FISHING THE REDDS, THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
WHY IS FISHING TO SPAWNING FISH A HEATED DEBATE?
Every year at this time, the age old long debate starts whether fishing to spawning trout on the redds is ethical and whether or not it affects the actual reproduction process. Therefore, this article is written only as an opinion and reflects the philosophy and practices of the North Platte River Fly Shop staff and guides. It is meant to be an informative and educational article so that others can form their own opinion.
I’m not an expert nor do I have any biological studies that back up my opinions. But, I do have a degree in Fisheries Biology from the University Of Wyoming. I have studied and worked with reproductive trout in the past; and, I currently head the hatch box project for the Wyoming Fly Casters in conjunction with the Wyoming Game and Fish on the North Platte River.
I believe the general consensus of most fly fisherman is that, fishing to spawning fish is not an ethical, challenging or a rewarding way to fish. However, there or those that cannot resist temptation, and there are those that believe they are not doing anything wrong or harming the trout in anyway. Basically, it boils down to whether your just being greedy and you "just gotta" catch fish, or you really believe you are not harming the fish.
There are those that argue that catching an actual spawning fish on a redd is no different than catching a pre-spawner in a run away from the redds. Yes you are putting stress on both of these fish, but a pre-spawn fish has time to recover before it actually starts spawning. A stressed spawning fish once released will continue to spawn, but will not have the same vigor. Therefore, the process of cleaning gravels and the spawning will not be done at the same intensity it once would have. For example! Go run five miles and as soon as you finish, go home and make love to your mate. Yes you can do it (maybe), but is it the same as if you had been rested?
So we’ve established that, while catching spawning fish may not be harmful to the process, it certainly can’t help. I’m a firm believer that actually catching active spawning fish does not harm the overall process. On the other hand, I do believe that walking in and around the actual redds does more damage. What do I mean by this? Not only are you crushing eggs in the gravels with your weight, even worse, you are stirring up silt which settles into these spawning gravels. This in turn, limits the amount of oxygen for the eggs and they will suffocate. Therefore, if you must fish to spawning fish, the best thing you can do is wade and fish below them.
People are always asking me what do redds looks like? In order for trout to have a good reproductive success rate, they seek out gravel bars that have gravels averaging from one to two inches. There also must be a good flow of water over these gravels that will bring high levels of oxygen; and for that to occur, they are usually located in shallow water. A redd can be from one square foot up to a large area of river. I’ve seen redds on the North Platte that are 50 square yards.
During the process of spawning, the trout do two things. They clean the gravels which in turn creates clean (or areas of lighter color) depressions in the gravels. There is also a misconception that the eggs are actually deposited in these depressions which is not true. The eggs are actually deposited in the mounds of gravel just below the depressions. Basically, while the trout kick up and clean the gravel, they deposit the eggs at the same time; therefore, the eggs end up buried in these mounds of gravel.
I admit it, I’ve tried it, and I’ve learned from it. It’s hard for me to understand and accept the notion that catching (or most of time foul hooking) spawning trout is a fun ethical way to fly fish. You are intentionally targeting an easy prey that is tired and for the most part doesn’t even give you much of a fight. It goes against the grain of what fly fishing is all about. Fly fishing is an addiction, full of art, grace and understanding our environment, it’s not about greed or the photograph of the huge fish (without mentioning how you caught it…….you know who you are!).
So what is the philosophy of the North Platte River Fly Shop guide staff when it comes to fishing to spawning trout? We just don’t do it! We believe why take the chance of potentially harming our future. We catch just as many fish (if not more) by fishing the runs and riffles below the redds. Yes we use and post egg patterns and glo bugs on our fishing reports, but we do not use them on the redds but rather in the runs below the redds.
We understand how this effects the success of our future and we will not be the ones that look back and say: “What happened to our fishery on the North Platte River”?
Written By Mark Boname
Owner of the North Platte River Fly Shop
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