How To Not Catch Spawning Fish

Spring fishing is going off in a big way, and there are lots of happy anglers getting into fish from the upper Clark Fork to way up the West Fork of the Bitterroot, and everywhere in between. Fish are active, bugs are about, and lines are tight. That’s great. We all love active fish. But one fish activity is one we should probably give a little room to, and that’s spring spawning. Native cutthroat trout and rainbows both spawn in the spring and if you’re in the right spot you’ll most likely run into evidence of their activity. And surprisingly, a lot of very experienced anglers really don’t know what to look for when it comes to spawning activity, and the evidence of spawning spots, or “redds” as they are called. While this blog usually focuses on how to catch fish, lets take a few minutes and talk about how to actively not catch spawning fish in particular.

This photo prominently shows a redd with it’s hallmark discoloration and well-tended gravel.
 Leave it alone, and there will be more fish next year for you to catch.

What is a Redd?

Simply put, a redd is the delicate nest of a spawning fish. A spot in the river where the female trout deposits it’s eggs and where the male fertilizes these eggs.

How do I Recognize a Trout Redd?
Redds are marked by small depressions in the stream bed, usually 2 to 3 feet wide and oval in shape. The gravel in these spots is lighter than the surrounding gravel, and most often these spots are in areas with small-sized gravel. Think rocks the size of jelly beans to just about the size of a ping pong ball. Another hallmark of a redd are small mounds and depressions where the eggs are actually deposited.

Where are Redds usually found?
Trout redds are found in slow riffles, usually between 1 to 3 feet deep. Redds require oxygen for the eggs to develop, so most times they are located where a good current and riffle chop occur. Gravel bars are also prime redd locations. Clean water with high oxygen content is key. What do both of these locations have in common with fly fishing? These are also usually great spots for wading and crossing rivers with deep pools and heavy rapids. This is why it is especially important for anglers to be aware of redds and where they exist: right where you probably want to walk.

Those fish are just sitting there!
When fish stick to these spots, thats a pretty good sign that they aren’t feeding, they’re spawning. Do the fish seem to be congregated in one spot that meets the requirements I mentioned above? Probably spawning. Not sure if the fish you just caught is spawning? Here’s a quick checklist: darker bellies. sluggish fighting. Let you fish to it without being disturbed until you drifted right into it’s face. Yep.

How Can We Keep Redds Safe?
Easy. Look for these type of spots, and leave them alone. Not catching spawning fish is as easy as not catching any other fish: don’t try. Let ’em be. This spring, be on the lookout for trout redds, and give them room. You’ll catch more fish later.  

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