Posted | Club Fish | 2065

by | Jul 25, 2016 | 8 comments


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.
Domenick Swentosky

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Excellent. I live in Portage and I understand what you mean by #clubfish. Thanks God for Spring Creek, Yellow Creek and The Little Juniata River. Donny Beaver and his group own or lease parts of those creeks, too, but at least so far I have water to fish. I tell my nephews and all young people to get involved with the environment and fresh public water. If they don’t get interested, I’m afraid there will be little public water remaining for future generations to fish, or just visit.

    • Yeah buddy. Like you said … “So far” we still have water to fish.

  2. This is the topic is so important because clubs threaten the entire culture. Stocking over wild fish , watering down genetics, and destroying opportunities for future flyfishers . I’m shocked TU put that in Trout magazine which is refreshing , but on a state level here in NJ they seem to work hand and hand with clubs even advocating for them and getting grants for there stream improvements . I’m not totally against clubs some guys need them , and some clubs hold off development which is great . But advocating for them in any shape or form seems be shady business for a non for profit . But where I’m from perhaps that’s buisness as usual .

  3. Would I love to see utopia? Sure. It would be great to have all the streams be open water, stream improvements would always be sensible and the fish would be wild and reproducing at supporting levels. In some places that happens. In some places folk live on water that is public and great water. In other places that is not the case. There are some clubs that form to protect water and provide fishing for it’s members. There are other clubs that charge a home mortgage so they can grow and become rich enough to build campgrounds and whatnot. Fact is, you can’t tell folks what to do with their own property, Sometimes they will do what benefits fishermen, Sometimes they will not. But I can’t demand that farmer Brown keeps his water open so that I can continue to catch my biggest hook-nosed browns out of is upper pool. His choice, for his reasons. But when farmer Brown wants to develop his land, and a group of fishermen are able to stop that development by leasing his stream access. Can I fault them? Would I join them if I could…yup.Or…I could pound my head on the floor an complain that I “USED” to be able to fish there. Been there, done that,…it gave me a headache and I still could no longer fish there.

    I fish 90% public waters for all species. I am also a member of a club. A club formed by mostly locals like me who grew up fishing local water. Then it got privatized for profit, but those folks moved on. Now, fisherman formed to lease it and ensure access to that same water. I make no apologies for that. And yes it is stocked. So is the rest of the public water. I will remain a member for as long as the club is able to remain intact. To do otherwise would mean I would no longer be able to fish any of the water grew up on.

  4. Around here I see a parallel with hunting clubs. Farmlands once open to hunters near and far are purchased for the benefit of a few. I am not a hunter but I see both pros and cons to this new phase of ownership. As for fishing clubs, I’m not a fan and wouldn’t belong to one, even when they do rescue lands and waters from development. The bottom line is the question of how a change in ownership affects wild trout. Adding hatchery giants to the water isn’t good for anyone or anything other than a few paying customers.

  5. I’ve fished a good many years all over our beloved Pennsylvania. As a youngster there were always worms to dig, minnows to chase, and long bike rides up the crick! I’ve seen private waters, fished them, and came away feeling much like I do when fishing public access. I’ve encouraged partnership with organizations for just these purposes and ends. The fact that we lose a stretch of “home waters” leaves all of us feeling cheated, sometimes even truly heart broken. But private ground is just that, and if one of these fine conservation organizations works with the land owner/owners to improve stream conditions, I’m all for that! I believe the best way to keep public water accessible is to share said waters with our young cohorts so they also might someday look on another private water and FEEL…..heart broken.

    It is impossible to be in nature truly and not give your heart away at the same time. It is our soul that creates the love that creates the heart break in our losses.

    And….a river runs through us all…


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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