Commentary

Why Wild Trout Matter

on
August 23, 2017
The Important Things

We believe Pennsylvania should move toward protecting and enhancing wild trout populations wherever they’re found. That starts by eliminating the stocking of hatchery trout over good wild trout populations.

Importantly though, protecting wild trout should not mean strict catch and release. C&R is an excellent tool, but anglers should also have the opportunity to keep wild trout. In those rivers, slot limits are a smart strategy for maintaining a healthy wild trout population — far better than standard creel limits.

We believe that wild trout should be given a chance.

Read: Wild vs Stocked: The Hierarchy Of Wild Trout in Pennsylvania

But Why?

I asked some of my fishing friends why wild trout matter, and I thought their answers would be similar. Surprisingly, they weren’t. Their reasons for loving and caring about wild trout vary significantly in message and tone.

In truth, there are hundreds of reasons why wild trout matter, and my friends gave me impassioned answers. Here are some of their words.

Josh D.

I love this topic. But I don’t love how we’ve come so far down this path that it’s now a big concern.

Stocking over wild fish was a hot topic in the fisheries management classes I’ve taken.

The moment we resort to stocking as a means of balancing out or restoring a fishery, the chain of events that are set off is scary. It’s as if we’re saying “Screw you!” to evolutionary adaptation and forcing our own agenda and timeline.

Trout will adapt to survive in water that’s suited for their life at even the most basic level. And they will do so with the cunning, spunky, energy, strength and a brilliance that demands our reverence.

Wild trout adapt. They learn what they need. They learn what the stream can provide and what it can’t. They don’t wreak havoc on the fishery’s biodiversity the way pellet-heads can when they’re introduced in high numbers.

Wild trout represent what trout are supposed to look and act like.

Burke

By no surprise, Pat’s response was centered around the size of trout — because he’s the ultimate hog hunter.

I’m gonna say because without wild trout the best you’ll get is whatever they stock. Stocked trout have a horrendous survival rate, so however big they are when stocked, that’s probably what you’ll be going after. A stream that has wild trout allows for surprises — you never know for sure what you’re gonna get because the fish have the instincts to survive, hold over and get BIG.

Josh S.

Wild trout are important as a way of reclaiming and balancing the ecosystem, especially in streams that were polluted in the past. And now, bouncing back, I feel like they’re a key part in that.

Bill D.

Maybe it’s more of the exploring to find them. While they’re common in many streams across the state, they’re not so common in my area. That makes all wild fish special to me.

Wild trout aren’t easy, and the big ones are hard to come by. I’ve come to embrace that challenge over the years.

It’s the total experience: find a place on a map, go explore and see if it has wild fish. For me, that’s better than someone taking fish down to the stream and dumping buckets into all the big holes.

Also, I often hear that wild trout fishing will take you to beautiful places. That kinda makes me laugh sometimes … when I am fishing behind some big saw mill or in a town … what’s more amazing is that wild fish thrive in some places that are pretty damn shitty. These wild fish find a way to survive.

Photo by Josh Stewart

Grobe

I’d say wild trout matter to me because they symbolizes a healthy environment. And fooling fish that have been born and raised in the river is a challenge I live for.

Read: What Happened to Laurel Run? The story of a stocked trout stream and a fisherman

Bill F.

To me, the presence of a thriving wild trout population says humans have not screwed up this watershed (too badly). And wild trout matter because they are real.

Wild trout are survivors, possessing genes that enable them to thrive. They are adapted for survival. Hatchery fish are bred for traits enabling survival/reproduction only in a man-made setting. We cannot afford to lose those wild genes.

Nick M.

I just climbed up to 12k feet to fish for cutties.

Brian G.

Who the hell is gonna travel thousands of miles to fish for stocked fish? Wild trout are WILD. Do you get that? No one who’s serious about fishing brags about catching stockies … not like wild trout.

Read: Posted | Club Fish 2065

People travel from all over the world to fish the rivers of Montana, in large part, because they’re all wild. The fishing is spectacular BECAUSE they stopped stocking. Hatchery trout were ruining the population. Once they stopped stocking, the rivers rebounded big time.

Pennsylvania could do the same thing. And don’t tell me that the rivers are different. Sure they are. We know this. But if PA focused on wild trout instead of hatchery trout, the economic boom to the communities around these rivers would be a hell of a lot more than what they get in the couple weeks around the April trout season opener.

Note: You can read an excellent account of Montana’s trout history, along with the full history of stocked fish, in the book An Entirely Synthetic Fish. It’s an eye opener.

Steve S.

Cheaper sustainability.

Photo from Austin Dando

Austin D.

Austin caught his first Montana wild Whiskey this summer, and we were talking about the moments that surround catching and releasing a big wild trout …

The shakes!! Yeah. I felt that with my last fish. I never really had it like that before. It was an absolute celebration between me and the two other guys. We’d never even met until that day, but after that — in that moment — it was like we’d known each other our whole lives. We just couldn’t stop smiling and laughing and looking at that fish. It was different than any other I’d caught before.

I guess that’s what wild trout feel like.

So what should we do?

Stocked trout do have a useful purpose in Pennsylvania. Many rivers across the state cannot support wild trout. In those places, hatchery fish are a reasonable solution.

But wild trout should be given a chance wherever they’re found.

Stocking should be eliminated on streams that support wild trout. Instead, we should begin managing them with direct efforts to enhance the wild fishery.

As Bill Anderson of the Little Juniata River Association expressed, “I am convinced that there are many currently stocked streams that would produce better trout populations, and better fishing, if stocking (fingerlings or catch-ables) was discontinued and all efforts were turned instead to water quality and fish habitat improvement. Other states have learned this truth (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Wisconsin and others), and their success is undeniable.”

Right Now

Our tide is rising. There are enough anglers who care about conservation — who care about wild trout and see stocked trout for what they are. We want something better, and we can speak up to help rework policy. The time is now.

Please add your own reasons why wild trout matter in the comment section, and share this one with someone else who will help support wild trout.

I’ll see you at the summit.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

Photo by Chase Howard

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I am all for hatchery trout….in ponds, lakes and for kids rodeos, but not in free flowing streams! There are no streams in Pa., currently stocked with hatchery trout, that cannot support a sustaining wild trout population. However, there are many trout streams that need a lot of work to restore them or to improve them to Class A fisheries. The questions asked about a stream should always be…how do we get more cold water, less sediment and better trout habitat? Not….how many trout can we throw in there to attract the most anglers? Fully 1/3 of our PFBC money… Read more »

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

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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