Know where to fish this spring and avoid spawning areas (column)
April 12, 2018
Spawning rainbows sounds like a name of an '80s rock band. The spring brings crazy weather to the mountains, a down swing in visitors to the valley and time for the rainbow and cutthroat trout to reproduce.
This is a crucial time for the river and anglers need to respect and acknowledge this annual spawning ritual.
It's sometimes shocking and saddening to me how many "hardcore" fly-fishers don't know when spawning occurs and how to avoid messing it up for the future of the river. We, as anglers, must know how to detect spawning beds, also known as redds, and how not to disturb these redds and the fish that are protecting them.
The rainbow and cutthroat trout begin there spring ritual in shallow waters that have a gravel bottom. The female trout use their tails and fins to create a small depression in the bottom of the river. These female rainbows or cutthroat then deposit their eggs in the river bottom they cleaned up to help the eggs survive the elements that exist in the river. The male trout slides over the redd and fertilizes the eggs. These males then protect these eggs (future offspring) from other fish that like to eat these high protein treats.
During the spring spawn, the trout go through a large amount of stress. They are already emaciated from a long winter and have beat up their fragile bodies creating redds. This is when you'll see fish with torn up fins and tails. Add in an unknowing angler to this equation and you can easily kill one of these fish.
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As a novice or beginner fly-fisherman, these trout are easy targets. They are exposing themselves in the shallow water and are typically paired up, if not surrounded by numerous other spawning fish.
Redds can best be identified with clean, small gravel areas about the size of a bathroom floor mat. It's hard not to fish these spawners, especially if you are having a tough time getting a fish on the hook. We need to remember if we disrupt this all important time in the life cycle of these trout, we not only harm the fish but we also are killing the future of the sport we love so much.
What We Can Do
The easiest way to avoid disturbing the spawn is not fishing during this time. It's very difficult to imagine not fishing on some of these beautiful days we have had in the valley, so here are some pointers for those who want to fish ethically during the spawn.
Try to stay out of the river as much as possible. Fish from the banks and survey the water for spawning beds. If you have to get in the water, then avoid wading directly upriver of them and, of course, don't walk on top of them.
Fish to the trout that are downstream of the redds. Typically brown trout are staged below spawning beds hoping to nab some of the eggs that get dislodged. Now is the time to pull out your egg patterns.
Use dry flies to target smaller (less mature) rainbows and browns. These fish are bulking up for the impending runoff and are happy to take a dry fly. Midges and Blue Winged Olives are the most common dry flies this time of year.
Know Where Not to Fish
If you have been fishing and exploring the Vail Valley, then you know most of the public access points. There are some great fishing holes that should be avoided during the spawn that are some of the favorites for locals.
This may come as a reality check to some experienced anglers but it needs to be addressed. The "I-70 Hole" is great spawning ground for rainbow trout, however many anglers target these fish and walk all over the redds. I personally think there should be a voluntary closure of this fishing spot during the spawn before it's too late for the trout in this section.
The Brush Creek Confluence, many spots throughout Gore Creek, the "Westin Hole" and any place that redds are visible should be avoided during the spawn.
It's our job as anglers to be more observant of our surroundings and respect the resource that we love and cherish. This may sound "preachy" but this is a very important and real problem that will affect the trout if it's not addressed immediately.
Please avoid the "I-70 Hole" and other spawning grounds in our valley to assure a healthy future for our trout. If you have friends that are bragging about catching a ton of trout in known spawning areas, then give them a heads up.
The only way we can be better conservationists is by policing each other. Don't tread on redds.
Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.