Featured Photo: Football Brown

Featured Photo: Football Brown

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Colorado 2022: Day 12, Moving Day Again

While we didn't know it yet, our trip was seriously starting to wind down. There were still some great moments, but things were headed in a negative direction. First and foremost, the Crystal Mill hike was going to be hard to beat no matter what. Unfortunately, one of our group was set on trying to beat the happenings from the morning of that big hike, as you'll begin to find out in a moment. Even further, we woke up to yet another round of rain, and the weather wasn't going to get any better until it was time to go home. 

We were still optimistic, however, as we broke camp at Bogan Flats Campground and headed out to enjoy another day of fall colors we hoped. Our goal for that evening was to find a camping place within an hour or so of Gunnison. That is one of my favorite areas of Colorado, and I had high hopes to finish the trip doing a little fishing on the Gunnison and some of its tributaries. To get there, we planned to drive over one of my favorites, Kebler Pass.

We made the quick jump over McClure Pass from the Crystal River Valley, and were soon approaching the turn onto County Road 12. This unassuming gravel road winding back through the hills towards Crested Butte features some of the most stunning fall scenery I've seen in Colorado. When the aspen are at their peak, this drive is very hard to beat. We were just a week or ten days early on our trip, at least for the best colors. However, as you'll see, we still saw some very nice golden aspen.

Golden aspen fall colors Colorado


Not far along County Road 12, a now familiar stench hit us. Looking at my wife with concern, I asked if we should pull over. "We probably better," was her reply. Sure enough, we had our second blowout in two days. This was a full mess requiring professional help and cleaning. We cleaned up as best we could, then continued on our way. The nearest laundry facilities were far off and we had a long ways to go.

The clouds were mesmerizing, looking like it was about to storm at times, with the sun trying to come out at others. Against the dramatic sky backdrop, the fall colors were special even if not at peak. 

Golden aspen near Kebler Pass


Driving along our route, I remembered another road that I had enjoyed in the past. We turned off on County Road 730 to enjoy Ohio Pass. Unfortunately, we were now in too much of a hurry for another favorite along this route. The short hike up to the beaver ponds just south of Ohio Pass can net some gorgeous brook trout, not to mention a hike through a phenomenal aspen forest. On this day, we were already short on time with the need for an unplanned pit stop ahead, so we kept pushing on. The brook trout would have to wait until another trip. 

Golden Aspen near Ohio Pass


It was probably somewhere on this drive that we started to realize that our trip was winding down even if none of us admitted it or voiced it. There were too many things starting to conspire against us. If we had been smart, we would have called it a trip and headed home right then and there, but we still had almost a week of adventuring left and persisted in our plans.

As we hit the lowlands, I pushed the little car harder to get into Gunnison as fast as possible. Leah started searching for laundromats on Google maps. Thankfully, we found something quickly. I grabbed everything that had been soiled yet again and raced in for a quick cleaning. An hour later, we were debating whether to grab food in town or race on out to camp before dark. 

The pull of one of our favorite Italian restaurants was too much, so we stopped at Mario's Pizza and Pasta in Gunnison. Little Bit was really starting to enjoy the concept of eating out, and the waitresses all loved her to death. We enjoyed a hot meal in a warm dry place, and then hit the road in the gathering shadows. 

Our goal was the Gateview Campground. I had experienced some incredible fishing there many years before. Even better, I had the tiny campground to myself. I was hoping to replicate that great time with my family. Unfortunately, yet another complication was about to rear its head, but at the time, we were tired and just wanted to get to camp. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Fishing Around the Brown Trout Spawn

There are tons of opinions on whether you should be fishing during the spawn. Some states solve the problem by having closed seasons for trout fishing. Many other states do not, leaving anglers to come to terms with their own set of ethics. Here in Tennessee and in the Great Smoky Mountains, we are fortunate to be able to fish year round. That helps keep the cabin fever at bay during the cold months, but also makes it important to figure out your own set of ethics when it comes to fishing or not fishing the spawn and the time periods around it. 

Often, it seems irrelevant as to whether it is "okay" to fish during the spawn or not, but a variety of factors the last few years has led to a huge decrease in the number of large trout on many area waters. From the Clinch River wild rainbows and big brown trout, to the big browns on the Caney Fork, to the wild browns in the Great Smoky Mountains, numbers of larger fish are down across the board. While the overall reasons behind that decrease may or may not be angler driven, the fact remains that we have lower numbers of fish. Thus, it is more important than ever that the fish be allowed to procreate in peace. That is the place I'm at. You may arrive at something different. That is okay, but if you want to do what's best for the fish, read on. 

Choosing to fish (or even guide) around the spawn immediately brings a new set of challenges. How do you fish water that fish are spawning in without interrupting that process? To some extent, interruptions will happen no matter how careful you are. In my opinion, other than not fishing to actively spawning fish, the most important thing you can do is to watch your step. The precious eggs, once distributed into the gravel, are vulnerable to a misstep. In fact, just once misstep could kill nearly all the eggs in one redd. Thus, you now have a couple of options. Either avoid fishing and wading altogether during the spawn, OR learn what to look for and avoid redds at all costs. 

If you choose the latter, here is what you should look for. Brown trout redds are usually depressions and accompanying mounds in the gravel in riffles and tailouts of pools. I've seen redds in all kinds of water, but most will be in the riffles and tailouts. However, the most important thing is gravel. On some streams, good spawnable (did I make up a word?!?!) gravel is hard to find. It appears easiest to learn what kind of gravel is good for spawning and simply avoid walking on all gravel that is similar. In actual practice, it is helpful to be able to identify redds and walk on gravel when possible, because gravel is often going to be your best traction in the stream.

To understand what a redd looks like, first you should understand how the redd is built. First, the female finds the perfect site for her nest. Next, she begins to fan with her tail to dig out a depression. That depression is where she will lay her eggs. Once she has prepared the nest, she lays some or all of her eggs while a dominant male delivers milt to fertilize the eggs. Then, she will move just upstream and stir the gravel again, allowing the current to filter the gravel down onto the eggs to protect them. This small mound that forms is where the actual eggs are stored. Some fish may repeat this procedure several times leaving an area well stirred up, while others may make a single redd and call it quits. This process applies to rainbows and brook trout as well. Once those eggs are laid in the gravel, it is crucial for anglers to avoid stepping on the nests. Each generation will often see a fairly low success rate, so we need every nest to stay viable if possible. 

The incubation periods can vary wildly depending on water temperatures. Long periods of 4-5 months at a constant 35 degrees Fahrenheit down to a very short 30 days at 57 degrees Fahrenheit mean that it depends on the weather and stream as to how long it takes for the eggs to hatch. In the Smokies, most of our eggs will typically hatch sometime in January into February in a normal year and depending on exactly when they were laid. For fish that spawn in late October or early November, it is possible that same hatch by early January, while late spawning fish in late November into December may not have eggs hatching until closer to March. 

Other than anglers, extreme cold and anchor ice can disrupt the viability of the spawn. Extreme flow events with high water can also disrupt the process. Finally, on our tailwaters, low dissolved oxygen is also a major limiting factor to successful brown trout spawning. 

If you have read this far, then you clearly care deeply about the health of our wild fisheries. While everyone needs to make their own decisions as to whether to fish the spawn or not, I hope you will at least be very careful as to where you walk during the fall through spring period. The health of our fisheries depends on anglers being careful. Here are several examples of brown trout redds in the Smokies from the past few weeks. Note how redds often appear as bright patches in an otherwise darker bottom. 


brown trout redd

brown trout nest

wide stream view including redds

closeup of brown trout redd

One last redd

If you have any questions or want some better pictures, feel free to contact me using the information from the contact link above. I'm always glad to help promote the health of our fisheries.