Does a Stocked Trout Ever Become Wild?

by | Jan 22, 2020 | 59 comments

“Once a stocked trout is in the river for a while, it becomes just like a wild one.” I hear this idea a lot. Anglers of all experience levels have levied this argument, likely from the time stocked fish were first planted in a river. It’s the premise that stocked trout adapt to their surroundings, that they take on the characteristics and habits of their wild counterparts. But is this true? Is it, really?

No, it’s not. In short, stocked fish are stocked, and there’s no amount of time in the water that changes that.

Now, I’m well aware of the dissenting opinion. It’s a popular one. I’ve heard it a lot and understand the argument. But I just don’t buy it — not because I’m guessing, but because of what I’ve seen and experienced over decades on the water. I’ve caught a lot of trout, both wild and stocked, and there’s a clear difference between the two.

It’s not all that complicated, really. Stocked trout are a different animal, and they tend to stay that way.

It all begins at the genetic level . . .

It’s in the Genes

The best wild trout come from a gene pool that has existed in the watershed for generations. Perhaps it’s a native population of brook trout, present in the Appalachian streams since the last ice age. Or maybe it’s a strain of German brown trout, introduced to many American river systems in the late 1800’s. In both cases, these trout are wild. And their genes are largely unaffected by the progress and intrusions of mankind. The best wild trout populations are specific to their own river systems, and they’ve adapted to the seasonal highs and lows, to whatever the decades of chance have brought to the collective population. The strength to thrive and persist is in those wild genes.

Hatchery trout are the opposite of all that. Most stocked trout are from hatchery strains that have been genetically selected to grow fast and feed aggressively. Fish farming is a business. So hatcheries promote trout strains that live best in a hatchery.

These hatchery fish are the result of science. Hatcheries are prone to the outbreak of disease, because so many fish are in close proximity. They harbor schools in the thousands of trout per ten-foot-wide tank. So fish biologists select the trout most resistant to such disease. And these hatchery trout produce eggs for the next generation. However, the same strains, selected to thrive in a hatchery, are poor performers in the wild. The return on hatchery fish — the ones that make it through a full year — are shockingly low, even where they are protected by special regulations like catch and release. Conditions and rivers vary, but the estimated rate of return can be lower than five percent. It seems that stocked trout are ill equipped for a wild environment.

(For a thorough, science-based reading of the hatchery system in the US, and its history, check out Anders Halverson’s book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish. For even more reading on the subject, work through the contained bibliography.)

READ: Troutbitten | Clarity and Science about Wild vs Stocked Trout

Likewise, hatcheries do best when trout grow quickly. The faster a fish develops, the sooner it can be sent to the river. So biologists select the fastest growers to be the next breeders. What makes a trout grow fast? They feed aggressively. And that quality is nothing like our wary wild trout.

So then, stocked trout are genetically different than their wild counterparts. And they don’t become “wild” just by placing them in a wild environment. In fact, they usually die. But what of the ones that do adapt enough to survive? Don’t they learn to find natural food, don’t they blend in, learn the rules of the stream and become wild? No. Not really.

Buy An Entirely Synthetic Fish HERE

 

A stocked trout may hold over for years, and certainly, many do. But remember, the percentage is very low. Even when a trout does hold over, it never loses the propensity to feed more aggressively than a wild fish. And it also grows faster than its wild cousins.

Genetically, stocked fish are different, and that simply does not change. A German Shorthaired Pointer will never herd animals the same way an Australian Shepherd does, no matter how long you keep him on a farm with sheep and cattle. Likewise, the shepherd will never be the wonderful bird dog that the pointer is. The genes don’t change.

These days, some select private hatcheries focus on collecting eggs from pure strains of trout. In essence, they breed trout from wild stock. They may produce cleaner looking fish with more vibrant colors. So the trout look more wild, and when they are stocked, it may be impossible to distinguish a hatchery creation from the real thing. But while these fish are much closer to wild than their mainstream hatchery counterparts, they still suffer from the same fate as all hatchery trout — human, artificial conditioning . . .

Experience is the Best Teacher

A wild trout is born in the stream. The head and tail sprout from an egg into a form called an alevin — it looks very much like a tadpole. A month or more later, the trout is a full fledged fry — a small, inches-long fish trying not to be eaten by bigger fish. It learns caution. It learns to hide and be wary. And it learns the natural rhythms of nature, of the food cycle and bug life. It may even experience both drought and flood conditions in its first year.

These learned and imprinted behaviors of a trout’s early life can never be fully changed.

I encourage you to walk through a trout hatchery someday. (Many of them give tours.) When my boys were younger, we enjoyed taking a bucket of fish-food pellets and walking along the long concrete tanks, throwing a meal to the fish. I noted the habits of these trout. They ate quickly. They were competitive and very eager to feed. Notably, a human being walking overhead was a signal to feed, not to dart away to the nearest undercut bank.

Even in private hatcheries, trout are conditioned for artificial feeding. And they’re conditioned to the protection that a hatchery provides. Likewise they learn to school up and feed in groups. Essentially, they are coddled and protected until the time they’re released into the wild. And I argue, emphatically, that a stocked fish never completely unlearns these early lessons.

Wild Trout. Photo from Bill Dell

 

The Life and Times of the Troutbitten Guy

I have a somewhat unique perspective on all of this, because of the places I’ve lived and the unusual amount of time I’ve been given for chasing trout. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where acid mine drainage made the possibility of reproducing wild trout a thing of the past. (Some of these streams have since been recovered, and that is fantastic.)

So, I learned the habits of stocked fish, and I know them well. But I’ve spent the majority of my life, since about 1993, surrounded by wild trout and casting to them. I’ve tried to think like a trout and understand what, why and how they eat in these spring waters of central PA.

I’ve also spent decades exploring every county in Pennsylvania, with a four-wheel drive, topographical atlas of the state, and a list of trout waters from the fish commission. Along the way I’ve made a point to fish both wild and stocked rivers. And my experience teaches me, over and over, that stocked fish never become wild.

I fish some areas where the state stocks enough trout fingerlings (about five-inches) to maintain a decent population of trout in the river (even at low returns). And these fingerlings-turned-adults still feed differently than their wild brothers, many years later.

Our state now promotes what they call the Keystone Select Trout program, telling anglers they are provided a chance to catch “trophy” fish, stocked by the state. I’ve fished these locations. The trout are indeed large, and they are often attractive fish that look quite wild. But they are remarkably easier to fool than their wild brothers that reside just a few miles up in the headwaters.

In short, the longer a trout lives in a hatchery, the easier it is to fool.

Even after many years in the stream, a hatchery fish does not change much. My friends and I once caught the same twenty-inch trout six times, over a few seasons. When one of us fished the area, we either caught or spotted this trout. And I noted how differently it responded to my streamers. Initially, I believed the trout was wild, because it was in an unstocked river, surrounded by wild fish. But after multiple times catching this fish, and watching its aggressive reactions to poorly presented flies, I came to believe it was a holdover from a club that stocked and fed fish many miles below.

READ: Troutbitten | We Are Wild Trout — Looking forward, after Pennsylvania’s first wild trout summit

 

Just because you want to believe it . . .

Anglers tend to convince themselves of things they wish were true. You may want badly for that large Whiskey to be a Namer, so you make yourself believe it. And you keep the measuring tape packed away, because you’re sure enough that this one is a two footer. We all know anglers like this, right?

But you can’t wish something into reality.

I meet trout fishers from all different parts of the country — some from places that harbor no wild trout or only small populations in isolated mountain streams. In these areas, the state often stocks hundreds of thousands of trout every year to create a trout fishery. It’s a manufactured scenario. And honestly, sometimes the fishing is fantastic. Anglers who fish these rivers might argue vehemently that their fish are “nearly wild” or “just like wild trout.” But if they visit true wild trout waters on a regular basis, they will see the comparison for themselves. When you fish for both, the differences are undeniable.

READ: Troutbitten | Wild vs Stocked : The Hierarchy of Trout in Pennsylvania

Stocked trout fisheries, especially those that feature large, “trophy” fish, may even train an angler to expect certain unnatural habits of a trout. Stocked fish often take attractor types of retrieves that simply do not produce over wild fish — not on any regular basis. I often mention this to my guests: Be careful what you learn from success on the river. Always consider what kind of trout you fooled and how you fooled it.

Come on, man.

Side Notes

I’ve written a lot about wild trout here on Troutbitten. And a good, long read through those articles reveals my strong stance for protecting and enhancing wild trout populations wherever they exist.

READ: Troutbitten | Tag | Wild vs Stocked

Stocked fish are a poor substitute for the real thing. And that will never change. They are genetically different, and they are conditioned to be different. Experience has taught me that none of that changes, no matter how many seasons a stocked trout may hold on.

I’m also against private clubs stocking over wild trout populations. It should be illegal. This practice is against our PA fish commission’s stated management policy regarding Class A Wild Trout waters. And I believe our fish commission should stop all stocking and feeding of artificial trout in wild trout waters. Keep wild trout wild.

The proliferation of stocked and fed club trout sets a dangerous precedent of expectations, especially for the new angler, who learns that big, fat trout can come pretty easily.

But I’m not against stocking, either. I’m thankful for the trout I grew up catching in western PA — the stocked rainbow and brown trout were in streams that could not support a wild population. Stocked fish certainly have a place. But they are not wild. And they will never take on the true habits of wild fish.

Fish hard, friends.

 

(I welcome your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below. Be nice to each other.)

 

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

 

 

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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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59 Comments

  1. Stocked holdovers must “interbreed” with wild trout in places. Are the offspring wild?

    Reply
    • Yes, of course. “Wild” means born in the stream. So in that case, they are wild. And this is one of the many reasons why stocked trout should not be stocked over wild fish. In weakens the gene pool. However, if you talk to a lot of the state fishery guys and girls, they will tell you that most of the trout that come out of a hatchery are unable to reproduce. FWIW.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Unfortunately NYS does stock over wild trout, most notably in East Branch of the Delaware. Our DEC is currently looking to revise the ways that our trout rivers will be managed, with greater distinction and support for wild trout and stocked trout. They are also looking to modernize their approach to managing the Delaware tailwater fisheries. Hopefully this will bring an end to EB stocking.

        Reply
        • Agree. Sure would be nice if the states would put the resource first. Trouble is that the hatchery programs are so embedded in the financial systems of our state agencies, it’s tough to make big changes.

          Reply
          • RIGHT…embedded in the financial system. Do we expect the many employed by DNR to give up their jobs???????????????

        • I hope so too Rick. I love the East Branch.

          Reply
          • John Marsman,

            To me, it makes no sense to continue on with a misguided and failing hatchery system, with the excuse that employees will lose jobs.

            If I read you correctly, you believe the state should continue the act of stocking over wild trout so that the hatchery employees continue to have work.

            I feel certain that the good work that hatchery employees provide can be put toward a much more productive and sustainable cause.

            Stocking over wild trout is an immense waste of resources, and it’s wrong.

            Stop stocking over wild trout. That’s all.

            Dom

      • Spawning in the wild is highly dependent on how removed the population is from wild broodstock. First generation wild fish raised in a hatchery for a year will spawn effectively in the wild.

        Reply
        • Right on. Good point. But trout from those eggs often don’t do well in a hatchery environment either.

          And the survival rate, once stocked, also depends on many other factors such, as how long the trout was in the hatchery and if the trout can adapt to the particular river it is stocked in.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
          • Dom,

            I would invite you to tour Bath Fish Hatchery in NY. 2.5 hours from Bellefonte, I would love to show you some very successful wild strains of trout we raise and stock and where progressive changes are being made. As Rick said, NY is in the middle of designing and implementing a brand new trout stream management plan which should benefit self sustaining populations of trout. Lumping all fish raised in a hatchery together is not good conduct when there is so much diversity between them.

            Chuck

          • Great! I’m really glad to hear that. Is this a private hatchery or a state hatchery? I’d love to learn more about the way the hatchery is set up and how you have a wild strain of trout dealing with close quarters in hatchery conditions.

            I did not lump all hatchery trout together in the article above. I specifically mentioned the quality trout that some private hatcheries are raising:

            “These days, some select private hatcheries focus on collecting eggs from pure strains of trout. In essence, they breed trout from wild stock. They may produce cleaner looking fish with more vibrant colors . . . etc.”

            But at the end of that paragraph, I also brought up the conditioning to human/artificial environments that hatchery fish go through. How do you deal with that conditioning? Again, I’ve fished for some privately raised trout, that were absolutely gorgeous. And yet, the longer they were in the hatchery, the less like wild trout were their habits.

            Thoughts?

            Thanks, Chuck.

            Dom

          • It is a state facility. Some of the hardest challenges in raising first generation wild fish is that they often maintain much of those wild characteristics. Jumping all the time, where they position themselves in a race way, shyness to feeders, light and shadows. They are picky on feed size, often lacking the same aggressiveness as domestics. Trying to move wild fish through pumps is much harder as they fight the flow the whole time. The difference is night and day between them right up until we stock them. They are more difficult to raise but we work to accommodate their needs and do so with great success.

          • Chuck. Thanks so much for that description. I sent you an email.

            Also, you’re describing a first hand account about the differences between first generation wild fish and standard hatchery fare. I think that’s valuable info anyone who doubts that there’s much difference, genetically.

            Cheers.

            Dom

      • That’s interesting. I did not know that a large portion of hatchery fish are sterile. The survival rate is also surprisingly low. Just curious, where did that 5 percent survival rate come from? Was it in Halverson’s book? I wonder where he got it. Don’t get me wrong; believe the survival rate is low, I am just curious about the evidence.

        Reply
        • Hi Tomas,

          Yes, it’s in Halverson. And as I mentioned, the bibliography he provides in the back is full of studies and papers. I went down that rabbit hole some years back. I’ve even heard returns as low as two percent, but that was after two years. Again, if gives you an idea of how wasteful the hatchery system can be. The majority of stocked trout are built for put and take and nothing more.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  2. It truly is impressive how bad hatchery fish survive in a river. I’ve watched so many seasons worth of trout stocked in C&R water die off under summer drought conditions or heavy winter freezes. Meanwhile, the wild trout are there through it all, surviving incredibly harsh conditions no thanks to the stockers taking up valuable space in the same niche.

    Reply
    • My first experience with this was when a local hatchery lost a hundred thousand trout one fall, during a flood. Those five to six in trout were EVERYWEHRE. I remember complaining to the guys in the local fly shop, that we’d be catching these rainbow trout in our brown trout fishery for many years to come. They told me, no. They assured me that the hatchery rainbows would not make it through the winter. I doubted them. They were right. By spring there were none to be found.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Hey Dom, was this Bellefonte in ‘04? Either way, that was the first time in central PA and man I thought I was doing well until I realized there was a hatchery overflow.

        Reply
        • Ha! Yes, it was. I remember because it was hurricane Ivan remnants that came through. That was 2004.

          Yeah, any rainbow you catch in central PA is stocked from some source. Some guys will tell you that there are a few patches of wild bows on Spring Creek. I don’t really believe they are wild, but I don’t have enough history with them to have a real strong opinion either. I do run into patches of small bows there. Guys may say they’re wild, and they’ll talk about par marks, etc. I just think they are stocked fingerlings from elsewhere, and they swam up together.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  3. Domenick,

    That is a great piece. Thank you. And Anders Halverson’s book is a real mindblower. Everything you’ve written here comports with my own experience, especially on those Pennsylvania waters.

    One question, as we now have wild brown and rainbow trout in our waters where they historically did not exist (wild meaning they are self propagating and have become wily and adapted to their waters), is that because those early seed stocks from California (rainbows) and browns (Germany and the UK) were not yet so genetically hybridized to emphasize voracious eating and fast growing? In other words, why did stocking work then and not now?

    Thanks again for this thoughtful piece.

    John

    Reply
    • Thank you, John,

      And yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. Our now established populations of wild browns in PA (and many other states) were from wild brood stock. Meaning, the seeds were unaltered.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  4. In Wisconsin, years ago… Dave Vetrano tried something different: The DNR didn’t hold onto brood stock, but went out and shocked brown trout egg and milt donors out of streams. The fry were then raised in tanks with mechanical feeders (not a guy walking down the row throwing feed), and given overhead cover. Wisconsin and Minnesota (I think) are still mostly following this pattern, and then they stock fingerlings rather than grown browns – mostly in streams where natural reproduction is low. They might be doing the same with brook trout, as they try to preserver what they think are closest genetically to what existed before the ag disaster / rampant stocking of the late 1800s/early 1900s.

    Rainbows are raised and stocked in the more usual manner, although Minnesota has experimented with fingerling stocking recently.

    Reply
    • That’s good stuff. Closer to natural is almost always better.

      Reply
  5. The same can be said about hatchery vs. wild steelhead. Generally, we can “feel” when we have a wild fish on vs. a hatchery. Are we fooled from time to time? Yes, but rarely. While I don’t have an answer for stocking vs. letting nature take it’s course, in the end, we do our best to educate fishermen that fish throughout the world deserve our upmost respect. To kill and eat fish in put and take lakes but to put back those wild fish so that our kids have a fishery to love as we have.

    Reply
    • Good stuff.

      Reply
  6. Wild populations still occur every year from stocked trout to this day. Not all wild populations are hundreds of years old. I can’t count how many streams I find wild fish in that were not present until recently. I also argue that fingerling stocked trout can be become just as picky if not more picky than wild trout. Many wild trout I catch are much more aggressive than stocked trout they have to eat to survive. I also can’t count the number of wild trout I know have seen caught multiple times across multiple fisheries including big tailwaters. If you ever get the chance visit Mossy creek its completely fingerling stocked with some adult trout stocked privately but those fish will kick your theory out the door. I do think it all varies some from stream to stream/state to state. Not all hatchery fish are the same across the board but there is a reason people have been saying this for years and years.

    Reply
    • Good stuff, Eric. Thanks for the input.

      Reply
    • I have noticed a serious decline in the hatchery brown trout genetics along the east coast. I am seeing a lot more browns with connected spots/lines along the body like tiger trout in multiple states. Most of the browns used to have clean round spots some even sparsely spotted and got red dots after being in the water multiple years but very few like that today in our state fish and game system. It seems these new browns don’t do nearly as good in our put and grow fisheries where the older browns did very well.

      Reply
      • I’ve seen the same in places.

        Reply
      • I’ve noticed that too Eric. Almost like chain pickerel markings.

        Reply
  7. Your thoughts are on point. I often think that when i bring a trout to net that I can tell the difference between a stocked fish and truly wild fish. Maybe its the excitement of the moment but it does motivate me to search out and fish the streams that are not under the influence of regular stocking programs. Its hard to argue with the power you feel when you land a 10 inch fish on Spring Creek, Pa. I feel fortunate that there are still waters within a 5 hour drive here in the Northeast where I can pursue my passion to catch wild fish.

    Reply
    • Agreed.

      Reply
  8. Another great article. This article and Halverson’s book should be required reading for every angler who purchases a trout stamp. The resiliency of wild trout was evident in the year that followed the 2016 drought. Water in my favorite wild trout stream was reduced to a trickle and yet many of the wild fish found a way to survive. Nature finds a way!

    Reply
    • Right on.

      Reply
  9. Food for thought… in streams with a large abundance of a specific food source, stocked trout that have been in the stream for some time are more difficult to catch if you do not have an imitation in your box of that specific food source. The reason being that stocked trout are conditioned to feed on pellets – the same food day in and day out. Freshly stocked trout (super easy to catch) will try to eat just about anything (including sticks and rocks) until the find a food source that they can successfully eat and then associate that with food. My observations have been that during periods when the are rising, unless you have the exact imitation, they can be difficult to catch. I am of the belief that a good presentation will usually catch the trout you are targeting but I have had instances where this is just not the case. Wild trout on the other hand have to be more opportunistic, which would be a trait that is selected for for survival. Generally, I do agree that wild trout are more difficult to catch, but this is my theory on an exception in which I have experienced quite often on my home waters over the last twenty years. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • I know what you mean. Stocked trout are often not nearly as predictable as wild fish. The wild ones do what they’re supposed to. And they often turn on, as a group, to a specific prevalent insect, while recently stocked trout may completely ignore the same insect. That’s my experience.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  10. Most of my fishing is done on a put and take creek in Maryland and a DH Keystone Select stream in south east PA simply because they are close to where I live. I’m also fortunate enough to fish wild trout streams in northern Baltimore County (though not as often because they are a little farther away). I agree with you that wild and stocked fish are certainly different. They have to be. I love my local streams and can sympathize with the folks who say the fish are “nearly wild” and “just like wild” but at the end of the day they just aren’t.

    Maybe angler ego gets mixed up in this a little bit. There are certainly anglers who feel that they are superior or inferior based on the provenance of the fish they chase.

    The fish always surprise me, both wild and stocked. They constantly humble me also. They’re mysterious. It’s one of the reasons I love fishing. No matter what stream we’re on or what fish we’re after, all we can do is try to fish well and enjoy the day.

    Reply
    • Love it.

      Reply
  11. Thanks for this thoughtful article. I believe that you are right on all the major points of the stocked vs wild issue. Here are my thoughts.

    Many state fish commissions will need to continue stocking trout in waters that don’t support natural trout populations. This is a legitimate use of their budget. But they also need to explore other initiatives: acquisition of waters or access for the public, remedial work on some streams, the establishment of sanctuaries in some headwaters or sections of streams, mandatory catch and release regulations on wild trout waters, limiting seasons on wild trout waters, limiting fishing pressure on wild trout waters, etc.

    As you point out, limiting expectations will be an important factor going forward in preserving and improving our wild fisheries.

    Reply
    • Well said.

      Reply
  12. I have fished area’s in the state of Maine all wild trout and there is nothing like it and they are not easy to catch.
    They never stop fighting.
    I hope and pray that they never stock Hatchey fish in the remote ponds that are there.
    I’ve seen ponds in the middle of Maine that had wild fish and they stocked Hatchey and in several years the wild fish caught Hatchey disease called cocoa pods a parasite that attaches to the gills and a fish dies because it can’t breathe.
    To my knowledge that parasite never dies until all host are dead.

    Reply
    • Interesting.

      Reply
  13. How many generations of trout does it take to become wild? All Salmo trutta (and a few Loch levans) came from Europe. Surely, the reproducing populations of North American Brown Trout can by now, be considered wild. Maybe non-native, but surely wild. Likewise the reproducing populations of Rainbows transplanted from the Western states to the East generations ago can now wear the “wild” badge. So, at what point does this happen?

    Reply
    • Same reply as Brenden, here. As I brought up in the article, what me mean by wild is born in the stream.

      Also, many readers have lumped their bias about groups of trout over time to this article. And that’s a great discussion as well. But it’s not in this article. This is about what happens when one hatchery trout is stocked in a river. Does that trout ever become wild in nature? I argue that it does not — not completely.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • The key question is, why do the vast majority of stocked trout fail to holdover? The forces of natural selection obviously do them in, but why? Which traits are they missing? Which traits make them susceptible to an early demise? And for that tiny % of stocked fish that make it, maybe, just maybe they posses the traits that wild fish have?

        Reply
        • Great point.

          Reply
      • Well put, Domenick. I get it now and agree 100%. My main river is loaded with wild Browns and is stocked with “fingerling” (5”) Rainbows. Thanks for the clarification. Good job.

        Reply
  14. I’ve always referred to holdover trout as “acclimated” – which is not to say they’ve lost their habits developed in the runways or changed their DNA, but that they’ve gained the ability to identify natural food sources. I’m sure any trout can learn this. So, for example, the longer the trout lives in a stream, the more willing it is to accept a PT nymph as a food source. So for me, I’d prefer catching a holdover trout to a freshly stocked trout. And of course, I’d prefer a wild trout to a holdover trout. It only makes sense that a trout that’s been in the stream a year or more is more in tune with nature than a trout “fresh off the boat”, even if it’s DNA isn’t a wild strain.

    Reply
  15. Dom…it appears there is bigger conversation brewing re:” mayfly populations decimated” throughout. ALL trout will be subjected if the claim is true!

    Reply
    • Hi Elwood.

      What I read is the study is about the Hex hatch. Am I missing more?

      Dom

      Reply
  16. Hello Dom! Just had to chime in on this discussion! Great read and interesting points ~ this really gets my blood pumping! My favorite stream here, close to my home, has been getting fingerling brown plants annually for 10+ years. Along with adult rainbows that are stocked yearly as well. The browns are in great shape for fingerlings. There also are some wild browns in the stream. This past April, the PFBC, on their in season stocking run, to this particular creek, felt the need to stock adult browns. The reason, they claim, was the hatchery “RAN OUT” of rainbows o.O. I find this counterproductive trying to establish a better brown trout fishery only to risk interbreeding of these hatchery mutts. I’ve also seen the stress on the resident browns since these hatchery fish were stocked. I’m still catching them (hatchery adult plants) almost every trip out. It’s about 50/50 hatchery or fingerling wild. I hope this doesn’t have any long term effects on this stream. I just find it really frustrating they dumped whatever fish were available to keep the truck chasers happy. However, possibly jeopardizing what was originally established. Thanks again for your insightful information! I wholeheartedly support what you say!

    Reply
    • I’m with you. We have some streams around here that the state “manages” as both Class A Wild Trout and Stocked. That’s their language, not mine. I almost posted a picture in the article above, showing the one of the dumbest signs from a state institution that I’ve ever read. But I probably already said enough.

      Reply
  17. My experiences are similar to yours and I wholeheartedly agree, hatchery trout never truly act like wild fish no matter how long they live outside the confines of a hatchery. Most waters I fish contain only wild fish, but I do occasionally fish a few waters with a mix of wild and hatchery fish (all fin clipped). The hatchery fish hold in different locations than the wild fish, don’t respond to hatches or flies the same way, and definitely don’t fight as well either. I can tell in seconds after hooking a trout whether it’s wild or a hatchery fish, and that includes fish stocked as fingerlings. I guess hatcheries have their place, but I sure am glad I live where wild and native trout still have strong populations.

    Reply
    • Right on

      Reply
  18. I am a 67-year-old woman, an avid angler since age 6, a fly fisher since age 15, and now retired from a decades-long part-time career in the fly fishing industry as a guide and instructor. Amen, Dominick, to your thoughts on hatchery vs. wild trout. I’ve been preaching something similar to anyone who would listen for many years. This is a long overdue discussion, and thanks for promoting it. Hatchery trout are like a drug. The addicts love it and it feels good, but it’s not healthy for anyone involved. When the PAF&BC stopped stocking Slate Run, in north central PA, one man I knew ranted that the Fish Commission was “destroying” that stream. By not stocking it? Really? “Who wants to catch five-inch Brook Trout?” he sneered. I do, if they’re wild. And, of course, they’re not all five-inches long. To have big wild trout, you must first have little ones.

    Reply
  19. I am 81 years old. when I was a young boy they stocked fingerlings which came via the rail road to the post office. these were picked up by local men and boys in milk cans. they were mostly brook trout. these men and boys distributed these trout in all the small streams in the area. we had wonderful fishing for years afterward. why can’t they still do this?

    Reply
    • Hi Jerry,

      Respectfully, I’m glad they do not still do this if the creek sustains a wild trout population.

      Dom

      Reply

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