As we enter spring, remember to do your part by staying away from spawning trout.
As the shoulder seasons emerge and climates gradually shift, the behavior of trout in our rivers and streams begins to focus on one thing…spawning. Successful reproduction is the life goal of a trout. Annual successful spawns are an integral part of our future trout populations. Trout are fragile creatures, especially during mating routines. The more we understand about what trout go through in order to make future baby trout, the more effective we can be in protecting our fish resources. Rainbow and cutthroat trout generally spawn in the spring (March-May) as the days grow longer and water temperatures increase to the optimum spawning range. Brown trout spawn in the fall (Oct.-Dec) when water temperatures drop into their ideal range.
Spawning chores overrun the trout’s daily schedule. Females spend days sculpting redds in areas of river where finer substrate occurs. This adds stress by placing the trout in shallow, dangerous water where predators can easily spot them. Rocks and gravel must be cleaned of egg-suffocating silt, while dune-shaped indentions are built along the river bottom to give their eggs a safe, oxygenated, and stationary resting place amidst the current. Female trout use their bodies and fins to sculpt these redds. This strips the trout’s protective slime layer away from its body and leaves the trout susceptible to fungal infections.
A male trout’s role during the spawn is to show dominance and provide fertilization. Male trout dress up in their best attire (vibrant colors) before attending the equivalent of a several week long bar brawl. Energy is high and competition is fierce amongst the males. Male trout fend off other competing males for the lady trout of their liking. Male trout are vicious when battling for spawning positions. They use their sharp teeth and well developed kype (hooked snout on lower jaw) as weapons against other males. I once witnessed a large male brown trout bite another large male brown trout in its midsection, and proceed to push its opposition all the way up onto the dry riverbed before swimming back to its mate. Once the male has succeeded in pairing up with a female, he continues to protect the redd from unwelcome visitors. Needless to say, these battles the male trout endure compromise their immune systems. Bite marks, open wounds, and slime removal, lead to fungal infections.
As anglers, we must show spawning trout the respect they deserve if we want future generations of fish to catch. Identifying redds and knowing not to wade over them is crucial. Eggs can be crushed by clumsy anglers. It is important to know that it takes anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months (depending on water temperatures) for the 2,000 to 6,000 eggs the female lays, to hatch. Redds vacant of mature fish still hold life, and should be avoided when wading. Spawning leaves trout in one of the most vulnerable and stressful situations of their whole lives.
Catching a stressed spawning fish is unsportsmanlike and exponentially increases the risk of both an unsuccessful release and spawn. Spawning is tough on trout, and in itself is often the demise of mature fish. Spawning trout already have so many obstacles to overcome in order to reproduce, the last thing they need is more stress and energy expended by battling an irresponsible angler. Help ensure future generations of trout. . . let spawning trout lie.