By Spencer Durrant
Each year, as summer gives way to fall and the oppressive heat gives way to merciful cool weather, brown trout across the country get all gussied up for their annual dance. It’s a sign that hunting season isn’t far off, that cold mornings with a hot cup of coffee are near, and that the fishing is about to pick up from its end-of-summer doldrums.
It’s also an opportunity to make sure you do all you can to ensure the future of your local brown trout fishery. Fall is when browns are at their most aggressive – and when you have arguably the best chance of landing a true trophy – but they’re also at their most vulnerable.
As anglers, we have an ethical responsibility to respect the brown trout spawn. The best way to do that is to observe the following tips.
Spot the redds
It’s always surprising to me how few anglers know how to spot redds. It’s an incredibly simple task once you know what to look for.
When brown trout spawn, they dig small bowls in the gravel bottom of a river. These bowls catch the eggs as they’re laid by the females and fertilized by the males.
Redds are always located in gravel-filled sections of river and are completely spotless. Browns do a lot of work to clear the riverbed of any moss and large rocks to create the best place for their eggs to incubate and hatch.
Photo: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Photo: Bow River Chapter (BRC) of Trout Unlimited Canada
This should go without saying, but just in case – once you’ve spotted the redds, don’t walk through them. Doing so destroys the redds, which means browns either have to make new ones, or if they’ve already spawned, you’ve just eliminated all those eggs from turning into fry.
Don’t target fish on redds
If you see browns stacked on redds, don’t fish to them. These fish are actively spawning and if you hook one, you’ll disrupt their natural spawning cycle. Not to mention that, when hooked at this time of year, females tend to drop their eggs the second you scoop the fish into your net. That means her eggs aren’t making it into the redd, but falling into the swift current to be taken away and not turned into brown trout fry.
The best thing to do if you see fish on redds is to take a few minutes and watch them work. It’s a fascinating dance these brown trout do to reproduce. It’s every bit as interesting as watching two buck deer lock antlers.
So how do I fish it?
This is a question I get a lot – how can you responsibly fish the brown trout spawn?
Well, most rivers in my neck of the woods have healthy populations of both browns and rainbows. What I like to do during the brown trout spawn is to find a redd near the end of a good run. Ideally, the redd will be right on the edge of a drop off or deeper hole.
I focus on fishing behind the redd – never landing my flies on it – and dropping into the deeper hole. Tons of fish will stack up behinds redds to eat the stray eggs that float downstream; if your local stream has rainbows and browns, then you’ll see tons of bows in spots like this. A well-placed glo-bug puts more fish in the net this time of year than nearly any other fly.
As long as you don’t fish to actively spawning trout, avoid redds, and fish only to places you think trout will congregate to eat roe drifting in the current, you’ll be able to enjoy the best fishing the brown trout spawn has to offer.
Some of my best browns have come this time of year, stripping streamers behind redds. If you follow these tips, you might see similar success this year.