That is the question we are going to hit on today.
Whether it was last spring or during our childhood, we have all walked up to a shallow gravel bar in a trout stream, noticed a couple larger trout holding in the shallows, making an easy target for the fly/lure. You cast and hook one, bring the beautiful creature in and see that it is pumping milk or eggs from right above it’s anal fin. You put the fish back in the water and it swims right back to the shallow spot next to it’s “friend”…weird, right?
You just caught a “spawner.” #Insert your favorite hashtag.
Respect the Redd
Fall and Spring are when most of our Wyoming trout spawn. Rainbows and cutthroat trout in the spring, brown and brook trout in the fall after they complete an upriver migration. Wyoming is fortunate to have a rather healthy population of trout naturally reproducing in its streams. When spawning, trout hold in the shallow riffles and clear off “beds” of gravel with their tails/bodies (a ‘redd’), just like we see the salmon do on National Geographic. These tan colored, cleared-off spots in the stream bed are highly visible, as are the trout who are claiming the redd as their own, and more often than not highly accessible to anglers.
The spawn is the most exhausting process in a trouts’ life and as fly fishing/fishing becomes more popular, it is important that ALL anglers understand and respect this critical time in the trout’s life, both adult and egg.
This period of active spawning is a time when trout should go undisturbed and only observed. It is quite the spectacle to witness the primary goal of salmonoids or trout, procreation. You will witness the two dominant fish on the redd (male/female) and all the smaller males trying to “hustle” the dominate male into leaving the redd, creating a window of opportunity for the non-alpha male to enter and spawn the egg-filled female. Once the trout have deposited their fertilized eggs into the gravel, they move back into the slower, deeper runs and go back to being a normal trout living in the river.
Eggs incubate for well over a month (sometimes 2 months depending on water temperatures) in the gravel and often get trampled by the wandering wade fisherman looking for an easy crossing in the river during the post spawn. Oops! Watch your feet.
When a male alpha spawner is caught off the redd, the lesser male moves in and often spawns with the female. The injustice now puts the genetics of the lesser “stag” in the nest of eggs, instead of that “big boy” who just got caught. If the female is caught when she is doing the deed, all the eggs coming out of her will be wasted as she is releasing them while being fought by the angler, handling and the release. Lose/lose situation. Not only do we kill many trout embryos ready for life, but we also bring a lesser or “stag” genetic into the gene pool of our fish.
For a trout to successfully spawn, it has achieved its lifelong goal. As anglers, we have two choices…fish the spawning trout and rely on hatcheries to sustain our trout population OR avoid spawners and allow our trout to reproduce undisturbed and grow into the colorful, hard-fighting creatures that draw crowds for the rest of the world annually.
Whether you practice catch and release or take a few home for the plate, we can all agree that we want to see our favorite fishing spots continue to support healthy, native trout.
Fishing the Spawn
In the next month, if you see somebody standing in shin deep water fishing in a trout stream, most likely they’re fishing to spawners. The Green River below Fontenelle Dam is a great place to witness this tragic event, as anglers from both Wyoming and surrounding states lineup on the gravel bars full of spawners and run flies through trout redds until they either snag or legally hook a spawner. Fishing to spawners is legal, moral it is not.
Just because there are spawning trout everywhere, doesn’t mean the rest of the river isn’t full of hungry trout. There are plenty of actively feeding trout in our rivers during the spawn… go chase them instead, they’ll fight harder anyway.
So …. come this fall or next spring, when you come across some spawners, put the rod down, take a seat, and just watch. Observe each fish’s character, where and how they hold in currents, how quickly they can react to other fish jockeying the redd…. You may develop a much deeper more meaningful connection to the fish than the one on the end of your line.
Ryan Hudson is the Head Guide/Owner at Wyoming Fishing Company LLC. He and his first mate, Ichabod the Black Lab, makes sure all of their clients stow rods away when floating over spawning trout on the Green River.