Kaul: It's fall spawning time

We have several salmonid species that reproduce in late fall and early winter. Brown, brook, lake trout, kokanee salmon and mountain white fish all have a spawning window which generally runs from October through December, with the exception of brown trout and kokanee salmon, which could run into February. The timing of the spawn can be influenced by water levels, water temperature and light conditions. We had a summer and early fall that featured very low water flows and higher-than-normal water temperatures in our streams and rivers. Couple this with many days of smoke-filled skies, which cast a grey shadow over the whole area, and you have a scenario which could have an adverse impact on this season’s reproduction cycle. Over the past few years I have been conducting assessments of brown trout spawning activities on a couple selected streams in our area. I am happy to report that nesting activities are occurring at these locations pretty much as usual. I notice, however, a few anomalies this season, which leads me to believe the water and weather conditions mentioned earlier might have changed some of this year’s spawning dynamics. When I took a look at potential nesting sites in mid-September I found many of them completely devoid of water and those that had flowing water had a significant algae/moss buildup. The number of fish moving in these areas was much less than noted in previous years. The storms that passed through our region in mid-October produced a significant amount of moisture, which provided water flows over historically good spawning beds. This brought the brown trout back into these venues and spawning activities commenced. I found, however, in many of the areas I previously assessed that redds were smaller in size and manned by only one or two mating pairs. This may be due, in part, to the fact that density of mossy material created by the high water temperatures required the trout to expend more effort than usual to remove this material in order to properly prepare the nest. I am concerned that this may decrease the normal number of fertilized eggs in these locations and lower next season’s fry production. Time will tell if this is the case.

When talking about spawning season the question always arises, should we fish during this period of time? Ideally, it would be prudent to avoid disturbing fish during their reproduction cycle. However, realistically, this would deny anglers fishing opportunities for several months when you consider the fall and spring spawning cycles. Many anglers look forward all year to fishing for the elusive brown trout that aggressively feeds during the pre- and post-spawning period in the fall. I believe there is a common-sense approach to this dilemma, which should be practiced by all fishers. Learn to recognize spawning beds in the waters where you fish. Avoid fishing in and around spawning beds/redds. Fish from the banks whenever possible and if you need to enter the water, avoid treading on redds. Fish pools and runs above and below nesting areas. Do not play the fish any longer than necessary and employ good release techniques. Employing these practices will allow fishing opportunities during spawning cycles without having an adverse impact on the reproduction cycles.

Taking weather into account, there are often good fishing opportunities through the month of November. The fish will be looking for good-size meals to help them survive the winter months. Forage fish such as various minnows, leeches and small trout are high on the trout menu favorites. Nymphs and eggs will also continue as normal bill of fare. As for artificial bait, have a variety of streamer patterns in your fly box, which represent forage fish or leeches. I always like to trail a dark bedhead nymph behind the streamers.

Speaking about bait, “Doc” Johnston recently gave me a book to read that centered on fly tying which has long been an integral part of the fly fishing sport. I am not much of a tier, but I know there are some very accomplished tiers in our area and they may enjoy this tome. The book, “The Feather Thief” written by Kirk Wallace Johnson, offers a historical look at bird feathers collected for scientific, fashion and fly-tying purposes. It highlights fly tying as an art form and exposes the passions of some individuals involved in this culture. The book reads like a mystery novel, but is nonfiction written in a format where the author becomes a central figure in the story. I recommend it as an entertaining and informative read for fly fishers and non-fishers as well. Doc, thanks for the book. I will pass it along.