The Important Things
We believe wild trout populations should be protected, wherever they are found. That starts by eliminating the stocking of hatchery trout over good wild trout populations. It continues by finding struggling wild trout populations and helping them — strengthening their numbers by improving water quality and habitat.
Neither state nor private organizations should be permitted to stock over established wild trout populations.
We believe that wild trout, wherever they are found, should be given a chance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 — like 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 bad. These wild fish find a way to survive.
I’d say wild trout matter to me because they symbolize a healthy environment. And fooling fish that have been born and raised in the river is a challenge I live for.
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.
I just climbed up to 12k feet to fish for cutties.
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 . . . they are not like wild trout.
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.
Other states could do the same thing — Pennsylvania for one. And don’t tell me that the rivers are different. Sure they are. We know this. But if PA, and other states 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.
One thing — cheaper sustainability.
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 catching wild trout feels like.
So what should we do?
Stocked trout do have a useful purpose in many parts of Pennsylvania and in other states. Some rivers cannot support wild trout. And in those places, hatchery fish are a reasonable solution.
The coal industry of Pennsylvania spoiled many of the waters around my childhood home. Wild trout could no longer reproduce, and stocked trout were the only option. I’m thankful for those stocked trout. But I’m frustrated by much of the stocking I see in many of the outlier streams around my current, central Pennsylvania home. Wild trout are prevalent here. Yet, some of these populations are damaged or stunted because either the state or private clubs see fit to stock over them.
Wild trout should be given a chance to thrive 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.
Bill Anderson of the Little Juniata River Association expressed it this way:
“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.”
Our tide is rising. There are enough anglers who care about conservation — who care about wild trout and see stocked trout for the poor substitute that 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 below. And share this one with someone else who will help support wild trout, wherever they are found.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N