Fall in Colorado means spawning Brown trout — and a renewed appeal to “spare the spawn.” For the past several years, I have written blogs about protecting the spawn. I’m not the only blogger who focuses on this topic; protecting spawning fish is a huge issue. Over the past couple of years, I have learned that there are basically two groups of anglers, broadly speaking, who are the audience for this blog.
One audience is comprised of people who may be new, or relatively new, to fly fishing. Hopefully this blog will be informative and educational in content.
The second audience is a tougher one. This audience is comprised of the anglers who are completely aware of what they are doing — ripping fish off the spawning beds, the “redds” — and are willfully practicing unethical fishing methods for an “Insta” post and that ‘gram cred. They, to be blunt, don’t give a damn about the future of the fishery they are exploiting.
Stay off the Redds
This issue is black and white: stay off the redds.
So what does that mean — stay off the redds — and why is it important?
The trout spawning process (for Brown trout in the fall and Rainbow in the spring) begins with the female building “her nest,” the spawning bed, the redd. The redd is a slight depression in a shallow, gravel- covered section of a riverbed. The female fans her tail against the small rocks in order to clean the debris from the area.
An attentive angler can spot the redds relatively easily. Spawning beds are a nicely cleaned area in a shallow spot and can be found just about anywhere on the bed of the river – near the bank or further out. After the female cleans the spawning bed, the river bottom looks almost like a cobblestone road. The gravel or small stones of the redd is lighter in color, and the redd may stretch for several feet, sometimes reaching a length of a couple of yards.
After the redd is made, the female moves upstream and lays her eggs in the gravelly bed. A male trout (sometimes two) then fertilizes the eggs by covering them with his milt. Once the male is done, the female covers the fertilized eggs with more gravel and small rocks. They then head off downstream.
During the spawn, the female’s energy is being used to lay her eggs. She’s weaker. Similarly, the male is involved in his part of the reproductive cycle. The fish are vulnerable. Landon Mayer, who has worked tirelessly with other Colorado guides, outfitters, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says
“On average, the female — a giant brown, say a 30” female — will lose, in addition to the weight of the eggs, 7 pounds in body mass in two months from spawning. That’s how much energy is expended.
Males will lose 4 to 5 pounds because they are expending so much energy chasing the redds, chasing other fish, shooting their milt.”
Ripping spawning fish off of a redd is not a “challenging catch” at this time. It’s not sport. In essence, the act is to fishing as poaching is to hunting.
Willful Ignorance and Unethical Practices
Some anglers stoop to the level of merely snagging or intentionally foul hooking the spawning fish. Some of them, those phony social media influencers with little experience and even less legitimate credibility, have been known to snag a Brown off the redd and then position a nymph in the lip for the photo op. Other anglers will fish at night — shining the halo portion of their flashlight’s beam on the fish and then going to work to snag the fish. While there is a place for night fishing, casting to spawning fish is not it.
Anglers who choose to target spawning fish are out for the trophy — not the sport, not the challenge. Their “participation trophy” is for one more pic on social media that will be “liked,” scrolled past, and forgotten about the next day. At what price? A diminished fishery. Fewer quality fish.
Jon Easdon, Director of Services at Angler’s Covey, points out that with more fly fishers, in general, we are going to see an increased number of people not respecting the spawn. Many of those will benefit from the information in this blog. Others will ignore the message and simply hope they don’t get caught.
In this spawning season, Jon has observed that very few Browns are making their way out of Elevenmile Reservoir to spawn at the Dream Stream. In essence, it seems that the fishing pressure has actually changed the instinctual behavior of spawning trout. A natural behavior, to move upstream to reproduce, has been altered by the catching spawning fish season after season. If his observation holds true, then future generations of Brown will simply stay in the reservoir to reproduce. They repeat the behavior they have inherited.
Don’t Tread on the Redd
The redds are also vulnerable to anglers wading on top of them. In some ways, the redds are quite inviting; they are in shallow water in an area that is free of large rocks. All of that is nature’s plan! It’s a fragile area, though.
Imagine walking in a huge robin’s nest smashing the light blue eggs with your big ol Simms boot. Imagine sloshing through that nest and watching cracked and smashed eggs being tossed to the wind.
Unimaginable? We sort of cringe at the thought, right?
When an angler walks on the redds, he is obliterating and scattering the next generation of the very trout he would like to catch. He is suffocating the fish by stirring up the silt that then covers the eggs, depriving them of clean, oxygenated water.
If you consider fly fishing
an art …
a sport …
or a religion (like the characters in A River Runs Through It) …
… there is no room for casting to spawning fish or treading on the redds.
Read more: Kirk Deeter’s article in Field and Stream, “Don’t Pull Trout Off Redds”
Landon Mayer’s thoughts: “Protect the Spawn”