The speckled trout are our most sought-after freshwater fish and are widely distributed throughout the Maritimes. Mi’kmaw Communities have enjoyed a special relationship with these handsome salmonid fish. The tradition of family and friends coming together to fish for fun and nourishment has been an important activity that has endured for generations.
Speckled trout prefer cool clear waters with a lot of cover. Usually they live in spring-fed streams with many pools and riffles. There they use undercut banks, submerged objects such as large rocks, tree trunks and stumps, deep pools, and shelter from overhanging vegetation as hiding places. Speckled trout are mostly meat-eaters (carnivorous). They eat many water and land insects such as mayflies, caddis flies, midges and beetles. Larger trout eat leeches, small fish, mollusks, frogs, and salamanders.
Speckled trout in Nova Scotia spawn during October and November in shallow, gravelly areas of streams with clean bottoms and good water flows. Spring-fed headwaters are ideal, but they will also spawn in the gravel-bottomed areas of lakes where spring waters occur. The female digs a nest (redd) deep in the gravel with her body. After the eggs have been laid and fertilized, they are covered and left to develop slowly over the winter. A 25 cm (10 in) female trout can produce about 500 3 – 5 mm eggs. Water flowing through the redds keeps the eggs clean and oxygenated. Hatching occurs in the spring and the larvae (alevins) remain still and undisturbed in the gravel while they absorb the large yolk-sac.
Young trout (fry) emerging from the gravel have lengths of 2.5 – 3.5 cm (1 in +) and begin feeding on aquatic insects. They prefer shallow areas where temperatures are 11 – 15 C and where rubble (rocks of 10 – 40 cm or 4 – 16 in) on the stream bottom provides cover. At the end of their first year, speckled trout in Nova Scotia are 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 in) long. They overwinter on the stream bottom in spaces between rocks. Their growth depends very much on local conditions. Speckled trout living in large rivers and lakes would probably be 25 or 30 cm (10 – 12 in) at age 3, but those in small streams might only reach a length of 15 cm (6 in). Trout usually mature at three years old and rarely live past age 5.
Some populations of speckled trout migrate to sea for short periods. They move downstream and upstream in the spring or early summer and remain in estuaries and ocean areas where food is plentiful. After about 2 months they return to freshwater.
Speckled trout probably migrate to sea in response to crowded conditions, low food supplies, or unfavourable temperatures in their home waters. Some over-winter in estuaries, and there are shore movements along our coast. Not all fish in a population migrate, nor do they necessarily go every year. Sea-run speckled trout live longer and grow larger than strictly freshwater speckled trout. A 61 cm (24 in) sea-run speckled trout that weighed 3.4 kg (7.5 lb) was caught in Halifax County, Nova Scotia, in 1871. It can be seen today in the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.
Predators include mergansers, herons, kingfishers, mink, owls, osprey, otter, perch, eels, other trout, and man.
The Mi’kmaw Conservation Group has been working with Millbrook First Nation to discover a solution to an observed decline in trout population in Lepper Brook. Stay tuned for a final report and recommendations on how to protect and restore habitat to ensure the traditional practice of fishing for trout continues for future generations.