Why Wild Trout Matter

by | Aug 23, 2017 | 19 comments

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.

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.


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 — 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.

Photo by Josh Stewart


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.

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 . . . they are 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.

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.

Steve S.

One thing — cheaper sustainability.

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 catching wild trout feels like.

Photo from Austin Dando

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.”

Right Now

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.


Photo by Chase Howard


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. 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 is spent on hatchery trout. Another third is spent on law enforcement.and much of the law enforcement cost relates to stocked fisheries. So why not direct more of our PFBC efforts to fish habitat and water quality?
    Don’t blame the commissioners, John Arway, or his staff. They are driven entirely by license sales…and they cannot change how they create revenue. All their rates and fee structures are directed by the legislature and the political pressure from hatchery trout truck chasers. PFBC knows that creating more self sustaining wild trout habitat is the best approach and, in the long run, would pay major dividends. We need to get the politicians out of their life and let them set their own rates and structures that will support more wild trout.There is current legislation submitted by Senator Eichelberger that will do just that! See you at the Wild Trout Summit next Saturday.

    Bill Anderson – President :Little Juniata River Association bjuniata@verizon.net

    • Bill, keep us informed about the political side of things. If that’s where the change needs to happen, then let’s all make it happen.

      • Dom, In the 2 years since we discussed the subject of wild trout management versus the “grow’em- kill ’em” policy, that consumes more than 1/3rd of our PFBC resources, there are some changes. First, there is a new Exec Dir. and almost all new PFBC commissioners, along with a new management team for fisheries management. The cost of licenses has been increased, and they mysteriously found some millions in a “rainy day fund” which have been thrown into the fray. On the plus side, PFBC has stopped furnishing brook trout to the TIC program in favor of rainbows and there is talk of stocking rainbows only (no browns, no brooks) in coming years. The PATU Trout Management Committee (of which I am a member) has taken a position against stocking over any wild trout population (not just Class A populations). LJRA has formally requested that Catch and Release A T special regs be extended from the current 13.6 miles to the entire 30 miles (18.8 miles are listed Class A) of the Little j. Unfortunately, so far, the fishery management folks are not supportive of our request. However, we do not give up easily!

  2. I love wild trout. That’s why I drive 2 hours to the Catskills and Upper Delaware. Nothing like a big strong bow that tries to take you to Philadelphia. I wish they would stop stocking the Esopus to let the wild trout thrive and tighten up on the regulations. Friggin politics.

    • Totally with you on the E. It is a real shame to stock fish on such an amazing and rare wild rainbow population.

      • Same here. To me, the policy is simple — don’t stock over wild trout.

        Take a stand and do the right things.

  3. Stocking destroys otherwise healthy, wild trout fisheries. Montana studied this in the ’60’s, showing that introducing stocked fish into healthy fisheries REDUCED the total trout population by over 50%. They consume all the food in the streams, including wild fry. The result is starving fish, wild and stocked. So if you want to destroy a healthy fishery, start stocking!

    I don’t understand why most state fishery “experts” don’t get it. Perhaps their motivation is personal financial rewards. Although I must admit, that in Virginia, polls continue to show a robust “redneck” attitude among fishermen. Perhaps the next generation will be better informed.

  4. The Farmington River could be an epic brown fishery if they stopped stocking over the wild browns.

  5. Money is a limited resource. Spend it on improving wild trout habits instead of on hatcheries.

  6. It’s a twisted situation and I believe money is a big factor. As I see it, license sales are generated from stocking fish. People driving by a stream, see a mutated palamino swimming in a hole and go buy a license. No work or challenge involved just drop some power bait in and take home a limit. Take these away and no license sales. I am not judging the people who fish this way, that is why the fish were put there and if they are doing it legally have at it. What I do question is the fish and boat commisions descision making on taking care of the resource/ conservation vs pleasing people and making money. I see freestone streams in North Central PA that used to have good populations of native brookies, stocked with so many fish and of such size there is no way for the stream to support them and the brookies are gone. Do I fish for stockies? Yes if that is what is there, I’ll catch them. Would I rather catch a native/ wild fish? Absolutely. If the money was put into stream rehab, I believe the native/ wild populations would thrive, but that means less license sales, which means less money. There are too many angles to discuss, including PA Fish and Boat finances, native vs wild trout, etc. These all play a part in this discussion. I would like to go on but I’ll spare everybody the rant.

    • I guess I didn’t answer the question. Wild trout matter because they are survivors. Born and raised in the stream you find them and that is awesome. They are beautiful and if of you catch one on a stream you hiked into, you may be the only one who ever saw that fish.

    • Regarding license sales — even if license sales dropped with less stocking, the commission would still save money by not raising as many trout. What they have going now is a perpetual and failing cycle.


      • Agreed. You are correct. It’s definitely a broken system and not in the best interest of the resource. Either way I enjoy the articles. Good job.

  7. The upside of stocking in NY is that it ensures public access to rivers that would otherwise be posted everywhere.

    • Hi Rick. I’ve heard that argument for places in PA too. But with sincere respect for your position, I think that it’s the wrong way to look at things.

      First, the resource should be first. And stocking over wild populations of trout does nothing good for the resource. Stocking should end in those places, regardless of what may happen with the private land. Otherwise, the antiquated and misguided wishes of landowners are dictating the health of the river. That’s no good. And a little education for the public in this regard will go a very long way.

      Second, the funds used to stock trout in those areas (it costs a LOT of money to raise trout) should be used for easement — for angler access.

      Third, I have directly seen this argument to not hold water. Land owners often threaten posting if stocking is ended. And when stocking is ended, sure, they may post there land for a while. (Many will not.) But after they see the quality of fishing improve — after they see the quality of the angling and the angler improve, if they were the type to allow access to their river before, they likely will do so again — especially with a little incentive from the state.

      In short, I believe the original argument you presented is worn out and mistaken.



      • We need to educate the landowners! I fish the popular stocked streams of NY and it is a mess. It might as well be a fishing pond or tank in an Asian fish market. I would strongly support expanding wild protected areas (like upper Ausable) instead of following the stocking truck from bridge to bridge. Sad that best news this week was stocking of 3 year-old rainbows. All that feed and caretaking can be put back into the habitat.

  8. I recently moved to upstate SC from PA, and I’m appalled by the amount of stocking over wild trout populations that is done in both SC and NC. No stocking is done in Great Smoky Mountain National Park streams, but the trout are not protected. The limit is 5 per day, and the minimum size is only seven inches.

    • I am appalled by this every day. We actually have a creek now with signs that read: “This river is managed as both a wild trout fishery and a stocked fishery.” Ummmm . . . no.



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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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