Watch Those Redds!
As kids and lovers of the outdoors, we are often left to run free and explore our passions... that's the way we wanted it to be! That's the way it should be! But there are a lot of things many of us weren't told in our young outdoor-centered lives, and we need to make sure these things are known.
Hunter's Safety taught us a lot about respecting our wild, dry-land areas, swamps, ponds, and the air-breathing creatures that inhabit them (like those bears who will begin to or are already coming out of the winter slow-down). There are, however, many many many things we learned the hard way when it comes to fishing and floating. These are conversations we should be having with our kids, passing down the knowledge of stewardship and communal use.
When I first sat at the helm of a driftboat in my teenage years, I know I really pi**ed some people off. It wasn't on purpose, I just didn't have the awareness or know that I should. I do now, but boating and river etiquette will probably end up in a later post.
Here, we're talking about redds. When I was first starting out spin fishing and then transitioning into fly fishing, I didn't have the foggiest what the word meant or why it was significant. Many of you will know the term, many won't...so just for the sake of clarity, here you are:
Redd: A redd is a spawning nest that is built by salmon and steelhead [or trout] in the gravel of streams or the shoreline of lakes. It is formed by the female using her tail to dig in a small area of gravel in the bottom of the stream or shore. Here she forms several depressions in the gravel forming egg pockets into which she deposits her eggs. (taken from the WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website).
The reason that this is a timely discussion is that soon, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and steelhead will begin to find and prepare their spawning grounds. Sometime in March-June (even July!) depending on your area, when the ice melts, average spring temps, etc, etc, these fish will begin the reproductive cycle. Throughout the year, other species will follow suit....summer salmon runs, fall brookies, browns, and bulls... This is why many of your trout streams have a seasonal closure beginning in the fall to protect fall spawners, and ending in the spring/early summer to protect the spring spawners.
Why this is a really big deal.
Many species spawn in areas where it's hard for human traffic (boats, on foot, other) to disturb them. Salmonids, however, spawn in shallow, gravelly areas that remain susceptible to much disturbance. How often have you trudged through a stream or waded into a lake just to feel that cool, life-giving water all around you? As an Aquarius, I know this well. Water is essential to my existence. It's a force that I connect with as often as possible.
We must, however, be aware of the damage we may be inflicting, albeit inadvertently. We've got to take our time and look for spawning beds...and we need to teach our youngsters to do the same. Redds are sometimes easy to spot, sometimes not. Sometimes we see the adult fish grouped together in the shallows. Sometimes they've already vacated but they've left clean, clear gravel that looks washed and bright against the darker, sedimented, algae-coated gravel that makes up the majority of the stream-bed. Sometimes, these cleaned spots aren't so obvious.
Adult salmonids will deposit 500-1000+ eggs. Seems like a lot, right? But not when you realize that somewhere around 90% of those eggs won't make it past their first year. The eggs themselves get eaten. The alevin and fry often fall victim to predation or simply to environmental factors. So when you think about it, humans stomping around the riverbed really reduces the chances of a bountiful, fish-laden waterway for all to enjoy.
(above) A pair of steelhead on a redd. What an incredible sight.
What really irks me, as a guide and conservationist, is seeing grown, critical-thinking adults throwing hooks, flies, baits, lures, etc, into a group of spawning fish. Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. I know it looks enticing to see a vast group of trout just holding together....you wan't to catch every fish in the river, right?! Well, this practice isn't just frowned upon, it's rather detrimental to the perpetuation of the fish we so love to catch.
Sure, many waterways have daily limits that we can take home to cook and enjoy. ( I practice catch-and-release fishing but...)We have to trust that our local wildlife managers and scientists are using sound judgement in setting those limits. But taking a couple of fish home to eat that are caught fairly just ins't the same a pulling adult fish off the redds. You're not killing one fish, you're quite possibly harming dozens or hundreds of would-be river or lake residents. Again, I know it's fun to catch fish but this practice is not consistent with the ideas of an outdoorsman or woman. It is not sporty. A real fisher-person would not practice or condone such activity. It is selfish and short-sighted. Also, let's not be self-righteous "arses" out there. Some folks just haven't learned this. It's totally okay to let them know. Politely.
Know how to spot a redd. If you can't, stay clear of the shallow gravel and cross or wade elsewhere. Don't target fish holding on the redd. Teach your children to have the same respect.
Raising kids and instilling a passion for the outdoors is near and dear to my heart. I hope it is to yours. Keep sharing the wonder of the wilderness, the power of the water, the majesty of the mountains, the brilliance of the beach and ocean with each new generation. Teach them to connect with this powerful source. Teach them to be stewards. Teach them to be care-takers, not just takers. Teach them to be a part of nature, not just owners and conquerors of it.