This Valentines’ Day, we decided to take a moment from the heart-shaped chocolates, sushi dinners, and other means of compensation for a rod purchase that may not have been consensual by all parties, to talk about something that matters deeply to us: Fish getting it on.

Over the years, the attention around avoiding spawning trout, and their nests, has become a much louder conversation amongst the angling community. However, sometimes it feels as if there is some skewed representation favoring late fall-winter spawns, generally concerning brown trout and Brook trout. Initiatives like Mind the Redd have done excellent work in educating anglers on the damage that can be done to fish populations when they’re spawning is interfered with, and why it’s important to be educated on your local river’s seasons. If you’d like to learn more about spawning fish in the Fall and winter, feel free to reference our article HERE.

With this point in mind, we wanted to take the time during the lover’s holiday to point some attention towards our Western Salmonids: Rainbow and Cutthroat trout.

What is Spawning (and why should I care)?

Spawning = Makin’ Babies. 

When the spawning occurs, the female fish will search out shallow, gravel river bottom often near or below tributaries or even in the tributaries. The females begin the process by sculpting the nests called Redds. They clear the area of silt, sediments, etc to give the eggs a safe and oxygenated resting area.

trout redd
Image courtesy of Reel Deal Anglers

The male trout begin the ritual by dressing up in their vibrant colors you often see most prominent with fall brown trout. They begin the mating by fiercely fighting and fending off other males to find a female of their liking. The males use their teeth and kypes to aggressively fight other males. Kypes are developed pre-spawn as it is a sex characteristic that develops at the distal tip of the lower jaw. Once the male pairs up with a female the male proceeds to defend that Redd whole heartily from anything that poses a threat.

The female will deposit the eggs onto the Redd and the male will fertilize them. The hen then covers the eggs for them to mature over the course of the next few months. A female can lay anywhere from 200 to 8,000 eggs depending on the size of the fish and external conditions. Of those eggs very few mature to become adults.

Unlike salmon who die after spawning, trout can spawn multiple times throughout their life. The process is typically the most stressful and enduring part of a trout’s lifecycle. (Via: Vail Valley Anglers)

Why Care?

It’s as simple as this. The success rate of trout-spawn = the amount of wild trout that will inhabit that river. The more trout, the better the fishing.

As mentioned above, when trout spawn, they become extremely aggressive as a result to raging hormones and the need to protect their nests. These fish are big, bright, and purely basing their decisions on instinct, making them extremely easy targets to unethical anglers who are looking for their weekly grip-and-grin. The issue with this is not only are these anglers disrupting the spawning cycle, but they are targeting fish who are using every last bit of energy to spawn. These fish are far more likely to die of exhaustion after a hard fight, thus putting a complete stop to a successful spawn.

Avoiding these fish and their nests is not a difficult task. By keeping an eye out for redds, and learning the following spawn schedules, you can do your part in preserving your local trout populations.

cutthroat trout
Image courtesy of Jay Flemming

Spring Trout Spawning: 

Cutthroat Trout: 

In some sense, the pursuit of Cutthroat trout is has driven more folks west than the Gold Rush. Divided into 14 sub-species and located in a plethora of environments, these fish are the true natives to Western waters such as Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, etc., and are regarded as some of the most beautiful trout you can find. In recent years, Cutthroat trout populations have been in unfortunate decline due to factors such as ecosystem degradation, as well as the introduction of alien species that outcompete cutties for food and resources.

Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout generally spawn in the spring, as early as February in coastal rivers and as late as July in high mountain lakes and streams. Spawning begins when water temperatures reach 43 to 46 °F (6 to 8 °C).

Rainbow Trout

If fly fishing had a poster-child, it would most likely be the rainbow trout. Abundant all across the country, these fish have become the favorite amongst many anglers. Originally stemming from the (North) Pacific Ocean, these fish come in many shapes and sizes. As many know, there are still populations that travel into freshwater drainages from the ocean to spawn, and are referred to as Steelhead.

Rainbow trout, including steelhead forms, generally spawn in early to late spring (January to June in the Northern Hemisphere and September to November in the Southern Hemisphere) when water temperatures reach at least 42 to 44 °F (6 to 7 °C).

In Conclusion:

Does a spawning season mean you can’t fish? No. However, it does demand that you as a responsible visitor to the river or lake, pay close attention to your surroundings, and engage the ecosystem with intention and discipline. By doing your homework, checking in with local conservation groups and fly-shops, educating your friends, and practicing ethical fishing, you can fish with ease of mind knowing that you’re doing your part in protecting the next generation of fish, and anglers.

Just remember, the more of a chance fish have to get freaky, the better the fishing will be for years to come.

Header Image courtesy of Jay Flemming

The “Mind the Redd” Movement

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

Fishing Etiquette: Trout Handling Best Practices


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