Are Browns The Smartest Trout?

Are brown trout smarter than other kinds of trout? I think so. Yes, there are times when brook, rainbow, or … Continued

Are brown trout smarter than other kinds of trout? I think so. Yes, there are times when brook, rainbow, or cutthroat trout can be hard to catch, too. But brown trout are more difficult more often. But before getting too far into this old argument, let’s take a look at just what “smart” means in speaking of trout.


Trout (and other fish) aren’t capable of reasoning things out the way that humans do. But they are capable of learning and remembering. It is that ability to learn and remember that accounts for varying degrees of what we call “smart” among fish. (Fortunately for me, the brown trout in the photo had not yet learned not to eat a Sparkle-Dun Hendrickson dry fly.)

The learning process begins shortly after a trout is born. After emerging from its egg, an infant trout has to start feeding immediately, typically on near-microscopic plankton. In order to feed efficiently and to avoid starving to death, that little trout must learn to tell the difference between plankton and other small debris in the water. So begins a learning process that continues and sustains a trout all its life.

That same learning process extends to learning the wiles of anglers. That’s why an adult trout won’t whack at the same Parachute Adams dry fly over and over again. Especially if that trout has been caught on that fly pattern and then released. After all, if you got whacked in the hand every time you reached for a donut (and maybe you should be), after a while you’d learn to be a little cautious about donuts.

In that over-simplified view, brown trout in general seem to be better at learning things than other trout. Now like you, perhaps, I can remember times when big Wyoming cutthroats proved nearly impossible to catch, even with fine leaders and the most exacting of fly imitations. Ditto rainbows and brook trout. That’s the trouble with making generalizations about trout.

Even so, I’ll say it again: Brown trout are “smarter” than other trout. What say you? – Merwin