I have not taken a fish off a spawning bed in several years–but not for lack of trying. Not too far from my home each spring, steelhead move into many of the small tributary streams of Lake Ontario to spawn. And if you time it just right, you can sight-fish for 10-pounders in what would otherwise be your average trout stream. Steelhead, of course, are big by almost any trout angler’s standards, but when they show up in these little creeks, they seem absolutely enormous–making the opportunity to hook one, especially on a fly rod, almost irresistible.
Yet a fair number of anglers manage to resist this and similar opportunities because they don’t feel right about taking spawning fish off their beds. These fish, they feel, have enough difficulty getting through the rigors of spawning that they don’t need the strain of being hooked, played, and landed as well. Many anglers also feel that the practice takes undue advantage of fish that are especially vulnerable, and that catching them can have a deleterious effect on spawning success.
The steelhead I mention are only in the small creeks for a brief period, and the timing has everything to do with the vagaries of spring weather. For the past few years, I’ve managed to consistently show up just a little too early or too late. But the one time I did time it just right, there were relatively easy pickings (that is, compared to catching steelhead when they aren’t spawning, which is often about as productive as banging your head against a tree). For the most part, it was a matter of finding a light-colored, oval redd, watching for the silver flash of a hen steelhead, and then running a black Woolly Bugger past her nose. And as far as I could tell, the fish that I hooked that day eventually went right back to their redds, seemingly no worse for wear.
Of course, for the majority of anglers in this country, the issue of whether or not to take fish off their spawning beds involves not steelhead but bass. Personally, I’ve never taken a spawning bass simply because the local season doesn’t start until mid-June–for the very purpose of protecting bass while they spawn. However, that’s changing, as my home state recently opened a few spring fisheries to catch-and-release.
Now, April can be a tough month for sportsmen around here. If you’re a flyfisherman, the resident trout season, although open, isn’t much use until the bugs start showing up in earnest at the very end of the month, and the spring turkey season doesn’t begin until May. So, last night my friend Paulie and I mulled over the idea of hitting one of these new spring bass fisheries–a conversation that led to the question of whether or not to take bass off their beds.
But before I tell you where we wound up on that issue, I’d like to hear from you. Where do you stand on bed fishing, be it for bass, steelhead, or other species? You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.