March is shaping up to be an eventful month for residents of our little valley. Events such as the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships will draw residents and visitors alike into Vail to watch top athletes compete.
March is also the time of year when much of our local wildlife becomes active throughout the valley. Bears and other hibernating creatures begin to emerge from their dens, and we start to see an increasing number of bird species as they return to their summer feeding grounds. With so much going on this time of year, only a few of us will stop to appreciate one of the most fascinating and majestic mating rituals of spring.
Beginning in late February and into early May, rainbow and cutthroat trout complete their annual spawn. Mature female trout of about 3 years of age initiate this process by seeking out an adequate spot, preferably in a tributary with slower moving water. These determined ladies use their tails to shovel out small divots in the gravel, which they refill with their eggs. Dominant male fish patrolling the area then release sperm over the eggs, completing the fertilization process. To help ensure a successful hatch, the female trout will then cover the fertilized eggs with a layer of sand.
Prior to this spawning cycle, both species of trout will feed vigorously in order to obtain enough energy for the large workload ahead. A significant benefit of catching or observing fish during this time is the opportunity to view their spectacular colors. Leading up to, and during the spawn, fish will change from a relatively bland silver color to very vibrant pinks and reds. Their spots and stripes also become more pronounced, resulting in a remarkably beautiful specimen. The final anatomical change will be the trout’s lips. Male trout will often show “hooked” jaws while the female’s jaw will become more rounded.
Gore Creek and the Eagle River are both known to be excellent places to begin your search for trout. For not-so-avid anglers, other places in the state such as the Blue River (above Green Mountain Reservoir) have proven to be great places to view the spawn from shore.
Whether you want to take a break from your spring cleaning, or simply need to get away from the high-intensity action on Vail Mountain, you will not be disappointed if you spend some time along one of our area streams to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon.
Ben Mezger is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center and a dish technician at Northside Kitchen. During his free time, he enjoys getting outdoors around the valley and partaking in activities such as fishing, hiking, camping and skiing.