Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spawning trout

                About this time every year, hungry brown and brook trout turn their attention from things like mayflies and caddis flies and start thinking about something else.  That’s right, love is in the air- or in the water that is(insert Barry White music here). 
                Spawning season brings with it a chance for us anglers to see some of the biggest fish of the year.  Large studly browns don their hook jaws and fall plumage and leave deep holes and hiding spots in search of a little tenderness.   Female trout often change color to, though they tend to get darker rather than more vibrant like the males.  When in this “pre-spawn” routine,  big fish find their partners and look for a place to do the dirty.  It’s then anglers have a chance at a fish that they would never see otherwise.
                When trout commit to active spawning, they can be seen on shallow gravel beds in pairs.  At this time, they usually do not eat as their minds are set on one thing.   Even if they will take a fly, spawning fish should be left alone as they are producing thousands of future angling opportunities. Everybody has his own set of rules when it comes to fishing for spawners.  If I see two fish on a bed I try not to disturb them.  But it can be hard to resist, especially when the fish are big.
 Anglers should also take great care to avoid walking on spawning beds, or “redds”, as the females lay their eggs on there.  Redds are usually found in shallow gravelly water with decent current.  The trout pick and scrub the rocks clean, leaving a bright area of river bottom.   The spawning trout will spend most of their time on the bed itself, though they may hang around in a nearby pool.  As fish are getting ready to spawn, they will often chase each other around.  The males will pick fights and the females will act un- interested.  Picture the Alley Cantina at 1 am.  Often times there will be a third party just below a spawning bed.  This “swinger” is usually on the lark for a shot at romance, or in many cases he is eating the females’ eggs as they drift downstream. 

So how do you take advantage of big fish doing dumb things without threatening future generations?  The trick is to time it so that you hit the “prespawn” when fish are aggressive and accessible but are not yet on their spawning beds.  Rivers are usually running low and clear then, and your eyes are your best shot at finding fish.  Often times I will walk the river bank without casting until I see a fish.  If sight fish conditions are poor due to windy or cloudy weather, try fishing a streamer.  Streamers are big flies that are retrieved across the current.  Fishing in that manner covers lots of water and is  great for finding fish in long runs and  pools that seem too big or deep to nymph.
                The exact timing of the pre-spawn and the spawn itself will vary depending on latitude and elevation.  In our high mountain streams, fish are usually spawning by mid October so the best fishing starts at the end of September.  The Rio Grande and Red river spawning runs are later in the year(November) but big browns will begin their migration as early as October 1s.  Rainbows and Cutthroats spawn in the spring.
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