Smoky Mountain Stream Journal:

Spawning Brown Trout (10/27/07):
We recently returned from Yellowstone National Park where the brown trout are
ahead of Smoky Mountain brown trout with their annual spawning process. Of
course this is due to Yellowstone's climate which results in water temperatures
that are much lower at this time of year than here in the Smokies.
Yesterday we noticed that the brown trout have already begin the spawning
process in the Smokies. Of course it is still early for the majority of spawning to
take place. The water temperature is still on the high side for spawning.
Although we have had recent rainfall, the streams are still very low from what
they would ideally be for the spawn.
I understand from surveys taken in the park, the brown trout survived the
drought well compared to the rainbows. I will assure you however, they have not
been in their best condition this summer.
Two of our email letters pertained to spawning brown trout. From those it is
obvious that at least some are not aware of what actually takes place during the
spawning cycle. We suspect that they are not alone.
The brown trout are much like salmon in that they will travel upstream long
distances to spawn. It is thought that many of these trout will actually return to
the same location that they used in previous years to spawn. I understand some
testing in North Georgia showed this to be a fact in the Southeast.
To begin with, the trout need to be in excellent shape to begin the spawning
process. It takes a lot of energy to make the moves they make. They need to be
in prime condition and I would not think they are after this year's drought.
Ideally there are several factors that the trout take into account when spawning
or maybe I should say, that Mother Nature takes into consideration. One is the
water temperatures which we have just mentioned but others are water depth,
current, light penetration, type of bottom and probably many other things that we
are not aware of. The water depth can vary for sure. After the trout have made
their trips upstream, all these things affect the exact time and place the
spawning process takes place.  
The female brown trout builds her redd using her tail to move the gravel around.
Some call this a nest and bass fisherman call it a bed. She selects small gravel
areas. They prefer gravel about the size of a single peanut but will take
whatever they can get as far as the size of the gravel is concerned. She cuts a
trench or area of bottom where she will deposit her eggs. At the right time, she
will deposit her eggs in the gravel. Prior to her covering them up and usually
during the same time period, the male will deposit his milt or sperm on the eggs.  
She will then proceed to cover the eggs up with gravel. This process helps by
improving the flow of water through the eggs by cleaning the sand and dirt from
the gravel. It is my understanding that this is critical in whether or not the eggs
make it.
This may not all occur at once. She may move to another area of the redd and
repeat this procedure along with the male. It is my understanding they deposit as
little as a thousand eggs (not over two or three thousand), much less than I
would have thought. Obviously, many of these eggs never make it.
This entire procedure from the beginning to its end puts the fish in a stressful
situation. It takes a lot of energy.
It is also my understanding, that the adult fish experience their largest morality
rate during the spawning process. The eggs themselves can be destroyed by
insects, fungus, and silt, to name a few things. Anglers are another culprit that
can destroy the eggs as well as the entire process of spawning.
During the spawning process the fish are very aggressive and territorial. This is
especially true of the male. During the time the fish are building their nest,
depositing their eggs and sperm, etc.) anglers catching either the male of the
female, can destroy many brown trout. Even if the angler doesn't catch the fish
he poses a threat to the process by adding additional stress to the fish. If he or
she steps in the nest either before or after the eggs have been deposited,
many  or even most all of the eggs can be destroyed.  If the female doesn't
deposit all of her eggs, she can die.
These spawning fish are large fish. Although it is not exactly the same case with
brown trout, they remind me of redfish that must be older to successfully spawn.
The angler can easily catch these spawning fish, smile and show others how
great they are at catching
big fish and many will never know what actually
occurred.  It doesn't matter if they catch the female or the male, a lot of brown
trout can be destroyed from the results. Both are critically important to the
spawning process.
Now the brown trout are not native fish in the Smokies or the entire U.S. for that
matter. They were stocked outside of the park at one time or another and made
their way into the park.
The fishery managers will tell you that fishing for spawning trout has little overall
effect on depleting the population of brown trout and I am sure that is correct. It
is not against the rules and regulations to catch the spawning brown trout. That
is a decision you must make. If you can take pride in catching an over
aggressive, easily caught trout (male or female) that will stay in one area of the
stream trying its best to play its part in reproducing its like, then go ahead and
catch them. I would suspect that you are the same person that would vote for
non-restrictive legal abortion.  
By the way, it was fairly easy to catch trout yesterday. Little blue-winged olives
(size 20, 22) were hatching and we were able to catch quite a few trout (and
many unwanted shinners) in less that four hours of fishing the Little River - all on
the dry fly.

Copyright 2007 James Marsh