

Casting a beetle along a cut bank will oftentimes lead to an opportunity.

Photo of the black ant on the sand


Ants are one of the most prevalent terrestrials because they emerge from hibernation in earlier months than others. 

Brown trout will take advantage of the unfortunate ants that fall into the water, and they become an easy meal once off land.

Fly fishing for ants is all about proper imitation to successfully catch more fish. 

Photo of the mohican Mayfly


Mayflies are extremely common throughout all areas that brown trout reside, which makes them a favorite snack of brown trout everywhere. 

After emerging from a nymph and prior to flying away as a full grown adult, mayflies will sit on top of the water getting their wings ready for the journey. This delay is all a hungry brown trout needs for its next meal.

how to tie the elk hair caddis fly


Caddisflies are identical to mayflies in that they live in almost all the areas that brown trout do.

There are thousands of species of caddisflies, and during the dawn and dusk hatches, brown trout can be seen eating them directly on the surface.

A Caddis Emerger is one of the best caddis imitations to have in your box.


Moths, while being slightly less common than mayflies and caddisflies, are still a popular food item for a waiting brown trout. 

They’ll often hatch in wet areas near streams and lakes, making them a great option for a hungry brown trout.



Midges are one of the most popular food items for brown trout. 

Two of the most common midges that frequent brown trout territory are mosquitos and gnats.

It’s good to have midge patterns in your fly box because they work all year round and will let you catch more fish.


As one of the larger terrestrials in the terrestrial family, cicadas are a common meal for brown trout. They hatch starting in June and continue throughout the month of August.

Throwing a cicada during a busy hatch is a great way to land a brown.

Dragonfly Nymph


One of the larger terrestrials in a brown trout’s diet is the dragonfly. Dragonflies will fly right above the surface of the water catching midges taking their first flights. This is when brown trout will strike. 

It’s not uncommon to see a brown trout jump out of the water to catch a dragonfly.


Stoneflies are another popular food item for brown trout. 

They live in most trout waters throughout North America, and brown trout will eat both the stonefly midges as well as the winged adult.

The Prince Nymph is leading in the world of stonefly nymphs.

Brown Trout Eat Nymphs

Nymphs are a staple of the brown trout diet. Nymphs, which are not fully developed insects, reside in all trout waters. They’re available all throughout the year, making them a favorite food of brown trout.

How To Tie a Caddis Nymph Fly Tying Tutorial

Caddis Nymph

Caddis nymphs are the pre-mature stage of the caddis fly. 

These caddis nymphs live in trout waters across the country and are extremely plentiful making them one of the main species in a brown trout’s diet.

Black Midge Fly Pattern

Midge Nymph

Most midges come in a gnat or mosquito form, but there are many different types. 

They’re extremely small insects, and brown trout will eat them consistently throughout the day.

Mayfly Nymph

Mayfly nymphs are another very common nymph in stream, lake and river ecosystems. 

With them being so prevalent, brown trout will sip them up all throughout the day.

Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly nymphs are on the larger side of the nymph subspecies and are a favorite meal of brown trout. 

However, they need very oxygenated and cold waters and as a result, they’re found in higher elevation lakes and streams. They’re not as common as some other nymphs.

Dragonfly Nymph

Dragonfly nymphs are another one of the larger nymphs in the species. 

Spending most of their lives on the streambed, brown trout will feed on unsuspecting dragonfly nymphs whenever possible.

You can also check the absolute best methods for fly fishing nymphs here.

Brown Trout Eat Moss & Algae

Brown trout are both aggressive and opportunistic feeders. In different areas throughout the country, moss and algae can be common in many rivers and streams. 

While it may not be at the top of the list of a brown trout’s diet, at certain times of the year they will eat moss and algae when other opportunities aren’t as prevalent.

brown trout's food

Moss and algae can also get caught up in a current. Purely out of aggressive reaction, a brown trout may strike and eat it as it floats by.

Brown Trout Eat Stones & Rocks

Why do brown trout eat stones and rocks? Brown trout won’t intentionally eat stones and rocks, but when they’re sipping up nymphs or other emergers off the stream or riverbed, rocks and stones are often picked up as well.

Brown Trout Have a Seasonal Diet

Brown trout do have a seasonal diet. It mainly stems from the availability, or lack thereof, of certain species at different times of the year. Temperature and weather also have an effect as well.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Winter?

Throughout the winter, a brown trout’s diet mainly consists of nymphs and midges. In colder temperatures, a brown trout’s metabolism slows down and they have less of a need for food.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Early Spring?

With the varying temperatures and weather often associated with early spring, a brown trout’s eating habits can change from day to day. If it’s a warmer day, brown trout will become more active and eat minnows, shrimp, caddisflies, etc, but if the day is dark and cold, they’ll continue their winter feeding habits.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Summer?

The summer months are the main feeding months for brown trout. The variety of their diet is at the largest point and they won’t shy away from much. Their main prey can be larger options like frogs, salamanders, stone and salmon flies, but will also include smaller options like nymphs, ants, beetles and mayflies.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Early Fall?

Early fall is another active feeding time for brown trout. In stocking up for spawning, brown trout will eat everything from midges and nymphs to minnows, tadpoles, worms and even other brown trout.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Fall?

During the fall, brown trout will eat a wide variety of different species. The main selections are midges, nymphs, may and caddisflies, and moths. Post spawn, they’ll eat fish eggs as well.

When Do Brown Trout Feed?

Brown trout, like most other trout, will eat all throughout the day and night. That can be dictated by both season and weather, but if there’s a chance for an easy meal, a brown trout will take it.

what do brown trout eat

What Do Brown Trout Eat at Dawn?

Brown trout are extremely active at dawn and will eat a large variety of food. The early morning shade provides great cover for brown trout to sneak up on unsuspecting crayfish, minnows, frogs and salamanders.

What Do Brown Trout Eat Midday?

Depending on the time of year, brown trout have a tendency to be slightly less active at midday. They will most often find deeper pools that provide protection from predators and sip up nymphs and midges that come off the streambed.

What Do Brown Trout Eat at Sunset?

At sunset, you’ll find brown trout eating mayflies, caddisflies, midges and other emergers off the surface of a stream, river or lake. 

They’ll also again use the evening shadows to sneak up on unsuspecting, larger prey like minnows and smaller trout.

What Do Brown Trout Eat at Dusk?

Brown trout will eat a variety of different species as it gets darker, but their main choices are mayflies, caddisflies, moths and midges.

What Do Brown Trout Eat at Night?

Throughout the night brown trout will eat, but not with the same frequency as during the day. However, night brings larger prey options, as mice and worms are most active at night.

A Brown Trout’s Diet Changes With Its Environment

A brown trout’s diet will change based on many different factors with the main one being its environment. Brown trout live in a variety of different rivers and lakes, and depending on the temperature and size, that will affect which food options are available.

brown trout diet

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Lakes?

Brown trout that reside in lakes will eat a variety of minnows, frogs, sculpins, turtles and even the occasional smaller brown. They’ll also eat a variety of stillwater insects like midges and beetles.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Rivers?

Earthworms, leeches and minnows are some of the main food sources for brown trout that live in rivers, but they will also take advantage of the larger insects found in rivers like stone and salmon fly nymphs.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Ponds?

Pond dwelling brown trout will feed on frogs, turtles and crayfish as well as small minnows, snails, mussels, scuds and sowbugs.

What Do Brown Trout Eat in Small Creeks?

Brown trout living in small creeks will eat countless different species. The most common choices for a feeding brown are midges and nymphs. Mayflies, caddisflies as well as beetles, ants, dragonflies and eggs of other spawning fish are also all on the menu for creek dwelling brown trout.

What Do Different Species of Brown Trout Eat?

Different species of brown trout have different diets, which are predicated on where they reside and the climate of that area. While there’s a lot of commonality between the different species, there are a few differences that we’ll look at below.

brown trout's diet

Brown Trout Diet

Brown trout in mountainous climates will eat more salmonflies and stoneflies than browns living in the Midwest, where midges, mayflies and caddisflies are more present.

Sea Brown Trout Diet

Sea brown trout are the most different from normal browns, as they spend most of their lives in the ocean before entering the rivers to spawn. Residing mainly in the ocean, sea browns eat a variety of larger prey such as fish, sea turtles and shrimp. They’ll forgo a lot of midges and flies that stream dwelling browns feast on.

In Conclusion

Brown trout have an extensive diet. As they age, they tend to focus on larger prey, but throughout their lifetimes and regardless of habitat the main staples of their diet are midges, nymphs, may and caddisflies, minnows and other fish.

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My name is Danny Mooers and I’ve been fly fishing for five years. As soon as I went to college, I dove headfirst into my obsession for fly angling. Every spare weekend or long break was dedicated to finding fish. I’ve fished all over North America in search of trout, salmon, steelhead and everything in between. I currently write articles for Guide Recommended and Reel Adventure Fishing. Fly angling is one of the most challenging yet rewarding hobbies any person can have. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.  It’s an addicting activity that tests everything from your fine motor skills to your patience, but it’s well worth your time.

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