I’m sure there’s some biological reason why browns change their colors in November and December, during the spawning season, but I don’t know what it is. Sometimes they turn golden brown, other times their spots brighten and pop. The streambeds shred their fins and scar their bellies.
Dark silhouettes stitch to the bottom of the river and orbit redds.
I know the reasons I shouldn’t fish the brown spawn—that I should let these fish be, let them procreate so I can come back the next year and catch more. I also know the reasons I should fish it—that browns are invasive and out-compete cutthroat trout, a native whose spawns I don’t disturb.
I don’t pretend that protecting the cutties makes me noble. But I’m not coldhearted, either—I care about more than just ripping lips and hauling in hogs. For whatever reason—maybe the season, maybe the sheer number of trout that are there to catch, maybe the solitude on the river—it’s one of my favorite times to fish.