Trout vs. Salmon: The Key Differences Explained

Written by Rebecca Bales
Updated: September 26, 2023
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If you’re looking for a delicious, healthy meal for dinner, two fish that might come to mind are trout and salmon. Trouts and salmon are closely related, but have key differences. Below we’ll dig into the differences between trout and salmon.

How are they different as animals, what are the taste differences, and how is fishing for them different?

All that and more below!

Trout Vs. Salmon

Animal migration - salmon

In the open ocean,


use the Earth’s magnetic field to guide their migration.


It’s important to note that trout and salmon are very closely related. Both belong to the same family (along with other fish like chart), and some species that are often called salmon (E.G. steelheads), are actually trout!

Trout are found in many rivers and lakes around the world. They are typically brown with orange spots on their scales. Unlike trout, salmon are native in the Northern Hemisphere but have been introduced to other environments.

They are often pinkish-red or orange because they feed on shrimp, plankton, and other small crustaceans while they grow up in freshwater before heading to the ocean as adults. Both species offer many health benefits, but it’s important to know how to cook them correctly so that they don’t dry out or taste too fishy.

While trout and salmon may look and taste similar they are distinct species of fish. The major difference between the two is that Trout is a freshwater fish, and Salmon is a saltwater fish. Salmon typically has a higher fat content than trout and is almost always larger in size.

Trout has always been the fish that people have loved to catch. Whether you are fishing for fun or fishing for food, there is something about catching a trout that makes it special. It’s not just the taste of fresh trout, but also being part of the natural process. And now with so many different types of trout, it’s easy to find one that fits your needs and preferences.

On the other hand, salmon is seen as a luxury fish. They’re expensive and wild-caught salmon are considered a delicacy because they’re often caught using professional equipment like nets and commercial fishing boats. With their higher value, they are usually thought of as a higher quality fish on the menu at restaurants. 

Trout vs. Salmon Taste

Trout vs Salmon - Filets

Both trout and salmon are popular seafood

©Jane Rix/

In general, the taste of salmon is more robust than trout. Salmon also has a rich and fatty texture that makes it popular in sushi. Pinpointing the taste of salmon depends on which salmon species you’re cooking.

  • King (chinook) salmon: King salmon is often the most expensive salmon species you can buy. The Ora King salmon – which sells for about $30 per pound – has been called the “wagyu beef of the seafood world.” King salmon have a rich texture and are high in fat with impressively marbled meat.
  • Sockeye salmon: Sockeye salmon has very red flesh. Sockeyes are often described as having a more “fish-y” flavor and are lean. You’ll often find sockeye meat smoked.

Atlantic Salmon Taste

To show just how similar trout and salmon are, the Atlantic salmon is more closely related to Atlantic trout species than Pacific Salmon. Today, Atlantic salmon fisheries are common across the Faroe Islands, Norway, Scotland, and Chile. Atlantic salmon has a mild flavor but maintains the texture that makes salmon so popular at a far more budget price point.

Steelhead: The trout that behaves like a salmon

Steelhead were long considered salmon but today are classified as trout. While most trout live in freshwater throughout their lives, steelheads will migrate into the ocean change color, and then return to the streams they were born in to spawn. However, after spawning many steelhead will survive, and many will even return to the ocean. This gives them a much different life cycle than salmon.

Steelhead taste very similar to Atlantic salmon and have very pink (bordering on orange) flesh. The biggest difference between steelhead and Atlantic salmons is weight, Atlantic salmon can grow to about five times the size of steelheads.

Trout Taste

The flavor of trout is best described as mild. However, with so many different species of trout there is a substantial amount of variety. Some of the most popular trouts include:

  • Rainbow trout: Known for its flaky meat, rainbow trouts are mild flavored but have a “nut-like” flavor. Rainbow trout can be found across most of the Western United States, the Great Lakes, Appalachia, and New England.
  • Brown trout: While many trout are mild, brown trout have more of the distinctive “fish-y” flavor that some love and some would rather avoid. Brown trout are often soaked in milk overnight and served with citrus flavors that subdue their natural flavors.

Cooking Salmon and Trout

Trout vs Salmon - Brook Trout

Trout are a popular fish among fishermen


Since salmon and trout are very similar fish, there aren’t significant differences when preparing the two fish. Popular approaches to cooking the two fish range from panfried to baking the fish. One important note is that you’ll want to avoid overcooking both fish. This can lead to a stronger “fish-y” odor and make their flesh flaky.

Nutrition differences

Whether you’re cooking salmon or trout, they’re both great options for your diet. Salmon is often considered healthier than other seafood options, while trout is also a healthy choice of fish. As a result, both trout and salmon are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients and vitamins. If fishing is your goal, the salmon presents a mighty fight. But the trout doesn’t take as much specialized equipment and guidance to fish. Either way, if you do a little research, fishing salmon or trout can be quite an adventure!

Is Trout High In Mercury?

Opt for fish and shellfish with lower mercury content, like salmon, trout, tilapia, cod, sole, sardines, shrimp, oysters, and various other shellfish. To maximize health benefits, consider fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, chub mackerel, and sardines, as they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Much like many other fish species, frequently contains traces of mercury, a heavy metal contaminant that can accumulate in both their organs and flesh.

Lake trout’s position in the food chain, as they consume other fish, contributes to their higher mercury levels through a process known as biomagnification.

Trout vs. Salmon: The Main Differences

Trout Appearance and Behavior

Trout are normally much smaller than salmon. They typically range from 4 to 16 inches in length. However, there are exceptions to the rule. To keep a bigger trout, a large weighted hook is used and typically these fish are caught with a spinning rod and reel. Trout swim upstream, so if you want to catch a big fish, you’ll want to get near the water’s edge.

They feed by sipping on the water as they swim. To get trout to eat, you’ll need to lure them with a fly fishing technique called a “suction,” which involves draping your fly over a trout’s head to get its attention (more on that in a moment). Trout live in small streams, big rivers, and freshwater lakes as well as in saltwater lakes. They are typically brown or yellow in color.

Salmon Appearance and Behavior

Salmon have a striking appearance and a reputation for being one of the tastiest fish. Most people think of salmon as pinkish in color. Salmon will hatch in freshwater then migrate to saltwater, returning to freshwater to reproduce.

Studies involving tagged fish show that it is often a salmon will return to the exact location they were hatched to hatch their own offspring.

This is thought to be possible because of their olfactory memory. They are able to switch between freshwater and saltwater due to a body chemistry change that occurs when they migrate. Salmon typically spend about five years in the ocean while they mature.

Salmon range in size from fifteen to more than 100 pounds and can be more than four feet long. There are only seven species of salmon, but several others have salmon in their name while not being true salmon. Salmon are considered a keystone species, meaning that their existence impacts the ecosystem disproportionately relative to their numbers.

How to Fish for Trout

Trout vs Salmon - Trout fishing

Wading is the best way to catch a trout!


The best trout fishing techniques are the ones that produce the most fish! For this reason, there is a lot to know before you set out to fish for trout. The best way to do this is to learn a few simple techniques so you can catch your fish without having to do too much work! Wading is one of the most basic methods that you can use for fishing.

Essentially, wading is the process of standing in the water and casting your line into the water. This is one of the easiest ways to go fishing. If you are wading, you will need a long, thin rod to attach to your vest or the vest of your boat. This type of rod is very flexible and has a long, flexible, tip.

There are many different types of trout to target. The more time you spend casting to the fish, the more likely you will be able to land one. If you’re fishing in freshwater lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and streams, there are certain times that you should target a specific species of fish.

For instance, rainbow trout only live in streams or lakes, and they’re the most likely to bite a fly when the temperature is high. Brown trout live in the tundra of Alaska and are the most aggressive and powerful of the trout.

How to Fish for a Salmon

The biggest thing you have to keep in mind is that salmon are strong fighters. Salmon have higher jawbones and claws, which can help them to push away or overpower their prey. They also have a muscular swim bladder that helps them glide forward through the water.

They’re not an easy fish to learn to catch, so you can catch them if you have the right fishing gear and knowledge about their migratory patterns, habitats, and a lot of patience. 

Because temperature matters so much in salmon fishing it is best to follow the water temperature when planning where to fish. Interestingly, moon phases effect how much and when a salmon will feed during nighttime hours. New moon and full moon nights around dawn and dusk tend to bring salmon to the surface for feeding. They like the cooler water temperature and dim light. There is some variation between the different species of salmon.

Many fisherman still opt for fishing in the early morning hours or late afternoon. No matter when you fish, you can always expect a great fight when fishing for salmon!

Summary of Trout vs Salmon

Size45 inches long, typically 8 pounds28-30 inches, 8-12 pounds
ColorBrown or grey with orange spotsPinkish-red to orange
HabitatStreams and lakesHatch in freshwater then migrate to oceans
Lifespan7-20 years4-26 years
Largest on record50 pounds126 pounds

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

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