The Spawning Bed

At different times of the year, fish pair up for their annual spawning ritual. In the warmer climates, bass and bream are answering the call of nature right now, and anglers are seeing them on the beds. In a month or two, spots further north will see bass and panfish doing the same thing. Some trout and steelhead set up redds in rivers in the spring while other trout and salmon spawn in the fall. When fish move into the shallows they are easy to spot, and some anglers who target them use the phrase “I spot ‘em, I got ‘em.”

There are a few guys I know who head to the shorelines when the bass and panfish start to spawn. They drop a lure, bait or fly in front of a fish that hits it without hesitation. The fight is on in seconds, and the action can be fast and furious. But it begs a question even for fish that are released: is it a good idea to catch fish that are sitting on a spawning bed?

The knife cuts both ways, particularly ‘cause it’s an attitude. On the one hand, fishing is fishing and catching ‘em up is what it’s all about. Kudos to the angler who finds fish, bravo that their quarry eats easily, and good for him that his daily catch is of epic proportion. Lots of action makes for a fun day, and I can see that side of the coin.

But on the flip side, is catching a fish on a bed a good idea for maintaining a quality fishery over time? When a momma fish is pulled off the bed, her eggs are left wide open to predators. Some get vacuumed up by carp or suckers, while other eggs are covered up by silt caused from the fight. If this year’s hatch is a poor one, then what does that mean for next year’s numbers? Are we shorting out the recruitment of new and more fish to fill our ponds, lakes and rivers? Is it a short-sighted approach that we should consider before doing?

It’s an interesting topic and I’m going to noodle it around with some friends to get their thoughts. Personally, for fish that I catch with frequency I’m fine with leaving spawning fish alone and tossing back smaller fish. Some times I practice catch and release, other times catch and eat. What about you? Do you fish the spawning beds?

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at