The Great Debate: Fishing the Brook Trout Spawn


Most likely a female, judging from the color and lack of a hooked jaw


New to brook trout fishing in Virginia? One of the first things you’ll come across is the annual spawning debate.  Some say fish, some say don’t. During this time, the extremists don’t even like to think about brookies. Whatever side you fall on, it never hurts to be “in the know”. So, not only do I give a few of my personal thoughts below, I also compiled several articles, links, etc…with comments. Holla’ at your boy (me) with your two cents or if you know of some material to include. As always, enjoy the read!

Brief Education:

Watch this video. The narrator is in fact the definition of dry, boring, monotone, purgatory…but, he does a nice, quick, and dirty job explaining how the spawning process works. A few interesting facts about brookies in there too!

Although the video takes place up North, the same applies – in relation to the spawn – to the streams here in VA, and the East Coast in general.

My Personal Take:

Now, may I ask: why should I refrain from fishing during the brook trout spawn?

Well, let’s think of a scenario where we hook a nice brookie. What happens? A hook goes through its mouth (or elsewhere if luck is nonexistent) and the fish freaks. It uses a lot of energy trying to get free. If we land the fish – as we so twistedly desire – we more than likely remove the little guy from the water, or at the very least remove him from the direct current which provides oxygen. The brookie, can’t breath. Think about it, what would it feel like? No oxygen intake immediately after exerting all your strength for survival’s sake. This would be tough on anyone. Add to this situation an already stressed-out spawning fish and it could be deadly.

Additionally, the sight of a giant, heavy-footed, smelly creature (a human, for those who may have missed it) could be quite frightening to a fish. Spooking the fish, could lead to a temporary abandonment of the redd (the nest). Other females may come in and lay their eggs, or more than likely, challenging males may see this as an opportunity to fertilize. The time away from the redd elongates if you hook one of the nesting fish. On top of that, the oxygen-deprived, exhausted fish now has to fight off suitors. Not a pretty sight, amigos. Not a pretty sight.

One more thing, if you’re uneducated to their existence and step on a redd, then it’s  game over. Say goodbye to the already slim chance of survival for the next generation of brookies.

Probably a male pictured here. Bright colors and thicker than the fish pictured above.

Again, why should I refrain from fishing the spawn? In addition to the spawn’s physical and mental drain on the fish, there are three reasons listed above: exhaustion,  an unprotected redd, and possible redd destruction.

Personally, if I see fish spawning, I avoid them. I do fish in the Fall before and after the spawn. If you do the same, take great care not to step on the redds. Better yet, avoid stepping in the water at all. Even after spawning takes place, the eggs lay for around 100 days. So, stepping on a redd in February would do the same damage as trampling over them during the Fall.

Others’ Opinions:

The following paragraphs present the ideas of either scientists or individuals who live, breath, sleep, and dream fly fishing.

This blog post by Brad Billings is awesome. If you don’t read anything else , READ THIS! He does a nice, unbiased job of presenting the spawning debate with lots of info from people who work in the field. If you choose not to read through it, the gist follows: The author interviews a number of experts on the subject. The conclusion: late Summer fishing, when the water is low and warm appears to be the harmful time to fish for the VA Mountain Brook Trout. Fishing in the Fall is not recommended for inexperienced anglers due to stepping on the redds and rough handling/catch-and-release procedures. However, some argue this point and believe we should leave them alone for the entire Fall period.

*Sorry about the reminder of this post. Editing the spacing proved worthless. Not sure what’s up with it…

Douglas Dear, owner of Rose River Farm, a private stretch of water directly outside of SNP in Syria, VA has this to say about the above article:
Douglas Dear: Nice blog post. I agree with the scientists. I would also say that on streams like the Rapidan there is really no reason to wade durring the spawn anyway. Also always practice fast, gentle catch and release with barbless hooks.
Harry Murray, considered by many to be the god/guru/expert on Virginia Mountain Brook Trout Fishing – and owner of Murray’s Fly Shop over in Edinburg, VA – recommends not fishing during this time on his blog posts. However, I do not know his opinion on guided trips during the Fall. Feel free to shoot him an email. He usually responds quite fast to inquiries and questions.
Colby Trow, co-owner of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing shared last Fall on this subject in a private Facebook group to which we’re both members. He discusses it in relation to the Rainbow Trout spawn in the Spring…
Colby A. Trow: brook trout live 4-5 years on average where rainbows can live to 9-10 years. Rainbow trout eggs incubate and hatch after 4-7 weeks, brook trout eggs incubate 2-3 months. Depending on SIZE, female brook trout produce 100-400 eggs where a female rainbows can produce 2,000-4,000 eggs. While both cut reeds in shallow gravel and are at risk of being crushed by anglers, it is easy to see that the brook trout spawn is more critical to quality year classes each year. 1 large female rainbow trout can produce as many young as 5-10 brook trout. That mixed with the long nature of the incubation period allows for higher mortality in brookies. Rainbows mostly spawn in spring(there are species that spawn in fall, and many of VA’s state raised hatchery fish are fall spawners) in higher water flows with shorter incubation periods. If you read what has happened in the Smokey Mountains and other states, you will see that rainbows and browns out compete brook trout in many(but not all) watersheds. This is a great topic and I think it will encourage anglers to educate themselves about the fish they actually target. Responsible and educated anglers are the BEST! Have fun and enjoy your fishing just be careful where you step! hope someone finds this info helpful.
This article, Redd-Fish, has a little info in it as well, but I really like its name. Wish I would have come up with it.
Closing Remarks:
Hopefully this does a decent job of informing individuals about the brook trout spawn. When I first started throwing flies, I knew very little of this subject and most people left it at, “don’t fish then, it’s bad”. This approach to anything in life is naive and we should educate ourselves as best as possible on whatever tasks we venture to pursue.

Tread lightly and watch your step, brother!

Thanks again and hit the water tomorrow – there’s a predicted high temp of 72 degrees F!

One thought on “The Great Debate: Fishing the Brook Trout Spawn

  1. Pingback: Searching for Shad – Take 2 | Adventures of Sims

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