Successful spawning is critical for trout survival and plays an important ecological role. Bears, birds, raccoons, otters and larger fish all rely on trout for food. Trout are also considered an indicator species. The success of trout spawning can signify the overall quality of the water. Another benefit from a fruitful spawning season is the abundance of trout available for future recreational fishing. Communities across the country rely on the positive financial benefits that trout fishing creates. Knowledge of trout spawning can give anglers a fishing advantage and also aid in their preservation. When do trout spawn? When are the trout spawning seasons? This article will answer those questions.
The life cycle for trout begins with spawning. Their initial lifecycle is the progression from an egg to an alevin. Once hatched (the alevin stage), trout will carry the yolk sac as their food source. The next developmental stage is the fry. During this stage, they begin to feed on zooplankton. After the fry stage, they enter the fingerling and this is when their size is between 2 – 5 inches. When a fingerling develops large dark markings it is then called a parr. The final stage, before becoming a spawning adult, is a juvenile. Although smaller, a juvenile will resemble adult trout.
How Trout Spawn
Most species of trout begin spawning when they are between 2 and 4 years old. They swim upriver (upstream) to water that is clear and well oxygenated. A female trout, also called a hen, lays her eggs in spawning nests (also called redds). They will spend a few days digging multiple nest in areas that have a gravel bottom and a well moving current. This is done when the trout turns onto its side and clears a spot in the gravel using its tail. They will choose an area that has a cold flowing current so well oxygenated water moves through their redd. A male trout will then fertilize the eggs. The quantity of eggs laid will depend on their age, size and specific species but ranges from a few hundred to several thousand. Eggs will hatch in 4 – 10 weeks depending on the temperature and quality of the water.
Determining Their Spawning Stage
How do you determine whether trout are in the pre-spawn, spawn or post spawn stage? During pre-spawning, trout become aggressive. This aggression increases as the actual spawn approaches. Prior to spawning some trout appearances will change. Males will develop a hooked jaw. The females mouth becomes shorter and rounder. They will also become stout when holding eggs. And, on certain areas of their bodies, colors will change from silver to more vivid pinks, reds and greens.
A spawning trout will move to the riffles and shallows in search of loose gravel to lay their nest. Their nest (redd) can be identified by a clean oval patch in the gravel that is between 2 and 3 feet wide. The gravel will be a lighter color with small depressions and mounds. Trout, sometimes in large numbers, will hover over a site refusing to move. They are easily seen compared to non spawning trout that hang out under cover. Because they are using all of their energy to spawn the will be sluggish.
Unfortunately some trout will die after spawning. Main causes of mortality include starvation, exhaustion and infection. Also, because they are tired, other predators see a post spawning trout as an easy meal. Those that survive will migrate back to the water in which they came. A female trout will become slender and may have scuffing on their body from creating and covering the redd.
The Fall Trout Spawn
Char species will spawn in the fall. This includes the Brook, Lake, Bull and Dolly Varden Trout. The specific times these trout spawn varies. It depends on water temperatures, geographical locations, size and body of water. Although they are not a char, the Brown Trout will also spawn in the fall.
The Brook spawns between September and November with the eggs hatching between February and April. In most cases, the higher the elevation the colder the water leading to an earlier spawn. Brook Trout will spawn in spring-fed areas of headwater streams during the day hours. They migrate to waters that range from 40 to 50 degrees. They are often seen spawning in large clusters. Male Brookies can mature in as little as a year with the females spawning between ages 2 and 3. The male Brooks color intensifies. Their belly becomes orangish red and they have prominent black stripes on their sides. During the spawn, watch out for pools of actively spawning fish and avoid stepping on redds. Return caught fish quickly to the water and remember that the Brook Trout eggs are in incubation for 45-140 days.
The Lake Trout spawn during the fall from September through December when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees. Most Lake Trout seek out rocky areas (boulder beds) of the lake. However, some do go into rivers to spawn. The females do not dig nest. Instead, the males will use their tails to clear rocks of algae and debris. Fertilized eggs sink into the rocks crevices where the current keeps the eggs well oxygenated. Opposite of the Brook Trout, they spawn at night. A female deposits as many as 10,000 eggs depending on their size. Their eggs incubate longer than other trout species and won’t hatch until February or March. The best time to fish for Lakes is Autumn. They emerge from the deeper cooler pools searching for a suitable spawning spot and partner. Many regions close lake trout fishing during the spawn. Be sure to check your local fishing regulations.
The Bull Trout spawns in the fall between September and December once water temperatures drop below 48 degrees. They will not reach sexual maturity until they are between 4 and 7 years old. They must have cold clean water where stream flow is influenced by groundwater. The eggs have a long incubation period lasting up to 6 months. Most Bull trout are migratory and may travel long distances to find the right spawning habitat. However, it is not uncommon for them to live near areas where they were hatched. Bull Trout are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Bull trout are only found in less than half of their historic range and no longer exsist in some areas including California. The primarily causes of their decline are habitat degradation, poor water quality, the effects of climate change and introduction of non-native species.
The Dolly Varden mature between 5 and 9 years old then spawn between September and December. They will seek out shallow slow moving water with gravel or pebble bottoms. Dolly Varden will return to their birth stream to spawn. Females will compete against other females for a good spawning location. And, the males will brawl to claim a female or protect a redd. Spawning is tough on the Dolly Varden. Between 60 and 70 percent will die after spawning. Those that survive may spawn up to 3 times during their life. They skip years in between spawns to physically recover from the prior spawn. Depending on the size, they can deposit any where from 600 to 10,000 eggs. The eggs will hatch between 3 and 5 months depending on the waters temperature.
The Brown Trout spawn during the fall season between October and December. They are heartier than other types of trout and can handle poorer water quality. Prior to spawning, Brown Trout will become extremely aggressive. They will strike in an attempt to protect their territory from other fish. They will also increase their food intake to build up energy needed to spawn. October is usually a great time to fish for pre-spawning hungry Brown Trout. Reminder, always avoid any disturbances to the Brown Trout redds from November through January. Take advantage of the feisty pre-spawn Brownies using baitfish and lures imitating other fish. Try the Rapala Original Floater Fishing Lure which has a natural minnow profile.
The Spring Trout Spawn
Like the fall spawn, specific spawning times vary depending on water temperatures, geographical locations, species size and body of water.
To spawn, a Rainbow travels upstream to the same area they were hatched. The exception is Rainbow Lake Trout, they spawn in shallow areas of gravel of their home lake. Rainbow Trout spawn in the spring between February and May. Lower elevations typically see spawning in February and March. Higher elevations, where water temperatures are colder, spawning is typically during the months of March and April. The ideal water temperature is 42 – 44 degrees and their eggs will begin hatching in 3 weeks. When fishing during spawning season, target the younger pre-spawn fish that tend to hang out in deeper water around structures not conducive to spawning. Fish from the banks to avoid squashing the eggs during spawning season. Wade fish without walking up or downstream and use the bank when you want to change locations. Avoid the riffles and shallows where they usually lay their nest.
The Cutthroat Trout spawning season begins as early as February and be as late as July. Specific timing depends primarily on their geographical location. Sea Run Cutthroat spawn from February through May and migrate back to their birth streams. Freshwater Cutthroat leave the rivers and lakes in March and April to spawn in tributary streams. Because water temperatures are colder, higher altitude Cutthroat can spawn as late as June and July. Cutthroat can spawn multiple times during their lifespan. They require temperatures between 43 and 50 degrees, clean moving water and loose clean gravel. They will deposit between 400 and 4,000 eggs that will hatch in 4 to 8 weeks. Avoid targeting Cutthroat while they are in the redds. Instead, fish areas downstream from the nests where non-spawning Cutthroat are hanging-out. Loose eggs drift downstream out of the redds and hungry fish will be waiting to pounce.
Summary: When Do Trout Spawn? Trout Spawning Seasons
As anglers, we need to protect the ecosystem and the future of our sport. Understanding the spawning process and knowing the seasons is a fundamental step to protect the trout species. Know where, when and how your local trout spawn. Continue to fish, but use caution and have respect for the trout and their redds. During spawning season, wade fish without walking up or downstream. Use the bank when you want to change locations. Fish deep holes, undercut banks and shallow edges. Check out our Colorful Spawning Brook Trout Mountain Lake Fishing Video. Beautiful brook trout inside the Twin Peaks Wilderness up Big Cottonwood Canyon not far from Salt Lake City Utah.