The small freestone stream where I learned to trout fish in Indiana county, Pennsylvania is posted against trespass. It has been for a couple decades now. So too is the wooded hollow with the broken splash dam where I chased brook trout as a young teenager. In fact, nearly all the water I fished as a child is now posted or privatized.
My move to central Pennsylvania in 2003 opened up new waters and opportunities for wild trout fishing that seemed endless at the time. But there is an end, and I realize that now. I’ve seen the privatization and posting of trout streams grow by miles every year. And the recent transformation of my favorite small wild trout stream into club waters with fake, stocked brutes is hard to watch.
Sometimes, the end of public access around here seems inevitable, just like it was back home.
The current issue of Trout Magazine includes an article by Greg McReynolds titled, “2065.” McReynolds well captures the feeling of desperation suffered when we lose access to water that we once called our own.
“… it felt wrong to pay to fish the river that used to belong to everyone. It was like having to buy something back from the person who stole it from you … we thought it would last forever, but it slipped away.”
When you put it that way, the majority of trout fishermen will tell you they support initiatives for public water and public access.
Posting the water is one thing. I won’t argue against the individual right to post one’s land or a stream running through it. But I do wish the navigability laws for PA rivers were more clearly defined and more encompassing of cold trout waters. Privatizing the water is even worse — especially when a wild trout stream turns into a club-fish farm.
The future of public water in this state and across the country is still up to us. We need to support organizations that defend our watersheds and help push for laws that maintain public access. We should fight to keep state and federal lands in the public trust.
Above all, please do not support club fishing. With every new club, more public access is lost, and we become resolved to the notion that the best water will be private. Ultimately, posted water leads to more posted water, and club water leads to more club water.
Many clubs stock and then feed big, artificial trout in water that already has a fine population of wild trout. These same clubs then push the message that they are stewards of the stream — that they are protecting it for you, for me and for future generations. I have a hard time with that rhetoric.
Fishing club water may be a dilemma for some. It’s easy to see things the other way if you have a key to the gate. At the very least, then, can we stop promoting images of club fish?
Through the centuries, fishermen have shown off their prized catch. Everyone loves a big fish, and that certainly hasn’t changed in the age of social media. I love chasing big trout and looking at pictures of them, but chasing and posting pictures of big, unnatural club fish feeds a false perception. It says, “Hey, here’s what you should be catching too.” And so the next club buys the next piece of wild trout stream, stocks its own hogs and feeds its pets from the bank. The clients come, the problem grows and the cycle snowballs.
Does anyone ever use the hashtag #clubfish, by the way? I just wish we could be satisfied with wild and holdover trout from public waters, and I think showing off club fish sets expectations with dangerous long-term consequences.
What will this all look like in 2065? It’s still up to us.
Find more from Troutbitten on wild trout, stocked trout and club fish in PA:
Wild vs Stocked: The Hierarchy of Wild Trout in Pennsylvania
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N