Early in our Research and Development program in Southern Chile, one of our guides, Garrett Sullivan, caught this exceptional fish.
We took some shots and released it, thinking “man, that was an awesome brown”.
When we got home, we sent some pictures around to a bunch of folks, and maybe half of them responded saying “great fish, but that’s not a brown – that’s clearly an Atlantic salmon.”
Over the past couple of years we’ve had a lot of people weigh in on the topic, and opinions seem to be pretty split. We’ve also thought in the past about running polls on our blog, so we figured now’s the time – we’ll let the collective wisdom of the internet identify this fish!
[poll id=”2″]Note: if you’re reading this in a newsletter or a reader, just click here to go to our web site and vote in the poll.
Thanks for weighing in! Feel free to leave a comment below letting us know why you voted the way you voted.
P. S. Yes, we considered the R&D program on that river to be successful, and yes, we fish that river at Chile West whenever we can.
P.P.S. If you’d like to chase exceptional fish like this around Southern Chile, drop us a line – we’d love to have you.
Brown. Three positive reasons; one sorta reason:
Positive: 1) Mandible extends to half-way or beyond orbit of eye.
2) Heavy and numerous spots on operculum (gill plate)
3) And most compelling of all: Spots on the adipose fin
And the sorta (because you can’t see with 100% certainty):
The caudal peduncle (wrist) appears thick
Gharrett landed a trophy brown – not some escapee salmon from a Chilean fish farm. Good on you, man!
Jeremy Christensen says
Hope your Chile squad faired ok in the earthquake…thoughts go out to everyone down there.
Thanks Jeremy – our team and their families are all fine. We’re far enough away that they didn’t even feel it. Thanks for the thoughts!
Karl Kreissig says
Hallo to everbody,
I`m quite sure that the fish on the photo is a male atlantic salmon.
He escaped from a fish farm. You can see that because the fish has got not real good fins. It would have been better not to release such a fish.
a fishfarmer from Germany
Doug Schlink says
I vote brown, although Karl’s point about damaged fins well taken, and I can offer no explanation. But…while difficult to tell from photo, there appears to be no concavity to the tail -it’s more spade like indicating brown. Also, spots appear to extend fairly well below lateral line, indicating brown. Also thickness of caudal peduncle. Salmon have a narrower wrist. Had Garrett tried to “tail” this fish, I think it would have squirted out (unless he knew the Vulcan Grilse Grip!). In adult salmon (not grilse), the relatively narrower caudal peduncle combined with stiff positioning of the exterior caudal rays make a perfect “handle”. (FYI – lifting a salmon completely out of the water by the tail so that it hangs vertically can damage internal organs – poor catch & release practice).
Trevor Covich says
This fish is amazing yes! I have never stared at a fish for so long or ever in that fact trying to determine species. After seeing numerous different looking browns in that same area I started comparing fins. The tail doesn’t match any of the other fish I’ve seen here. The fish is big, so if this was a brown the rounded off tail and other fins could be from escaping predators and other trout. The Jaw and upper back would tell me that this is an Atlantic. A very distinguished jaw, and the spot configuration on the top of the back is something I’ve also never seen.The spots remind me of the salmon I used to catch in the salt. The orange spots on the side and the maze configuration on the adipose fin tell me its a brown. So my next question is, can the two cross breed? As a guide here, this is a question that must be answered. I want to say its a mix.
Trevor Covich says
Look at the close up of the fish, do you see the “super tiny” spots mixed in on the top of the back. Now look at photos of every brown we have ever caught here. I can’t find any with that spot configuration. I’m convinced neither will you. Mix.
i went back and looked at this photo as well. i still vote mix
Mark Orlicky weighed in with this comment via email:
You know, it sure looks like a brown. But, when a brown has been in the Great Lakes or gone to sea, it frequently gets real silverish. And, can be mistaken for a Chinook Salmon sometimes, other times, it looks like an Atlantic Salmon. And, vice versa. This is a good one.
I sent the email to an ichthyologist friend of mine. He sent back a guess that it was a naturally occuring cross between a Brown Trout and an Atlantic Salmon. He said,
It looks to me like a brown/atlantic hybrid for sure.
The giveaway is the upper jaw extending downward with a slight hook. Most of the other physiological features are brown.
So, let that guess be entered into the pot.
twenty years ago i worked with fisheries and oceans on the east coast of canada and atlantics and brown trout were successfully crossed. thats what this looks like to me
Robert Parker says
I’ve seen a few fish like that in over 8 seasons in Chile, mostly in the Rio Simpson and a couple in the fjords. They’ve always really stumped me in having characters of both species. It’s difficult to accurately determine caudal peduncle depth and maxillary length from a photo, and using the maxillary for identification is not always accurate in these species. Coloration can be an environmental trait and not a heritable one, so it’s a tough call there. Probably the best character to get a good ID is vomerine teeth (one row in Atlantic salmon, two rows in brown trout), but obviously this is difficult with a live fish in a C&R situation. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of this fish being a hybrid. Running the genetics would be the only way to get a definitive identification.
Paolo Silva says
I was caught those cain of fish several time in my entire fly fishing live here in chilean patagonia.
When you see his behavior when they start to run upstream you will know that they are Atlantic salmon. ex. where they lie, how they move upstream, how many are in the group, and more important “they are easy to recognize when you can see it more silvers”. The salmon of the picture is a mature one. Its behaviour are not from a brown trout.
Looks like a clear case of hybridization to me as it displays characteristics of both – same Genus, so it is completely within the realm of possibilities… But we’re being a bit nit-picky, aren’t we? Either way, whatever its origins, it is one helluva salmonid!
clearly a brown seeing the spots on the adipose fin and the square tail.
atlantic salmon do not have these spots on the fin. It’s plain to see why some think it an atlantic. the mouth looks like it’s close to the rear of the eye when drawing a vertical line. a brown would extend past the rear of the eye. But the spots on the fin makes it a brown
Brown – Thinking that when they get big they can start to look very much like a salmon, especially the cock fish which develop a considerable hook jaw. Generally its the cannibals that get bigger and live longer as a consequence. Sometimes then being known as Ferox trout. Possibly similar to eels the predatory tendancies also cause the head to enlarge. Seems like the double figure ones get ridiculously broad heads. They also seem to silver up as they get bigger. Some of the larger ones I’ve been lucky enough to encounter are entirely silver and don’t seem to retain a hint of brown about them. Seems to fade out as they hit double figures. But they definately are browns. Spots can look similar to the one in the photo which appears to be starting the “silvering” process. No chance of being salmon where I have encountered them. Although when you first land them your so gobsmaked and high on adrenalin youre half inclined to think they could be!
Beautifull fish. For a river that is an absolute specimen. Must be a good river !
Tim Donnell says
On salmon, the vomerine teeth are small and arranged in a single row on the shaft, with few to none on the vomerine head. On the Brown Trout, the vomerine teeth are well-developed on both the vomerine head and shaft, and arranged in a zig-zag row on the shaft. Also on salmon, the caudal fin may be slightly forked and on the brown trout, the caudal fin is square and unforked.
Caudal fin identification is probably the most commonly used method, since noone can remember which teeth configuration is trout and which is salmon; however, Brown trout have Always been refered to as Square Tails in our region.
Sometimes, one can tell the difference just by the tail…”old square tailed Browns”……but sometimes the juvenials look SO similar that you have to reach into their mouth with your pinkie and feel the rows of teeth. And, even THEN, I cannot always be certain. The State of Maine Department of inland fisheries tries to help fishermen identify properly, as we are trying to protect our Salmon population. My theory is never keep any fish, but moreover….NEVER keep a fish that is in question. Gorgeous fish….even prettier release.
But By your photo, my guess would be a gorgeous Brown, based on the coloration and squared off tail. Browns can grow to be as big as a salmon, as witnessed by this monster taken from a Lake in Maine a few winters ago. I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a photo for you, as it was printed in the Kennebec journal around 3/6/ 1996 . This brown was So big ( caught through the Ice) that the fella had to chip a 10 inch auger hole out to about 12 inches to get the fish out of the water. I have included a record of it’s capture.
Point: This giant brown looked just like a salmon, not a trout, however, was clearly identified by state biologists as a Brown. It had none of the coloration of a Brown and was as silver as a smelt. The State record Atlantic Salmon is only 5 lbs or so bigger.
We do occasionally have a stray fish in a place where it does not belong, but this particular pond has no dam-less access to the ocean, or any Landlock population. So there is no question in my mind that this was an accurate identification.
On a more comical note:
We did have a guy catch a 36 inch Striped Bass in the Machias Lake chain a few years ago, and wardens arrested him, because the size limit on Stripers on the coast is 40 inch min. He caught this thing in the LAKE, where it had made it’s way up the Machias River 20 miles inland, and was most likely eating all of our trout. But, they arrested him for NOT releasing this fish. I’ll be honest….I would NOT have put a 36 inch striper back into a trout pond either.
Thanks for all your hard work
Tim Donnell says
In Addition, Tim’s comment of July 18 2010 is exactly correct also. The record brown caught in Maine had such an enormous head for it’s length, that it looked more like a prehistoric creature than any modern brown that you’ve ever seen.
Mr Marine Harvest says
Bad news the brown trout/salmon fish in the photos is an escaped farm salmon that should have ended up on a fish counter but managed to get into your river. We catch lots of them in scotland and ireland and refer to them as chumpys. It is a terrible fish……with neh fins that will ruin your “wild” stock.
Ben Gahagan says
Nice Fish Garret! I agree with the brown votes, looks exactly like a very big sea run brownie to me, beyond what else has been said the the black margin on the caudal fin is typical of sea run browns and seals it for me
Jere Crosby says
Wish you guy’s could respond when I post!!! I’ve investigated this Brown/Atlantic thing, and my conclusion is they are the same fish!! I called the Flyshop in California, and raised that question to them, and their answer was their is very little DNA/genetic difference. They both reside in the same areas/geographical zones, and one is anadromous just like the rainbow/steelhead thing. Seems fly fisherman want to make the distinction as they are two separate species. An Atlantic that is in the river system turns very much like a Brown Trout, and can’t be distinguished from a Brown in my opinion.
Hey Jere, thanks a lot for stopping by – we appreciate your posts! Great input on the brown/Atlantic question…I think there are as many views as anglers on this one.
Whatever it is, and it looks like an Atlantic Salmon to me the shape of the tail fin, with the points badly eroded would seem to indicate that it is an escaped farmed fish. Every farmed fish you see in a supermaarket has a tail like this sYou can see any number with
Michael W. Miller says
I have been catching, dining on some few, releasing many, brown trout,though never close to the size of this specimen, since I am 17. I am now 67, the math is easy, and I catch them still. There is zero doubt to my eyes, that this outsized piscine marvel is, yes, a brown trout. The yellow,and the white colouration on his flank and underbelly make this certain to me, in addition to the colour of its spots as well as their aureoles. Yes, I am hooked on this fish and this opinion of it.
Michael W. Miller
Did it have teeth in the roof of its mouth?
Browns do, AS do not
When all else fails this is a good indicator
Salmon, eyes located too far back and low to be a brown
it`s sort of funny. i was searchinhg the net for the common/local names for the brown land loch cross and found this site.
i have caugt a number of them. in my case they are mentioned earlier, the viable crosses on the east coast of canada. i fish those lakes they talked about, and actualy plan to target these fish and land loch salmon to over the next 10 days. these land lochs are atlantic salmon, mostly land loched naturaly a long time ago and now are also stocked. they developed in the 40`s a viable cross of brown trout and these salmon and at the same time an artic char that could handle slightly warmer waters. because of this the regs for the area refer to them as “any combination of brown trout and land loch salmon”. the one shown is one of the easier of these crosses to identify. we have different seasons for brown and land loch, so some variants like the female`s with a browns body and salmon forked tail – just how forked did it have to get to be a cross? so they finaly just changed the rules to include both and any combination.
they are fun to catch, and can prefer bad weather with lots of waves. they will also do the salmon thing of following the boat some times. they don`t put up as much of a fight as a brown, and have the tendancy of a salmon to quit after a short initial fight. the strong slamon variant can have a soft lip, requiring soft rods and smouth reels – don`t over set the hook or you will lose it. they taste like a combo of the two, i cook them like salmon… but i cook browns like salmpon too! lol!
i target them almost completely in the spring, their bite dies off a lot in the summer. the fall fishing for them is new to me, i`ll see how i do and let you know.
i do have at least one picture of this hybred variant, salmon body digital pattern, small for it`s size brown`s square tail, jaw hooked and head like brown or fall spawning atlantic that has been in fresh water for more than a few days. same as your fish. i would post it but i planned to put it on another site that probabley won`t like that. do you guy`s claim rights on photos? if not, or if i can find another one or get one before the first of oct. i will post it.
brown trout atlantic salmon hybred.
chumpy`s eh?!!! lol thanks!
Felipe Aristizabal says
Brown Trout and Atlantic Salmon cannot cross, it is a scientific fact. Had they been able to, they would have done so in Europe many millions of years ago. Although they belong to the same genus Salmo, their offspring if there ever have been any, would be sterile. It is most definitely a German Brown just like the many I’ve cought in Colorado and Arkansas, no different! Wishful thinking goes a long way.
Felipe Aristizabal says
A nice sized Brown is what it is, I can give you my full confidence on this one. It looks nothing like an Atlantic salmon. It’s color is brown not silver. It has red and black spots and a yellow underbelly.. It’s definitely a BROWN!
Dustin kecki says
The teeth are the only sure sign.
Ricky lapsley says
Hi this fish is a brown trout I can’t believe there is so many people convinced its an Atlantic salmon.im from Scotland and that is a trade mark back end (late season brown)it’s obviously a cock fish.atlantic salmon have few BLACK spots if any under the lateral line&no way would you never get red spots on an Atlantic salmon.the fact that its tail isn’t full suggests that it is farmed or escaped from a farm which means returning that fish was a bad idea as it will effect the wild species in the river.personally I would have killed it we have alot of bother on our river Tay here with escapee rainbows bad for migrating fish.
Cathal McNaughton says
You do get red spots on gravid Atlantic Salmon. Male and female it doesn’t matter. To be more accurate, these are not redirected spots as per a brown trout. These are the typical rust coloured spots of a salmon. Farmed salmon that have never seen fresh water develop the same livery in sea cages as the spawning season approaches. Farmed salmon above. Any fish farmer can verify that. The spotting in this is not only not consistent with any wild salmon or trout, it is 100% consistent with the distinctive poorly developed, excessively heavy sporting of a farmed Atlantic Salmon. There is no need to look beyond that. Attempting to identify fish from details such as the eye/ mouth line is fraught with difficulty and is affected by the posture of the mouth, whether the mouth is open or closed. Anyone suggesting this is anything other than a farmed Atlantic Salmon is not familiar with their fish, fish identification or the pitfalls of identifying species using photographs only.
Cathal McNaughton says
Red spots, not redirected . Apologies. Farmed Atlantic Salmon. I’m very familiar with them, wild salmon, brown trout and sea trout..and sea trout which have reverted to being Brown trout in fresh water. The above fish is a farmed Atlantic Salmon. In every detail. There is no confusion here.
B Fallon says
Possible hybrid? I know there’s thought of a “fish farm escapee” being possible, but I also know GM Atlantic Salmon have been known to interbreed with brown trout and actually Brown Trout and Atlantic Salmon have been known to interbreed in the wild as well. I think a good question to ask in this case would be – what time of year was this caught in relation to brown trout spawing in Chile? It might better explain the kype? Either way, good catch, and I disagree with “it would have been better to not release the fish”…..we’ve fucked up the planet enough already, I don’t think releasing a possible farm fish (which I’m not anywhere near certain it is) will cause some sort of invasive reaction. It’s not like you’re releasing a snakehead. Brown trout and Atlantic Salmon virtually have the same eating habits and it is a similar fish with a few differences .
That is definitely an Atlantic salmon.
Josh Campbell says
Looks like male atlantic salmon with the specs of a browntrout haha
Tratta Lykelligsynd says
could be a hybrid, that does happen, you know. It is getting exceedingly rarer as global climate change accelerates
Norman Ward says
First of all let me say that’s a hall of a fish whether it’s a brown trout or atlantic salmon so Congrats to the angler Aslo glad to see it was released
I live in Red Bank, New Brunswick Canada. Red Bank is a small First Nation community that lies along the banks of both the Little Southwest and Northwest Miramichi rivers The two rivers meet here in Red Bank and flow into one river, the Northwest Miramicbi river that flows into the Atlantic ocean The many rivers of the miramichi river watershed have long been famous for their legendary runs of Atlantic salmon and have attracted anglers from around the world Sadly these large runs of salmon that have made the miramichi river famous have dwindled to the point that many of the different rivers of the miramichi river watershed no longer have runs that even meet spawning requirements The reasons for this are many so I wont get into them as its getting off topic I mentioned living along the northwest and little southwest miramichi rivers as I have fished atlantics here for over 30 years, have guided for over 20, have worked as a fish warden for 11 and for the past three years have worked live catching atlantic salmon in live catch trap or box nets from June to the end of Oct These box nets catch salmon by the salmon following a lead into a box net where they can’t swim out of The salmon are caught to collect science data and estimate return numbers A small percentage of the male grilse which are salmon under 63cms in length are killed and distributed to the first nation people of Red Bank for food, social and ceremonial purposes All large salmon are released and only male grilse are kept as there are more than enough males. The numbers of female salmon returning to spawn are low and often not enough to meet spawning requirements so all female salmon must be released so they can continue upriver to spawn Living and working along and on the miramichi rivers for my entire life I had the opportunity to handle thousands of salmon so have quite a bit of experience with atlantic salmon As for brown trout my experience with them is much less as they are not native to the miramichi river watershed although they can be found in other river systems here in New Brunswick as well as in the rivers in neighboring provinces of Nova Scotia, Pronce Edward Island and Newfoundland I have fished for and caught a few brown trout in Nova Scotia yesrs ago but not many In my opinion the fish in the pics being debated is a large brown trout I admit that Atlantic salmon late in the fall when they are close to spawning closely resemble brown trout but I still think the fish in the pics is a brown trout Also atlantic salmon are more closely related to brown trout than to other species of salmon which can make identification of the two even harder but there are some differences
Atlantic salmon have a forked tail compared to a brown trout and trout in general have a square tail and the fish in the pic has an obvious square tail Salmon domt usually have spots on their dorsal fin, adipose fin and tail like brown trout do and the fish in the pic has spots on both the adipose fin and dorsal fin as well as the tail Brown trout in general are more heavily spotted than atlantics. Both have spots on the gill plates but the brown usually has more than the atlantic salmon so going by the pic I would say brown trout again Both male browns and atlantics can get an elongated snout with a large kype so really no diff there The section between the adipose fin and the tail is usually thicker on a brown than an Atlantic but hard to tell from the pic As for the eye in relation to back of rhe jaw good luck telling from a photo as it can depend on rhe angle of rhe photo, if the fishes mouth is open or closed or how the fish is being held so I domt think you can use that from these pics to make a conclusion I dont know what the farmed salmon conclusions are based on as wild atlantics close to spawning closely resemble a brown trout close to spawn Like I mentioned before atlantic salmon and brown trout are closely related and Atlantic salmon are more closely related to browns than to other species of salmon so of course they are going to have many of the same characteristics Here is New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada farmed raised fish have their adipose fin clipped off in order to identify fish farm escapees Not sure if this is the same in other parts of the world As for hybrids I dont think anyone could tell this from a photo with the two fish being so closely related with the only definate way to identify a hybrid would be through DNA analysis So again my opinion and thats all it is the fish in the pic is a brown trout