“Fly fishing while trout are spawning isn’t inherently wrong, evil, or immoral. In many ways, fishing the spawn is one of the more effective tools anglers can use to better manage out-of-control trout populations.“Spencer Durrant, “Fishing the Spawn isn’t Always Wrong”
I read that and winced into my coffee cup the other morning.
“I say all this to counter the dozens, if not hundreds, of self-righteous social media posts I see from anglers every autumn. You’ve seen them, too. Anglers condemning others for fishing during the brown trout spawn, for ‘raping redds’ and ‘stomping all over the future’s fish.’ To those anglers, I ask: Is fishing during the spawn really a bad thing?”
I whinge about fishing redds. I don’t buy his assumption western streams are plagued by stunted browns, but even if we assume it’s true- targeting redds doesn’t fix the problem.
Brown trout are predators. Cannibals. Big browns around redds eat eggs that’d otherwise hatch and grow into more, stunted browns. Big browns eat smaller browns. Big browns eat smaller browns that are themselves eating eggs. Big browns perform this service for anglers a couple times a day, every day, for months- just by being left alone.
But when that big brown’s hooked and played, it’s not eating. It may not feed for hours after. And if anglers keep harassing that big brown, it’ll slide up under some cutbank and start eating something else. By keeping big fish away from the redds, we prevent predators from eating the small and stunted fish we want removed from the system, undermining our management prescription.
“What’s the difference between shooting a bull elk out of a herd of cows, or catching a big brown trout from behind a redd? There’s no difference.”
Durrant’s essay begins advocating fishing the spawn as a management tool. The piece ends comparing fishing the spawn to trophy big game hunting, giving the game away. There’s nothing sinful about taking a bull- but if you want to manage population growth, you take the cow. There’s nothing sinful about wanting to catch big browns. But stunted fish populations recover by addressing stunted fish, not by targeting the big ones.
The action Durrant’s advocating doesn’t address the problem he’s identified. It doesn’t manage population health or sustainability. It doesn’t improve fisheries.
It’s headhunting, greenwashed.