Written by: Christ Strainer, Crosscurrents Fly Shop
Spring may have sprung on the calendar, but you could fool me by the temperature and frozen precip falling from the sky here in Montana. It was warmer in January for crying out loud! Nevertheless, it is spring, and the rainbows are doing their thing at this time of year. That means some ornery trout, and with the water temps creeping up, feisty browns, as well.
When you’re out on the water, PLEASE be mindful of redds (trout spawning beds). You’ll find them in shallow, gravelly areas with a nice, steady current flowing over them. A redd looks like a shallow, scooped out bowl of cleaned gravel that stands out from the surrounding darker, weedier gravel. (See the photo above.) You may or may not see trout on the redds, but either way, just admire the trout’s innate desire to perpetuate the species and leave those areas alone. Whatever you do, do not walk through redds. Be careful where you wade.
You can have some amazing fishing in the spring and still uphold the fly fisherman’s version of the physician’s oath—First, do no harm. When you catch a rainbow, take good care of it, keep it in the water as much as possible while you unhook it, and then release it quickly. If you must capture the moment, leave the fish in the net in the water until you’re absolutely ready to snap the shot. Cradle the fish gently, keeping it low to the water—or even at the surface of the water—snap the photo quickly, and get the fish back into river STAT. (Some of the best photos are of fish in the water.)
I believe in catch and release but also know this is a “blood sport” of sorts and fish do die, even after being treated with care. (Here’s an interesting TU blog post by Kirk Deeter from a while ago about C&R.). All of Montana’s rivers are managed for wild trout and Montana FWP does not stock rivers with hatchery fish. Montana stopped stocking our rivers in 1973, so the trout in the rivers now have to make the trout in the rivers for the future. That is why Montana’s tributary streams are closed from December 1st until the third Saturday in May.
No matter where you live, if there are rainbows in your waters, feel free to go out and have a blast fishing this spring, but please, don’t TREAD on REDDS.
Chris Strainer not only owns Crosscurrents Fly Shop (in Craig and Helena, Montana), but he also serves on the board of directors of his local TU Chapter and on the Citizens Advisory Panel of the Montana FWP Future Fisheries Improvement Fund.