Fish Spawning Bed Identification

Watch Your Step

Fall Fishing Week #1

Heather Hodson kicks off Octobers United Women on the Fly Tuesday Tip theme of Fall Fishing.  This week, Heather talks about identifying fish spawning beds, also known as Redds.

The air is crisp, the fall foliage is bright, the days are short and the fishing can be good in the fall.  It’s October Caddis, Mahogany Dun, Blue Wing Olive and streamer season.  Fall is also a great time to refamiliarize ourselves with identifying and not disturbing trout spawning beds, also known as Redds.

The following tips will help you learn how to identify redds, spawning fish, and the locations where spawning fish build redds in a river.

Identifying a Redd Trout Spawning Beds

What is a Redd?

Redds are the nests of spawning fish. 

Identifying a redd

  • Clean oval shape patches of small to medium-sized gravel typically 2 to 3 feet wide.
  • Gravel is lighter-colored than surrounding gravel.
  • Small depressions and mounds in the gravel indicate nest sites and eggs.

Trout eggs require high dissolved oxygen levels so female trout tend to build redds in pool-riffle transition zones where the water is 1-2 feet with gravel that is 0.5-2 inches in diameter.

Redd Locations

  • Riffles: 1 to 3 feet in depth with ample current to provide oxygen to the eggs.
  • Gravel Bars: gravel bars allow eggs to sit among and below small rocks with clean water flowing over them.
  • Smooth gravel from pea- to half dollar-sized is preferred.

 If you wade in these areas, be cognizant of spots with disturbed gravel and river bottom that look like the picture above.

Identifying Spawning Fish

While it’s hard to be 100% certain, here are a few signs that the fish you caught may be spawning:

  • Vivid colors. As trout and salmon begin to look for mates, their colors and markings become more pronounced. 
  • Darker colors.
  • Rounder, softer belly. Spawning females have a belly full of eggs, and it shows.
  • Paired fish or large number of fish concentrate in shallow water
  • Sluggish Fight – a lot of engery is dedicated to spawning.
  • Hooked jaw. Spawning male trout and salmon develop a very pronounced hook to their jaw, which is called a “kype.”

How can I be a responsible angler?

United Women on the Fly focuses on educating anglers rather than shaming.  Here are a few ways that you can be a responsible angler and give future trout populations a chance.

  • Observe for possible spawning beds.
  • Avoid fishing, walking, wading, in shallow gravel bars.
  • Don’t cast to spawning fish.
  • Help educate anglers about a trout spawning bed.
Trout Spawning Seasons
Heather Hodson - UWOTF Founder
Photo By: Kate Taylor

Meet the Author - Heather Hodson

Heather Hodson @northwestflygirl – Founder of United Women on the Fly.  Heather is an expert at making anglers (especially women) feel comfortable and becoming a part of the fly fishing community.  Sometimes referred to as the “Middle Woman,” Heather volunteers her energy and time to connect women, help start women programs or enable anglers to become more confident on the water. Heather has dedicated her time to educate and inspire others. She is currently studying for her Casting Instructor Certification with Fly Fishers International and has been teaching Fly Fishing since 2014.  She’s also no stranger to being behind the camera.  Heather started taking photos as a rodeo photographer with her 35mm.  With over some 100 days on the water this year, it’s always a tossup between catching fish or being creative behind the camera. Her passion for conservation, getting anyone involved in fly fishing and enthusiasm to think outside the box is infectious.

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