The aim of the paper was to study sea migration, growth and survival of brown trout Salmo trutta of the River Imsa, 1976–2005. The migratory S. trutta were individually tagged and fish leaving or entering the river were monitored daily in traps located near the river mouth. The mean annual duration of the sea sojourn was 6–9 months for first-time migrants moving to sea between January and June. It was 8–18 months for those migrating to sea between July and December. Veteran migrants stayed 12 months or less at sea and most returned to the river in August. Early ascending fish stayed the longest in fresh water because most returned to sea in April to May. The day number of 50% cumulative smolt descent correlated negatively with mean water temperature in February to March and the February North Atlantic Oscillation index (NAOI). Mean annual sea growth during the first 2 years after smolting was higher for S. trutta spending the winter at sea than those wintering in the River Imsa. First year’s sea growth was lower for S. trutta descending in spring than autumn. For first-time migrants, it correlated negatively with the February NAOI of the smolt year. Sea survival was higher for spring than autumn descending first-time migratory S. trutta with a maximum in May (14·9%). Number of anadromous S. trutta returning to the river increased linearly with the size of the cohort moving to sea, with no evidence of density-dependent sea mortality. Sea survival of S. trutta smolts moving to sea between January and June correlated positively both with the annual number of Atlantic Salmo salar smolts, the specific growth rate at sea, and time of seaward migration in spring. This is the first study indicating how environmental factors at the time of seaward migration influence the sea survival of S. trutta.