If you have been fishing around Colorado or in one of the nearby states you have maybe spotted a Mind the Reddsticker (like the one below). So what exactly are these stickers for? A product brand, organization, movement, guide service? We dug a little deeper and talked to Ben Helgeson the founder of Mind the Redd to learn a little bit more behind the stickers.
Flylords: What is Mind the Redd?
Ben: “Mind the Redd” at its most basic level, is a friendly message one angler can share with another as a reminder to step carefully and cast conscientiously during spawning cycles. On a more global level, Mind The Redd (MTR) is an art and stewardship project which aims to raise awareness about spawning fish and their nests (redds). The movement is designed to encourage individual anglers as well as angling communities to become informed and mindful about their local fisheries. The project’s ultimate goal is to use art, culture, and science to raise awareness and promote the health and well being of wild fisheries around the world. If we take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.
The friendly reminder
“Mind the Redd” when mentioned to a fellow angler along the river, displayed via decal on a fishing rig, or tagged on social media is the helpful, friendly cue to step carefully and consider the impact of our casts during the spawn. It’s the polite nod to one another; the way for those “in the know” to help those less informed. “Mind the Redd” is an artwork intended to make people pause and think – that’s the punchline: We don’t aim to tell any angler what she or he should do with their unique spawning situation. Rather, we want every angler to learn, think, and respond for themselves. We want them to be aware of the big spawning picture along their local watersheds, and to make mindful decisions in response.
Flylords: How did Mind the Redd come to be?
Ben: I purposefully modeled my vision for the “MIND THE REDD” symbol and message after the London Underground’s “MIND THE GAP” logo and safety warning to subway travelers. The message is practical (literally reminding subway goers to watch their step, so they don’t die falling under a train), polite (if you’ve ever heard it, you know what I’m saying, plus it refrains from using the words NO or DON’T – just says, “Mind it.” – love that!), and has become an iconic cultural message (the logo is adorned on coffee cups, shot glasses and all sorts of apparel online and throughout London). I thought, If I can create a spawning awareness message that does an actual job of minimizing impact to spawning fish, accomplishes it in a friendly way, and is also a piece of art that inspires people to connect and to do the same – that would be pretty f***ing awesome.
I’m not an artist at all, so I needed to find the right one to take my vision and turn it into something artistically cool. Nate Karnes was my first choice. A passionate angler and a believer in conservation and stewardship, Nate is also famous for having a “wink” or inside joke embedded within his fly fishing art: pig/trout, get it ;-). The symbolism of the “Mind The Redd” message suits his style perfectly. I also knew that I wanted “MIND THE REDD” to start as a sticker. Many anglers have a “thing” for displaying decals that reflect their passion, and Nate is known for his adhesive artwork. It was just such a natural fit between concept and artist, and I’m really grateful for Nate’s talent and belief in the project. We’ve also collaborated on the “Save Bristol Bay” Sockeye version of the MTR decal as well as the ColoREDDo version.
The sole financial support to launch the artwork, website, and social media campaign has come from 5280 Angler, a Denver, Colorado based fly fishing service for whom I work as a fishing guide. Jay, the owner, operates a small business that depends upon healthy fisheries and was immediately on board to fund the start-up of the project. He, along with my 5280 guide teammates, all had the courage to see opportunity where some other brands I approached avoided it for fear of controversy. Having a website built (www.mindtheredd.org), commissioning artwork, ordering hats and decals (giving away so many at shows), and other costs are significant, and I am grateful for Jay’s generosity, as well as the creative input from all of my guide team members at 5280 Angler.
Stewardship on a sticker, it’s really as simple as that.
Flylords: What are the goals of this movement?
Ben: There are two primary goals of the MIND THE REDD project:
1. Raise Awareness about spawning situations and encourage individual anglers to make informed decisions in response.
2. Minimize negative impacts on wild fisheries during spawning cycles.
To accomplish these goals, the message needs to get people’s attention, while also inspiring them to share it. An inclusive and respectful message that honors individual anglers and unique spawning situations is a big part to this, as is having artwork that resonates. It’s hard to specifically quantify the degree to which we are achieving this goal. However, I’ve mailed decals and seen the #MindTheRedd hashtag spread from Colorado to Czechoslovakia to California and beyond. It’s been both humbling and exciting to see the idea resonate with people, particularly since that was my real goal in the first place. For those interested, decals are currently available online at www.flyslaps.com and www.5280angler.com. Hashtags and helpful conversations are free methods to spread the Mind The Redd message. You can also find them in several local fly shops. #mindtheredd
The core belief of the project is that the informed angler is the empowered and careful angler and that collectively informed and thoughtful anglers create communities that value conservation and wild fish. With fly fishing’s particular rise in popularity, our streams are more crowded than ever before, making this awareness campaign all the more important. We can all enjoy our rivers and streams for generations and generations to come if we pay attention and take care of them.
Ultimately, the Mind the Redd message will achieve its purpose one individual angler at a time. Thanks to all who believe the same and share the message with as many people as you can.
Flylords: How do you identify a redd or spawning trout?
Ben: That’s a GREAT question, and really gets at what “Mind the Redd” is attempting to do – to raise the uninformed angler’s curiosity SO THAT they ask this exact question, and the others related to it.
The first thing I will say is that when it comes to learning how to spot a redd, is that a picture is worth 1,000 words! One quick search in Google or YouTube will give you countless images and videos of redds and spawning fish. One of my goals with the website is to get more videos and scientifically-accurate information out to people. We also love to share redd photos and videos on social media at @mindtheredd. In the era of smartphones, if the Mind The Redd message or decal has gotten anglers to ask the question, that’s a win. YouTube and Google can take over from there…
The second thing I will say is that anglers who really want to spot redds and spawning fish more easily should own a pair of polarized sunglasses. Some river and lake systems and situations don’t offer the depth or water clarity to spot redds, but polarized lenses WILL make a difference in all of those that do.
As for a written description, I would tell people is to envision in their own mind how a given fish would build a nest on a bottom of a river or lake. Keep that picture in place, and read a more scientific description of a trout life cycle, such as the one written HERE.
The marketing crew at Redington also did this video. It’s both accurate and humorous, perfect for those who prefer the cliff notes version of how to spot spawners and their nests.
Lastly, and maybe the easiest and most effective way, is to seek out local knowledge. Each river or lake system has its own nuance to the spawn. I can’t imagine an experienced angler EVER getting upset if someone were to walk up and ask, “Hey, I’m a little new to this, and I have heard about redds, but I’m not sure where they are here. Can you help me so that I know what I’m looking for and what to avoid?” That’s a conversation Mind the Redd hopes to inspire. Every location also has its own regulations and cultural code of ethics. So, talking to a local angler or fly shop is likely your best bet.
Flylords: When do trout spawn?
Ben: This is another GREAT question, and certainly relevant to the Mind the Redd campaign. The answer, like most fishing-related questions, is really, “It depends….” There are many factors such as hemisphere, altitude, weather, stream flows, dams, etc. that can influence the specific timing of a given spawn. However, that said, in North America, rainbows and cutthroats generally spawn in the spring, and browns and brook trout generally spawn in the fall. Back to my comments about local knowledge being priceless, the anglers and shops most familiar with the fisheries near you will be able to help you pinpoint the timing of the unique spawn situation near you. On that note, it’s important to remember that the nests (redds), which contain the eggs and forming alevins are present long after the individual spawning trout have left the nest. One of our favorite parts about the “watch your step” part of the Mind the Redd message is a reminder to take care of the empty nests until the babies have left the gravel.
Flylords: Many bass anglers or even pike and other species of fish are best targeted when they are spawning, why is this different for trout?
Ben: This is an awesome question! It gets at the heart of why we use the word “MIND” in our message. Almost EVERY spawning situation is unique, and, beyond local, state, and federal regulations, it’s up to each individual angler to determine the right course of action for them and for the health of their fishery. For example, thousands of anglers flock of Alaska every year to target spawning salmon. That situation is SO different than a small stream of trout along Colorado’s Front Range, which is different than a pike in a Canadian shield lake. Some of these decision-making factors come down to angling pressure, the overall health of the fishery, species-specific heartiness, wild vs. stocked fish species, local regulations, traditions, culture and ethics, and more. Again, this really falls to the individual angler to become informed about the big picture when considering where to wade with extra caution, and whether or not to cast. Our hope is that informed and conscientious anglers will make decisions that protect and preserve the diverse wild fisheries around the globe, so that we may continue to enjoy and appreciate them for generations yet to come.
As for trout, specifically, the individual females are battling current and beating the river bottom with their bodies to craft their redds, they are using energy to carry and lay eggs, and defend the nest. The males are battling current and one another for access to fertilize the eggs. All in all, they are nearly killing themselves (sometimes actually killing themselves) to make the next generation. Given all of this, giving them a break feels like a good move. Because trout often build their redds in shallow water, it’s important for anglers to learn to identify redds because often these shallow areas are natural river crossing areas for wading anglers. Identifying the redd and areas that contain redds, will help anglers learn to avoid stepping on, and crushing the next generation of trout.
Flylords: Seems like these days anglers get a lot of slack for posting pictures of colored up brown trout in the fall, how can someone know that this fish was caught unethically?
Ben: You are absolutely right about “slack” online. I have read some of vilest name-calling in the angling world, centered around redds and spawners. Really, the only person who knows whether or not a fish was caught “ethically” was the individual angler who caught it. Beyond following the law, the ethics-side of the catch are his or her own decision to make.
I am exhausted by the ‘cancel culture’ and verbal violence on social media. Friends of mine have been very inaccurately called “rapists” by strangers. That’s one of the worst things one person could call another. There’s finger-pointing, blame, and hate speech from one angler to another. “Slack” that causes everyone to suffer.
Part of this is an overall cultural problem, but there is also an industry-specific issue. Magazine covers and advertisements don’t often feature a nondescript 13″ brown trout caught in the middle of summer. They generally are more likely to feature the giant colored-up super buck. There is a trickle down pressure for us all to go find and catch that beast to prove ourselves. Social media influencers or would-be influencers all know that big fish get more likes; more follows, and that’s the ticket to rising in the ranks among other influential anglers. So, ego, general biological programming, and money all play a role in chasing these big spawning fish. It’s a tough thing to walk away from, but the more you do, the better you feel inside.
When I first moved to Colorado and started fly fishing, I had no idea what a redd was, and I unknowingly thought I hit the “jackpot” one day. Only the helpful information from my friends clued me in. Thank goodness some dude with a cell phone didn’t record me and tag #ReddRapist #Jerk #etc. all over the internet. There’s hypocrisy to the call-outs that is troublesome. No one is born knowing what a redd is. We all learned it somewhere along the way, and thank goodness we did. Mind the Redd is a polite way to help spread that exact knowledge and wisdom more quickly and more widely.
Back to the Mind the Redd ethos – it’s a message to and for individuals. It was never intended as fuel for finger pointing, rather the opposite.
As for the online fighting, we would be wise to realize that all of us as anglers are really playing in the same sandbox – globally and locally. Throwing the sand at one another through holier-than-thou Facebook tirades, shame posts, and negative emoji comments won’t inspire change and conservation.
On this note, the groups of people who would love to see fishing eliminated altogether, LOVE nothing more than when we squabble amongst ourselves over ethics, especially online. When we do that, we make PETA’s case for them – that’s unwise. We need to stop squabbling like toddlers who didn’t get the bigger piece of the cookie, and instead be appreciative of the cookie we all share. We need to turn our fight outward to those individuals, corporations, and policies that would truly do our fisheries harm. For example, put all that piss and vinegar into the fight against Pebble Mine – they are the real threat to one of the most precious systems of redds in the world (visit savebristolbay.org). Or, put the energy into the fight to protect your local fishery from whatever group, business, environmental toxins, or regulatory policy is causing it harm.
There are plenty of fights worth having, and the #MindTheRedd movement is for those who seek the kind of fights that lead to positive change.
Flylords: What are some ways other than trolling the internet can anglers get involved with spreading awareness about spawning trout?
Ben: The single greatest thing any individual can do is to be a steward of their own local fisheries. Be the veteran to kindly remind and educate novice anglers about your own unique spawning situation. Spread the positive “Mind the Redd” message around your own angling community. That is free, simple, and will give everyone what they are looking for, in their own backyards.
Thanks also to those who have taken up the cause on social media. It’s such a powerful platform to reach one another across the angling community. When you spot a trout redd, take a video, and post it with a friendly reminder, you are providing “redducation” that makes a difference. It’s also a free and fun way to be involved, and be a leader in the angling community.
Take a kid fishing. Get them away from the video games and into the natural world. The more time they spend in the wild with wild things, the more they will find ways to care for the wild and the wild things that live there.
Get involved with a local Trout Unlimited chapter. They are doing redd counts, habitat restoration projects, education projects, and leading policy change to help our riparian and aquatic habitats.
The possibilities are really endless.
Flylords: How can anglers get involved with the Mind the Redd Organization?
Ben: That is an interesting question. At this point, the “organization” is really just me. I’m a fishing guide, a dad, and an elementary teacher. I’d like to invite EVERYONE who reads this to become a part of the Mind The Redd message in the way that matters to you, and to your fishery. Whether that is using the hashtag, starting a helpful conversation on the river, displaying a decal, or beyond.
If you are part of a like-minded company or group and would like to more formally support or help spread the Mind The Redd message, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your ideas. If you are Yvon Chounard or similar leader of a major brand and desire to spread the Mind The Redd message on your product or apparel, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email at email@example.com. I’d love to talk with you.
Flylords: Anything else to add?
Ben: I am really appreciative of the opportunity to do this interview and to everyone in the Fly Lords community and beyond who reads it – this is really the goal, to put the real power of the message into the hands of more and more and more people.
Since 2012, Flylords has been a proud leader in telling the stories of anglers and guides from around the world. Through film, photography, and journalism we strive to make each story as unique as the person or place it’s based off. Our goal is simple: inspire the next generation to get outdoors and hit the water!