Spawning trout

We were all there once...a beautiful spring/Fall day, sun is out and all the sudden you stumble upon some big fish on the shallow gravel.  First thought is..."nobody is here...why are all these BIG fish just swimming here, almost like shooting them in a barrel?" thought, "I'm gonna catch one" you proceed.  

If you are to stop worrying about catching fish...and just watch for a bit, you will notice these fish are not in fact "eating".  Chasing each other around, biting at each other, beating their tails against the gravel (just like the salmon do in Alaska on NatGeo)

Weird, right?

During this crucial stage, the trout have one thing on their mind.  Perpetuation of their specie.  Though, they will and do eat...their gravel behavior doesn't clearly illustrate the characteristics of feeding trout.  

Now...before I go further, let me articulate, clearly... I eat trout.  I eat lots of trout.  I practically lived off trout/elk in college at the University of Wyoming...however, there's a distinction between harvesting small trout that have yet to spawn (taste better anyway) and harvesting the mature spawning age fish.

If you don't know, rainbow trout are spring spawners (March-early May).  Although there are some rare occasions of fall spawning rainbows.  The Cutthroat trout stage and begin spawning as the rainbows leave the gravel.  You will often find a rainbow or two willing to jump in on the courtship and fornication of the cutties...  this is where we get "cutt-bows".  This activity lasts a few weeks until summertime is in full swing.  The fish feed/migrate all summer, then the browns begin to do the dirty as well (load up on gravel, beat up gravel and lay eggs/fertilize eggs in the gravel) in October and go into mid November.  So all in all, trout are in this vulnerable stage for roughly a month, per specie.  The fish sit on shallow, cleared off gravel spots that will almost appear the color tan.  These are known as "redds" or spawning gravel.  You can see in the picture below...some fish sitting on the perimeters of the cleared gravel.   

Both commercial and recreational fisheries across the American West are founded upon wild trout fishing.  Some rivers have hatchery programs.  Most of our fish are all wild, naturally reproducing, bad-ass western fish.  Many of the rest of the country lacks the healthy, naturally sustaining populations we are fortunate to have and often take for granted.  The future generations of these "business partners"  and your recreational quarry rely HEAVILY on executing a successful spawn each year.  Hooking/catching these fish during these times stresses out the already stressed.  This is why trout color up so heavily during their spawn, their bodies are stressed and showing it.  Fins beat all to hell, dark bellies and the famous "kype" or hook jaw that everybody is gooo-gooo-gaah-gaaah over.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that we shouldn't fish to spawners when they are either staging below the redds or while on the redds.

If you have to catch fish off of redds, then I firmly believe you are underestimating your angling abilities.  You are better than this....  There are plenty of other fish feeding in the rivers, all year.  The next time you see somebody posted up in ankle/knee deep water fishing the same spot for an hour or more during these time frames (spring/fall), chances are he/she is fishing to spawning trout.  Politely walk over and inform the anglers what they are doing, then ask them to move along to feeding fish.  

Notice the lone trout sitting on the upstream side of the cleared gravel/redd??  This was shot around the Slate Creek area.  

The trout population below Fontenelle Dam has been below 200 fish per mile for many years and is known for lower fish counts, but bigger fish.  During summer, it is believed that the numbers get above 500-700 (unconfirmed Wy Game & Fish data).  Many other fisheries across the Wild West have several thousands of fish per mile and can handle people fishing the redds.  This DOES NOT make it right, however.  The Green River below Fontenelle Dam is a unique place.  It's raw, uncut and takes no prisoners.  It is a tough place for the trout to live, as they face angling pressure, warm water temps, drought conditions and predators (eagles, osprey, pelicans, great blue herons and river otter).  If we want future wild generations of trout to be in the Green and any other rivers...we must be aware of the spawn and respect the spawn.  If your guide is fishing spawners...he isn't a guide, he is a careless fisherman who lacks concern for the future.  You are paying good money to catch feeding fish, not promote a detrimental activity that has negative repercussions on the resource.  And just because you are "bringing them in fast and letting them go" does not condone fishing to spawners.  This still stresses the hell out of the fish...and often when you hook the dominate male and bring him off the redd, you allow the juveniles (jacks) to enter the redd and potentially mate with and/or hustle the female.  Now your pulling the alpha male out of the genetics...and replacing it with the subordinate/lesser male genetics.  
See where I am going here??  

When you hook the female....99.9% of the time when you bring her to the net, she will be pissing UNFERTILIZED eggs.  Keep in mind, she has been growing these eggs for months now....only to be deposited into the water column, away from the redd and fed to a trout, or most likely..."whitey" staged below the redd

Below: A solid spring brownie. Lower right: A fine fall rainbow

Words to live by -
Catch big browns during the rainbow spawn and big rainbows during the brown trout spawn.  What does this mean?  Target the actively feeding trout, simple as that.  If you find a redd of spawning fish...sit back, crack a beer, spark one up...and just watch the circle of life happen right before your eyes.  Its actually pretty damn cool to sit on a bank and watch fish hustle the gravel and spawn. All the meanwhile, not fishing.  Every spring/fall, I go scout some larger redds on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge...nobody is ever fishing them and it makes me feel good to see these fish go un-bothered....then I venture up to Section Zero (Fontenelle Dam) and do anything possible to control my blood pressure after witnessing the horror of almost all the anglers who don't have faith in their angling abilities, punish the spawners..

Fishing to spawning trout is known as "raping redds"  ...nasty way to put it, right?  Well, that's what it is.... nasty and unfair to our fish. 

Our fisheries need a voice to speak up during these crucial time periods and my goal is to bring the awareness about.  With fly fishing becoming extremely popular....and almost "hip", many new anglers simply
don't know, like we did in our youth.  Salt Lake City is producing armies of young anglers venturing up to Wyoming's Green River and fishing elbow to elbow on redds, not knowing what they are actually doing to the resource.   "Never assume malice when ignorance can be to blame"

Unfortunately, not all anglers are ignorant.  Many guys know what they're doing and don't care.  These "anglers" feel redd raping is o.k. if you only fish that particular water once or twice a year..but how about if it's
your water???

Let's not forget, we congregate on water for the experience...not exclusively to catch fish.  If you come to exclusively catch fish, you're doing something wrong and you won't make "the cut" in my boat.  

More to come on this page as we look forward inform the public, working with the Wyoming Game and Fish, as well as local Trout Unlimited Chapters for the upcoming fall spawn for the browns below the dam.  

Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoyed the read!  If you have any questions/comments/insight...feel free to contact me at
(307) 413 7998


The Oasis Angler
Wyoming Fishing Company LLC
PO BOX 2430
Pinedale, Wy
(307) 413 - 7998
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