I ran into a friend the other day in the mall and his first question was, “Do you think the sea trout are in yet?’ I known many anglers who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of fresh sea run trout in our local rivers. I am one of those anglers. I saw some strawberry blossoms out by my mail box this week and that got me thinking about trout, and fishing. In Nova Scotia the term sea trout refers to brook, brown and rainbow trout which spend part of their life cycle in the sea, and then return to fresh water. The term used by biologists for fish which spend part of their life cycle in the sea, returning to spawn in freshwater to spawn, is anadromous or diadromous. Pictou County anglers are fortunate in that many of the County’s rivers still have good runs of sea trout.
Sea run brook, or speckled trout are especially prized by Nova Scotia anglers. These sea run brook trout usually come into fresh water in distinct runs, often triggered by a rise in water levels. Historically this run of sea trout has coincided with the first appearance of wild strawberries. As a result many anglers refer to it as the strawberry run.
While sea trout runs are found in many coastal rivers of the Province, not all trout go to sea. Many live out their life strictly in freshwater. The factors which trigger trout to decide to move to the sea are often related to habitat and food. Trout may leave the hot, low water conditions which are found in many of our rivers to take advantage of the cooler waters of the ocean. This combines with the abundance of food which is available to fish in the saltwater. While in the sea it is believed most brook trout stay fairly close to their home rivers and don’t stray too far. Much of the early scientific work on sea run brook trout was carried out in Nova Scotia in the 1930's. Researchers working on the Moser River, on the eastern shore investigated when trout ran in the river, what they ate and so on. They found that the majority of sea run brook trout returned to the river in late June and early July, with the run following a rise in water. Analysis of stomach contents provided some interesting insights into their dietary habits with young eels, sand worms and shrimp being the most common prey.
Once in the ocean, trout can grow very rapidly, returning as large, strong sea trout. We are indeed fortunate that Eastern Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton continue to have healthy sea trout runs in many rivers but habitat loss, acid rain and over fishing have reduced their numbers in many areas. So when the rains come and you hit your favorite river for the strawberry run remember how fortunate we are to have this special resource available to us and have some fun, but limit your catch, leave some for the future.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.