Fall Fishing Ethics: Don’t Tread on the Redd [Understanding the Brown Trout Spawn]

It’s that time of the year again, cool mornings, vibrant leaves, and variable weather. While we are enjoying the colder weather and the spectacular fishing, the brown trout are hard at work spawning. It is important that we avoid these fish and their spawning beds called redds. Unlike some other fish species like bass, it is unethical for an angler to fish to a spawning trout. So how should you approach fall trout fishing and how do you identify a spawning nest or redd?

A trout nest or redd, Photo Credit: Seattle Public Utilities

You may recall the article we covered The “Mind The Redd” Movement, which also is a great interview article regarding spawning awareness.

When do Brown Trout Spawn?

While rainbow and cutthroat trout spawn between the months of February and May, brown trout and brook trout spawn in the fall months, between September and December. The temperatures in these months create the perfect river conditions (water temperatures between 42 and 48 degrees, approximately) for these fish to mate and begin creating their offspring. 

 

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How do Brown Trout Spawn?

Female fish find a place in the stream that is relatively shallow, with a gravel bottom. Usually, she chooses an area near or below tributaries; occasionally, she will choose a spot in the tributary. She then begins the process of clearing the area of sediment, silt, etc. to create the perfect nest, or redd, for her eggs. In order for the eggs to hatch successfully, the redd needs to be protected from strong currents, debris, and most importantly, needs to have a sufficient oxygen supply.

Meanwhile, the males are busy competing with other trout for a female that suits his needs. They use their teeth and their recently developed kypes(the distal tip that forms along the lower jaw), to aggressively fend off the other males. At this point, his brilliant colors are on full display.

brown trout
A beautiful brown trout caught in the cool waters of southern Colorado.

Once two fish have paired up, the male defends the redd ceaselessly and will fight off other fish that come near. The female, or hen, will then lay her eggs and the male will fertilize them. She will lay anywhere between 200 and 8,000 eggs depending on her health and size, and the external conditions of the area. Very few of these eggs will live to swim away. 

After spawning, a trout will, barring any incident, continue to live, and eventually reproduce several more times. That said, the spawning season(s) is the most stressful and physically demanding period of the trouts life, and it is very important that we, as anglers, acknowledge and respect this process. 

How to Identify a Trout Redd:

trout tredd
A typical trout redd. Photo courtesy of Eric Beacom

Between the months of February and May as well as in September through December, it is important that we are able to identify the redds and avoid them when fishing. This goes not just for the angler, but also for bystanders and dogs.

A redd can be identified as a lighter section of river bottom, typically found in a shallow gravel area. They are typically found in feeder creeks or streams of just below the confluence of these creeks. The redds vary in size, ranging between 50 cm² (20 inches²) to 150 cm² (60 inches²), and where there is one, there are often many more. It is best to observe the redds, maybe watch the fish for several minutes, and move on. 

Spawning Trout in Lakes:

Similarly, fish also spawn in lakes during the spring and fall. When they are not able to exit the lake into a stream, they will find a gravel area that is in relatively shallow water or against a rock wall and will spawn there. The fish will usually be found in pairs or groups and will be acting lively and interacting with each other. It may appear as if they are energetically eating, but instead, they are spawning or fighting off other males. Likewise, it is unethical to target these trout.     

How do you fish during spawning seasons?

redd warning sign
Photo courtesy of The “Mind The Redd” Movement

As mentioned before, the best policy during the spawning season is to flat out avoid fishing in the redds. That said, all of the water above and below these areas is fair game. Fishing in the surrounding riffles, pocket water, and deeper sections is generally harmless. During these seasons, be sure to treat fish gently and avoid rough handling. When visiting your local fly shop it can be a great idea to ask if the fish are spawning and where so you can plan to avoid these areas. 

It is also very important to check the local regulations as many areas have seasonal closures due to spawning fish.

Another way to minimize your impact is to try to keep your boots on the bank or in a boat. While this may be hard for many anglers it can help prevent the trout eggs from being destroyed or dislodged from the redds. Let’s do our part to keep the life cycle going!

By respecting the natural spawning environment of trout and by not targeting these fish, we can help ensure the success of the next generation.  

The “Mind the Redd” Movement

Tailwater Tales: Your Guide to Exploring the Taylor River

10 Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall in British Columbia

 

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