Talkin’ Trout Habitat

Just as they differ in appearance, each of our Pennsylvania trout species has slight variations in their preferred habitat. 

Brook trout live naturally in small, cold, clean streams. They also adapt to ponds and lakes, as well as instream beaver ponds. Of all the members of the char family, brook trout adapt most easily to their environment and can endure the widest range of conditions.  They will tolerate relatively acidic waters, but not temperatures much over 65 degrees.

Brown trout may be found in all of the state’s watersheds, from limestone spring creeks, infertile headwaters and swampy outflows to suitable habitat in the larger rivers and reservoir tailwaters.  A brown trout’s optimum water temperature range is 50 to 60 degrees, although it can tolerate water temperatures in the low 70s.  Like brook trout, they are also somewhat tolerant of acidity.

Rainbow trout are considered fastwater fish, preferring the swift runs and riffle areas of streams. They may live in small creeks, as well as suitable spots in large rivers, the tailwaters of dams, and in lakes and reservoirs. Their optimum water temperature is about 55 degrees. Although they do best when the water is under 70 degrees, they can withstand temperatures into the 70s if there is plenty of oxygen and a cool, shady place to which they can retreat. Rainbows are the trout least tolerant of acidity. They do best in slightly alkaline waters.

Despite their differences, all trout need just a few basic things in their habitat to survive:  cold water, clean water, food to eat, places to hide from predators, and clean gravel to lay their eggs in.  These things may sound simple, but factors such as streambank erosion can have major negative impact.  Eroding streambanks and increasing sedimentation into the region’s streams can smother aquatic life as it covers the stream’s substrate. 

For the past decade, NPC has been a part of the Northcentral Stream Restoration Partnership, working together to decrease erosion and sedimentation, improve water quality for the public, and increase aquatic habitat on agriculturally impaired streams in northcentral Pennsylvania.  The partnership is comprised of NPC, PA Department of Environmental Protection, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and the County Conservation Districts. To date, we have worked at over 140 sites installing habitat structures and are continuing to see steady improvements to overall stream quality!