It’s that time of year again. Wild trout and steelhead in the Deschutes and its tributaries are making their way to spawning gravel to simultaneously begin and complete the cycle of life. It’s nothing short of magic that steelhead can emerge as fry, grow to smolts, find their way to the ocean, and return to water and gravel that is often within feet or yards of where they began their lives as fertilized eggs.
If one knows where to look, this fascinating act of gravel preparation (the prepared gravel is known as a “redd”), mating and egg-laying can be observed from the old railroad bed that forms the road we use to access the lower river. Look carefully into the water with polarized lenses and watch for gravel that has been worked into clean patches, especially in the often shallow rolling hills of gravel that are spawning dunes. If you find those spots during April and May, chances are you’ll find fish, steelhead and trout, spawning.
Often fish congregate in these locations not just to mate, but to feed on the eggs that don’t become trapped in gravel. Aquatic insects can also get churned up from the gravel when fish are working that same gravel for spawning purposes. That makes the insects more available to predation from fish. As a consequence, it creates a tempting spot for fish to find an easy meal. This also makes for a tempting spot to fish, especially with egg patterns.
“But to do so is very short sighted. Fish disturbed during spawning might not complete this part of the cycle of life if disturbed or spooked from spawning areas. Wading on spawning gravel is incredibly negligent and harmful to the future survival of the very fish you are pursuing. So please, enjoy watching this most interesting and magical of fish activities, but leave spawning fish to complete their task. Please don’t disturb or wade on spawning gravel – the fish will appreciate it, and so will your fellow anglers.”