1. Upstream and downstream migrating anadromous brown trout Salmo trutta were monitored daily in fish traps in the River Imsa in south-western Norway for 24 years, from 1976 to 1999. One-third of the fish descended to sea during spring (February–June) and two-thirds during autumn (September–January).
2. In spring, high water temperature appeared to influence the downstream descent. Large brown trout (> 30 cm, chiefly two or more sea sojourns) descended earlier and appeared less dependent on high water temperature than smaller and younger fish. The spring water flow was generally low and of little importance for the descent.
3. In autumn, the daily number of descending brown trout correlated positively with flow and negatively with water temperature.
4. Brown trout ascended from the sea between April and December, but more than 70% ascended between August and October. The number of ascending trout increased significantly with both decreasing temperature and flow during the autumn. This response to flow appeared to be the result of the autumn discharge which is generally high and most fish ascended at an intermediate flow of 7.5–10 m3 s−1 (which is low for the season).
5. In a river like the Imsa with low spring and high autumn flows, water temperature appears to be the main environmental factor influencing the timing and rate of spring descent, while both water temperature and flow seemed to influence the timing and rate of the autumn descent and ascent. These relationships make sea trout migrations susceptible to variation in climate and human impacts of the flow regime in rivers.