Brook trout are some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen. With their green, red and orange colours becoming even more brilliant during the spawn, they are truly a sight to behold. However, they are also some of the most secretive fish to hide in our coldwater streams, taking cover and blending into the river bottom so that people passing by often fail to notice them.
Due to their secretive nature, I was not anticipating to see many fish when we embarked on a Credit Valley Conservation Spawning Survey this morning along the Credit River, but luck would prove otherwise.
The Credit River
The morning dawned with gusty winds and cool temperatures. By 9AM, a large group of volunteers had gathered in a parking lot to pull on waders, grab polarized glasses, and await instructions. Some of the volunteers were anglers, some were members of groups such as Izaak Walton and Trout Unlimited, and some were coming out for the first time to see what a spawning survey entailed. We broke into four smaller groups, each taking a stretch of the Upper Credit, looking for evidence of spawning brook trout.
Eager for new water and a nice walk, Darrell and I chose to visit a stretch further away. This portion of the river had some incredible natural features and reinforced my love for the Credit.
We were lucky enough to be working with Jon Clayton, an aquatic biologist at CVC, and as always, I enjoyed his passion for fish and being able to learn from him during the survey.
Spawning surveys are a fantastic activity for anyone from the novice to the experienced surveyor. All they require is a willingness to observe, and a willingness to wade in the river when necessary. The point of the survey is to look for redds, the ‘nest’ that fish create for their eggs. Usually, this area will be lighter than the surrounding riverbed, with sediment and debris removed, as the fish will have ‘excavated’ the area with their tails. When spotting a possible redd, groups will come to a consensus on what category they believe it is. A Category 1 redd is one where you have seen fish on it and there is no doubt that it is anything but a redd. A Category 2 redd is one that you feel strongly is a redd, but you don’t see fish on it. A Category 3 redd is one that looks borderline. It looks like there is a clearing, but it could possibly be from other disturbances such vegetation being uprooted, and other animals being in the area. Sightings of redds and fish are marked on a map.
We started out with the usual Category 3 sightings. Areas that looked like possible redds, but not enough for any of us to be certain. Beavers were extremely active in the area – piles of sticks, downed trees, and paths were evident nearly everywhere. This caused a degree of uncertainty in our redd assessments.
I assumed the day was going to involve several Category 2 and 3 redds, but while crossing the stream, something wonderful happened – Darrell’s Fishdar went off. I have yet to encounter anyone with the ability to spot fish as easily as Darrell does. Every little movement catches his eye, and he spots fish where others don’t. What a lucky happening for us. In a pool in the middle of the river, in an area lacking a colour difference or anything that would indicate an obvious redd, Darrell happened to notice a few brook trout.
As we stood in the river and watched, more fish became apparent, and their bright spawning colours were fantastic. One of the bigger fish was actively guarding his area, with many others swimming in and out. Here were several actively spawning brook trout, and we almost missed it. In the end we counted at least 15 brookies. The three of us stood in the river and watched for several minutes. I could have easily sat on the bank and watched the action for hours. Fish are fascinating.
Eventually, we forced ourselves to continue on. Now we had a good reminder of what to look for. Since brook trout spawn close to groundwater upwellings, there are often many redds and fish in suitable areas. In fact, their spawning area can look like one giant redd.
We continued on with several more possible redd sightings. While we tried to stay out of the water, it was often an easier route than walking the banks. Cedars lined the river and provided a lovely aroma. Where we found springs, we often found redds.
Wading up river, we came across another stretch of Category 1 redds with several brookies on them. We stopped to admire them once again. It always feels like a privilege to see these fish, no matter what time of the year.
In no time at all, we reached the end of our stretch and headed back to the parking lot. A morning spent talking fish, observing fish, and wandering along a beautiful river, is pretty much the ideal way to spend your time.
The information collected today is helpful for the conservation authority to compare the fish population over time, and locate important spawning areas. Spawning surveys are also a great way to spend some time outdoors, visit new water, and meet like-minded people. Maybe you will even spot some beautiful brookies.
If you would like to attend a spawning survey, Credit Valley Conservation holds a couple of them each fall. There is another survey next weekend (November 1st) in the Forks of the Credit area. For more information, or to register, click here.