Brook trout are Iowa's only native member of the salmonid family. Rainbow trout and brown trout were brought here as sport fish for anglers many years ago. They are not native.
While brook trout are related to trout at the family level as stated above, brook trout are actually not a trout at all. They are a member of the genus Salvelinus, which is composed of various char species. Members of the Salvelinus genus often have more exaggerated colors, a much larger mouth than true trout, light spots instead of dark spots, and a u shaped vomer inside the mouth that is toothed only at the front of the fish's mouth.
Brook trout inhabit the coldwater streams of Iowa's driftless region, which covers a large portion of Northeast Iowa. They are a sought after species for fly fisherman and are often considered "trophy" size once they surpass the 15 inch mark. Brookies feed on a variety of organisms in the water. Leeches, miscellaneous aquatic insects, small fish, other trout, and even small rodents often fall prey to the brook trout.
While brook trout can be a hardy fish, they are incredibly susceptible to siltation, bank hide destruction, general water quality degradation, and encroachment from other non-native salmonids. Many conservation organizations have been involved in the restoration of native brook trout streams in Northeast IA, but it is important that we continue to protect and appreciate Iowa's only little char. After all, they are fun to catch and they are an incredibly important predator for our little spring streams!
Visit Iowa DNR Hatchery
If you ever get the chance to visit the Iowa DNR's fish hatchery in Manchester, Iowa, it is worth a stop. That is where the majority of Iowa's captive reared brook trout are raised. Your kids can feed the trout, see the fish swimming in the ponds and nearby Spring Branch stream, and much more. For more information on the hatchery, use the link below.