Please leave trout redds in the river alone!
Rainbow trout are actively spawning in the river now and will continue to do so for the next couple months.
The Missouri River is one of the best wild trout fisheries in the country. Wild trout are not stocked, they must spawn naturally. They spawn in tributaries of the Missouri River like Little Prickly Pear Creek, the Dearborn River, and Sheep Creek. All of the Missouri River tributaries are closed to angling until the third Saturday of May in order to protect spawning fish.
In addition to tributaries, wild trout spawn in the mainstem of the Missouri River where angling is allowed year round. These fish have no legal protection from harassment by anglers. However, we strongly believe that disturbing spawning fish is unethical. We depend upon these fish to support our fishery. Harassing spawning fish or damaging their redds can directly reduce the future quality of our fishery.
Every year we hear reports from concerned anglers about others intentionally targeting spawning fish and fishing over redds. Other anglers end up targeting redds unintentionally or without knowledge of what they are doing. It is important that all anglers learn to recognize and avoid redds.
So what is a redd and how can anglers avoid them?
Redds are excavations made by spawning fish in the gravel of the river. Female trout use their bodies/tails to clear the fine materials from the gravel in order to make room for their eggs to settle. These redds, appear as bright circles on the river bottom. Usually they are located in shallow well-oxygenated water. In the above image, you can see that all the redds are located in shallow water on either side of the main river channel.
During the spawning season, male and female trout are often found in or around redds while they are spawning. These trout often appear darker than normal with brighter colored bellies. The act of spawning uses up a lot of their energy. Each year after the spawn, many of these weakened fish succumb to sickness and disease. Many of them eventually die.
Spawning fish are under a tremendous amount of stress. Fishing over redds causes additional stress that leads directly to increased mortality of mature trout.
Depending on water temperature, eggs will typically hatch about two months after they are laid. During this time, eggs are vulnerable to disturbance. It is the responsibility of anglers to avoid wading on or dropping their anchors on these areas of the river bottom. Disturbing redds kills trout eggs/fry leading to increased mortality of juvenile trout.
Recognize and Avoid Redds
The images above show how close redds are often located to the river bank. It would be very easy to wade over these redds or drop your anchor on them if you are not paying attention. Learn to recognize the areas where redds occur and take measures to avoid them.
Please leave trout redds in the river alone. Please learn to recognize the type of water where redds are found and avoid disturbing these areas. Please educate your friends and fishing buddies about recognizing and avoiding redds, especially if they are new to the sport.
The Missouri River is a fantastic wild trout fishery. We are all very lucky to interact with this ecosystem. The wild trout in the Missouri River are good to us, we owe it to them to return the favor.
All the photographs used in this post were generously provided courtesy of Jason Mullen / Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.