Spawning Brown Trout
Copyright 2017 James Marsh
October, 2017 Issue
all, is the season that brown trout spawn. Writing about spawning trout is something most fly-fishing writers
avoid. There can be so much confusion and misunderstanding about spawning fish, it usually leads to more
problems than it helps solve. Hopefully, this article will help you understand spawning brown trout a little better.
First of all, although I studied and caught many large spawning bass for years in the late 1960's, and early 70's, and
although I have always learned everything I could about the spawning of any species I was pursuing, including all the
saltwater species, I have actually spent less time on trout than many other species. For the past several years, I've
paid a lot of attention to the spawning brown trout.
To begin, let me go ahead and point out that at a certain point during the spawn, you can bother the spawning brown
trout and hurt their efforts in several ways. You can wade through their redds and damage them. You can also pester
the fish enough to hinder, and even hurt their efforts. It all depends on the stage of the spawn, and the activities the
male and female trout are engaged in.
The problem with what I just wrote is that most anglers don't know much about what goes on during the spawn. Most
anglers can't determine if the fish have actually found an area to spawn; if they have fanned out an area of the
bottom to deposit the eggs on; if the female is actually on the redd depositing her eggs; if the male in adding sperm to
the redds; if the eggs on the redd are just being guarded; or if the eggs have hatched and the spawn is over. About
the only thing they can determine is whether both genders are on the bed or just one. In other words, most anglers
are not able to determine if the brown trout are in the pre-spawn, spawn, or post spawn stage of the hatch.
One reason for this is that is isn't always easy to determine these things. Another reason is different fish can be at
different stages of the spawn at the same time and place. Another reason is the exact spawn times will vary with the
stream and the elevation on the stream. Finally, the big thing is the water temperature and weather's affect on it can
vary the spawning activity tremendously. There can be an early cold front that hangs around for a few day and fires of
the spawn only to be followed by a low pressure system that warms the water back up and delays the activity. I could
give many other scenarios.
The male and female brown trout will react differently to your efforts to get them to take a fly depending on these
stages of the spawn. The biggest downfall to the entire thing is the time it is easiest to spot them and approach them
without spooking them is same time you should leave them alone. This, by the way, isn't the time they are easiest to
catch, but it appears to most anglers that it is simply because they can spot them and mess with their activities.
Some guys won't abandon their efforts even if they know they are hurting the spawn. They rather have a picture of
themselves with a big trout. The only good part to this is they usually fail to catch either of them, even when they are
looking them square in the eyes.
Catching most any species of fish during the spawning season has always been a very controversial subject. The
spawning season provides good opportunities for anglers to catch large brown trout, or any other species for that
matter. Keep in mind, fishing during the spawn is prohibited in some streams. In many cases, sections of certain rivers
and streams are off limits for fishing during the spawn. Where it is legal, keep in mind that you can catch brown trout
or any fish species during the time of the year they are involved with spawning in a sporting manner. It can also be
done in a way that hurts the fish, depending on how just how it's done.
Also, please keep in mind that there will only be so many brown trout that grow up to be large in any given area of a
stream. In many cases, the streams are small and the food is limited. In many cases, when a large spawning trout is
caught, even if it is killed (and it certainly shouldn't be) it isn't going to have much affect, if any, on the overall brown
trout population. Another brown trout will soon take its place. Although you are not likely to hurt the brown trout
population by fishing during the spawn, you should make every effort to not harm or destroy a redd, or the trout's
efforts to spawn successfully. They have enough problems without anglers adding to it.
The first problem the little fry face is a big domestic family problem. As crude as it seems, as soon as the eggs hatch,
the males pose the first threat because they (as well as other species of fish) will eat the newly hatched fry. Male
Grizzly and black bears will eat their own cubs and the female has to try to protect them for a long time when they
come out of their dens. This is nature's way. However, worse than hurting the population of trout, is hurting the
concept of fishing for sport. Killing trout is crude and unsportsmanlike in my opinion. It gives our sport a bad
impression and even a bad name with many. That written, please understand I have nothing against anyone that does
keep fish to eat where it is legal. I just have a different opinion, and mine isn't always the right one. If you don't believe
it, ask Angie.
If you want to catch a large, wild brown trout, you can do that beginning in the month of October in many of the
nation's trout streams. By the way, brook trout also spawn in the fall, but this is about Brown trout only. The life of a
fish for an entire year can be broken down into three stages of time - pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn. The term
"pre-spawn" is normally used to mean the month or two before the fish are actually on their beds or redds they are
called in the case of trout. The term "spawning time" gets a little mixed up by outdoor writers and anglers. It generally
means the time the fish are actually preparing their beds or redds, laying and fertilizing their eggs, and guarding the
eggs until they hatch. It could also mean the time the fish are trying to locate spots to build their redds. The term
"post-spawn" is generally used to mean after the time the eggs have hatched. The problem with all of this, as I just
mentioned, is that the average angler doesn't know which stage the fish are actually in. This also varies with the
particular section of water within a stream. This is especially true of brown trout and especially in streams that are
very long and vary greatly in elevation.
The time that all fish seem to feed heavily are the days just prior to the spawn. It varies from species to species, but
it's nature's way of preparing the fish with the energy they will need to locate their spawning areas and be able to
spend their time focused on raising their young. This is also when the females get larger in weight because of their
eggs. Both the male and females tend to feed heavily just prior to the start of the spawn. Generally speaking, most all
species of fish don't eat during the time they are spawning. Brown trout may go for days without eating when they are
in the actually spawning process. They do protect, or guard their eggs during this time, and they may well take a fly or
lure just to try to kill it, or get rid of it.
Prior to the actual spawn, before they are on their redds, brown trout tend to become aggressive towards other fish.
They will often hit a fly or lure when their purpose obviously isn't to eat the food it imitates. They also loose a lot of
their normal caution, and tend to expose themselves much more than they normally would. Most of the time, the trout
move upstream looking for the perfect place to spawn. Some say they go back to the same spot they were born, but
I don't know if this has been proven or not. Salmon do, of course, but I'm not certain this is a fact when it comes to
brown trout. It could be stream specific in nature. I just know they move about, mostly at night but are often spotted
out in the open water during the day.
For example, in the case of Yellowstone National Park, brown trout will move out of Hebgen Lake upstream in the
Madison River for miles to spawn. They will move all the way to the upper end of the river, and even up into the
Gibbon River as far as the falls. A few usually move up into the Firehole River Canyon as far as the falls. They move
through the miles of shallow riffles at night, or at least during very low light conditions. I also know for a fact (because
of the state of Montana's field test or capturing and keeping up with this migration), when the water is very low, the
brown trout delay their migration. These are lake fish, used to deep water. I'm not sure this same tendency exist in
other situations. I'm sure water levels affect the upstream movement of brown trout in many streams. My guess is it
delays or affects the movement in most all cases.
As many of you probably know, they can sometimes be spotted during the day, right out in the middle of a stream. I
have located several large ones fully exposed, but far too often, I found them by spooking them. Again, in this case
I'm not referring to brown trout on their redds. I am referring to brown trout moving upstream during the daylight hours
seeking an area to spawn..
Keep in mind, that during the pre-spawn period, prior to these brown trout moving upstream, they will feed more than
normal. You can fish their normal hiding places and have better success than you normally would at other times
during the year. Anytime during October, and on through November, is a good time to catch brown trout feeding
heavily. You still must fish the low light conditions. They won't be out exposed eating anything they can find. They will
still be hidden during the day, especially if it's a clear, bright day. This is a great time to use streamers. Streamers
imitate baitfish and the hungry, and beginning to be aggressive browns, will readily eat baitfish prior to the spawn.
Both the males and females feed actively in preparation for the spawn.
As they get closer and closer to the actual spawning period, brown trout become more and more aggressive. The
male brown trout will start to develop a hooked-jaw or Kype. Large brown trout will start to strike at larger than normal
flies. The response obviously doesn't stem from the trout being hungry. It's due to aggression. They will move a good
ways to strike a large streamer that's being worked with a fast, erratic retrieve.
During the day, those trout that are on their way upstream will normally hold in the deepest water in the stream.
Normally this is the pools but could also be a deep pocket or run. They won't hold directly in the current. They use the
time they are hiding during the day to rest. The problem is that often this slow moving, or even still water is beneath
fast water. It isn't easy to determine what is occurring with the current from a two dimensional perspective, so you
should still fish areas of deep water, even if there is current on the surface.
I think the best flies to use during this time are streamers, but large nymphs will also work. We sell a lot of our "Perfect
Fly" Hellgrammites during the brown trout spawning period. Crayfish imitations will also work. Sculpin patterns are the
most productive in cases where they exist and this is most all trout streams. I think the pre-spawn brown trout know
that's because the little fish eat their eggs during the actual spawn.
Redds are made by the female in gravel and small pebbles located in shallow water about a foot deep. You can often
spot the spawning brown trout in the tail-outs of pools and shallow water riffles with slow to moderately moving water.
The preferred areas will have gravel that ranges from about the size of a peanut to a pecan. The redds look much like
the other similar, nearby bottom areas, but they will be cleaner and brighter.
These are the areas you want to avoid stepping in, or dragging your feet through. You can damage the redds
whether eggs have been deposited or not. The problem many anglers have is that if they spot the brown trout, male,
female or both, they have a difficult time ignoring them and leaving them alone to spawn. This is especially true when
the female is about twenty-five inches long. You will sometimes see pictures of large brown trout caught from redds
along with the smiling face of the anglers that caught them.
I have never tried to catch a brown trout from a redd. I have seen plenty of them on their redd, and some very large
ones. I cannot provide any details of how they react to flies, or how you go about trying to catch them, from their
redds and furthermore, if I knew, I wouldn't tell anyone. I wouldn't want to contribute any information to anyone that
would fish for them during the actual spawning process. I have caught plenty of other species of fish when they were
spawning. I have caught hundreds of very large bass in Florida, that were spawning, but not within the past thirty-five
or more years. At the time, It was very popular way to fishing, and I was very proud of the many large bass I caught.
Now,I'm not. At the time, it was considered a sport that I was far better at than most other anglers. I would often come
back to a fish camp on the St. John's River in Florida, with several large bass when others and their guides wouldn't
have any, or maybe just a few. I was often followed, but when they spotted me out of the boat wading with the large
alligators that were most always present, most of them flowing me didn't want any part of the wading. Wading allows
one to get much closer to a bedding bass than fishing from the boat. I'll stop here, not going into how to catch
spawning bass, because if anything, it would only serve to encourage others to try to catch spawning brown trout.
Furthermore, I am not at all sure they react the same way. It's not illegal to catch spawning trout from the redds in
most trout streams throughout the nation. In my opinion, it's very unsportsmanlike to do so, and I believe most
angler's would agree with me
Now, continuing on to the post-spawn brown trout spawning season, I'll make a couple of points. First of all,
post-spawn means anytime after the trout have spawned, but generally means the first few days or month.
Technically, I guess it could mean up until the time they are about to spawn the following year, but for purposes of
what I mean, it is the first several days after the spawn ends. Even that, can be a little confusing because you will read
and hear guys talk about how the trout will feed heavily after the spawn. They contend the fish are tired and hungry,
and that is a great time to catch them. That's not exactly right. In fact, immediately after the spawn, for a least a day or
two, the fish won't eat anything. It's usually about a week before the trout begin to feed heavily.
by James Marsh
October, 2017 Issue