Every spring hundreds upon hundreds of anglers flock to the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River. Why? Aside from the surprisingly clear water conditions and low flows indicative of the spring, thousands of mature rainbow trout begin the arduous process of procreation. This unexplained urge to reproduce brings the larger fish of this species from miles downstream and the deepest runs, seeking out a shallow, gravel area with oxygenated water.
During this period mature rainbows of all sizes, big and small, find themselves putting it all on the line to keep a stable population for years to come. Only two things stand in their way, predators and the notorious long-rodder! Fly fisherman, not all, but some, come this time of year for one reason...to take a poke at the spawners. They probably figure it's a sure-fire way at some of the biggest fish on the North Platte. Indeed that maybe true but to an angler like myself and most others it's a true disgrace!
I'll begin with a real quick fish biology lesson. Rainbow trout reach sexual maturity earlier than most other trout species. Rainbow trout may spawn first when they reach 14-16in, which is standard of their second year. As I said before they seek out shallow, gravel filled areas, rich in dissolved oxygen. Upon reaching this area the female will beat her tail, scooping out a shallow nest or 'redd'. Once ready, she will position herself over it waiting for her man to arrive. The male will then swim near her and shake his body. If that does the trick, she will then move to the bottom of the redd to deposit her eggs. At this point the male fertilizes then covers it with gravel and the wait is on. The incubation period is highly dependent upon water temperature but typically lasts between three weeks and several months...that's as much detail as will go into.
Obviously that process is bound to make just about anyone tired. During this period fish put their favorite pastime of eating second on the list. They concentrate all of their efforts and energy on trying to reproduce. This in turn makes them vulnerable, more so than they would be any other time of the year. So how do we as fisherman reward them, we stomp their redds and repeatedly put flies in their face. Look at this way, how would you like it if someone came into your bedroom while you where trying to take care of business?
Now we all know it's tempting when you see an extremely large fish in shallow water and even the most ethical angler can convince himself/herself that particular fish really is feeding. But come on, there's plenty of fish in the river and they don't all spawn at once. That means there is lots of fish in that other water. Sure at some point in the day you're bound to catch a spawning fish by accident, but that's a long shot from sneaking around on your knees in two feet of water in the middle of April. Yes we've all seen you and you really do look like a jackass! All kidding aside please be considerate of this river and the fish that call it home, please leave the spawning fish alone! (I did not intend for that to rhyme)