The Mismanagement of “Class A” Wild Trout

by | Apr 12, 2020 | 49 comments

I’m dumbfounded by the logic. Every time I stare at one of these signs from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, I struggle to make sense of it. I well know the reasons given for the signs and the policy itself, but it’s the wrong choice. The signs read:

This Stream is Managed as Both Class A Wild Trout Stream and Stocked Trout Water

That makes no sense, because you can’t do both. It’s a contradiction in terms. Either manage the water as a Class A stream and take care of it, affording the trout the protection they deserve, or treat it as a stocked trout stream.

The key here is the term Class A. Under the fish commission’s own definition, Class A wild trout waters in PA have excellent, self-sustaining populations that “represent the best of this Commonwealth’s naturally reproducing trout fisheries.” That is, until the commission decides to continue stocking over these Class A groups, year after year.

Here’s the full quote:

“. . . It is the Commission’s policy to manage self-sustaining Class A wild trout populations as a renewable natural resource to conserve that resource and the angling it provides. Class A wild trout populations represent the best of this Commonwealth’s naturally reproducing trout fisheries. With rare exceptions, the Commission manages these stream sections solely for the perpetuation of the wild trout fishery with no stocking.”  — PFBC  2019

Ahh, those wiggle words — “with rare exception.”

The Problems

Stocking over wild trout harms the wild population. That’s a documented fact.

In the worst cases, hatchery fish stocked through the US have spread disease and decimated wild populations. But thankfully, that doesn’t happen everywhere. More commonly, hatchery fish are disruptive because they follow a different set of rules than their wild cousins. It’s their upbringing — their daily life in a concrete runway. It’s also in a hatchery trout’s genes to feed aggressively and hold in groups. In short, hatchery trout don’t play nice with the wild ones. And a dominant wild fish can work itself to exhaustion trying to kick out many small hatchery fish and defend its territory — because stocked trout don’t follow the rules of a wild trout stream.

READ: Troutbitten | Does a Stocked Trout Ever Become Wild?

If that sounds like a lot of whining for one poor trout, I agree. But, multiply that effect across a population, and the impact can be stunning.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen all of this myself. And scientifically, the studies are there if you’d like to read them. Anders Halverson's book, An Entirely Synthetic Fish thoroughly documents the hatchery system in the United States. And the contained bibliography runs deep.

So, hatchery trout harm wild populations. And that’s one good argument against trying to blend the two incongruent managements of Class A wild trout and stocked trout streams. But here’s another point, from an angler’s perspective:

Class A streams are special. That’s why we value them so highly. We choose to fish for wild trout at every turn, because these places — these fish — are the pinnacle of our game. These Class A wild trout streams are rare enough to be granted careful and cautious management wherever they are found.

READ: Troutbitten | Why Wild Trout Matter

Many anglers choose the chase of wild trout, specifically. No one travels halfway across the country to fish for a stocked trout. (Not once they know the difference.) So, where there are Class A populations, these rivers should not be supplemented with hatchery fish. It’s a foolish waste of resources. And it cheapens the river system.

Wild Trout. Photo by Bill Dell

Why Are These “Class A” Rivers Still Stocked?

So why then? Why these signs? Why the inconsistent policy?

The answer, as you may already know, lies with tradition — in the expectations of local anglers, in the history of an area and in the ingrained, mistaken premise that the state can do this job better than nature.

Throughout the last century, trout hatchery systems across this country began establishing a culture of trout fishing that followed a stocking schedule. Where industry had destroyed viable trout populations, hatchery trout were added as an apology — as an appeasement. But as the hatchery programs grew in size, they became big business. And trout were added to more streams — not just the barren ones. Those hatchery programs grew with revenue from added license sales. While easy trout were stocked at the nearest bridge, a stocked trout culture was embedded in these communities. The fish commissions and their huge hatchery programs became inseparable, until sustaining the hatcheries became a primary purpose of many fish commissions.

I grew up waiting for the first day of trout season. We parked at the bridge on Plum Creek, a few miles down from the coal-fired power plant, and we caught stocked trout that lived there for a couple weeks. After which, the rock bass went back to being the bosses of the stream, no doubt glad to be rid of this bother of fake trout and strange fishermen.

There’s a history to all of that. There’s a culture that I understand — traditions that many still care about. But that way is dying. We’re moving on. And the hatchery mentality of stocked-trout-first is no longer the majority position across this state. (In license sales? Perhaps. But in angler hours? I believe not.)

It’s time for the fish commission to truly protect, preserve and enhance the wild trout streams of PA, whether that is the easy thing to do, or whether it’s hard. Stop stocking over all Class A wild trout stream sections in Pennsylvania.

A couple of years ago, these signs appeared on a number of wild trout waters across our state, almost as a guilty admission that something is wrong.

There are two common reasons given for why these Class A waters continue to be stocked. Here they are . . .

The Hatchery Fish Protect Wild Fish Argument

“By stocking a wild trout stream, the state provides stocked trout for meat anglers to keep, therefore protecting the wild trout from being taken.”

This is absurd. And things just don’t work that way.

Most meat anglers keep what they catch, regardless of whether the trout is stocked or wild. Granted, the stocked trout can be easier to catch, and in the first few days of the open season, I agree that the majority of trout on a stringer from these streams are stocked. But weeks later, as the stocked population dies off or is harvested, that ratio of wild to stocked trout on a stringer flips.

Again, I’ve seen this first hand. In rivers where trout are stocked over a wild population and harvest is permitted, the wild population is noticeably cropped.

The Posted Land Argument

“If the state stops stocking that stream, many of the landowners will post their land and deny access.”

This is perhaps the best and most valid argument, with troubling and pertinent consequences, because this does happen. Plenty of land holders provide public access to a piece of river running through their property, specifically because the state continues to stock it. That’s the deal. And if the state stops stocking, the landowner may well follow through with their threat to post the land.

So be it. Keeping the access open is not worth damaging the resource — the Class A population in the river.

However, if the state takes the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars invested over many years of stocking a section of river and uses those funds to buy easement, they can provide public access to these Class A waters to all anglers. That’s not a pipe dream. And it already happens. I’ve also seen local organizations work with landowners, getting big results that start by simply being friendly.

Is any of this easy? Of course not. But every solution has its problems. So let’s put the wild trout population first, and then work from there.

Photo by Josh Darling

Clarity and Solutions

I know this is a controversial topic. I’m certain the PFBC sees this as a complex issue. I’ve written my own strong opinions here, and you probably have your own. And if we disagree, I think that’s alright.

Let me also clarify my position on trout stocking, in general. I think trout stocking is fine in streams where wild trout cannot thrive. Like many across this state, I grew up in a region without water that was clean enough or cold enough to support wild trout. I’m grateful for the stocking program in Plum Creek and some of the other local streams of my childhood. But . . .

. . . Stop stocking over good wild trout populations. That’s it.

I advocate for policies that help sustain and improve our excellent wild trout waters.

As the human population rises, our trout population declines, and that statistic will never flip the other way. I think we’re well past the tipping point where trout fishing should now be seen as recreation more than a means for sustenance . Where there are Class A populations of wild trout, protect them with catch and release, with slot limits or with shorter harvest seasons. I’m not in favor of restricting tackle, but I am in favor of restricting the harvest.

This is not just a Pennsylvania problem. It happens in other states as well. And I suggest writing to your state’s fish commission. Tell them to stop all stocking over good wild trout populations.

It’s the right thing to do. And sometimes, that’s where government policy should start.

Fish hard, friends.


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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. Yes Dom, i 100pct agree with you on this fact. One of my fav streams is managed under those ridicilous rules, the wild browns jus hide deeper into undercuts and log jams etc and become nocturnal. Prob come out eat a crayfish then hide deep into cover, until the stockies are caught n kept or disperse. Yeah i seen the bad effects this practice has on the wild trout, just when they kinda get bac km to normal. BANG. Another round of pelletheads to please the truck chasers who want a quick limit. Only to disrupt what is already a good class a fishery UGHH!!!

  2. The trout stocking culture became so prevalent at one time that people actually believed it was the only way to maintain recreational trout fishing. Montana stocked trout in the Madison until 1974 and when they stopped stocking it people got mad! Now it seems like a ridiculous notion to stock a river of that caliber. Hopefully we can see a similar situation in PA soon.

    • Yes. Why don’t PA authorities read Dick Vincent’s study on impact of stocking on wild trout? (Montana Fisheries Biologist). After stocking in wild streams was halted, populations doubled, tripled, even more in places like the upper Gallatin. I’m shocked PA is so far behind.

  3. They used the same theory with stocked Pacific salmon and steelhead . They counted as part of the fish count . We see how that’s working out . It has contributed to the crash of fish populations accross the north west . Stocked fish take habitat from wild fish and compete for food .

  4. Totally agree with you. Fisherman education in this area is needed. Thanks for doing your part and using this site as a platform.

  5. There’s a brook trout stream here in Northwest Connecticut. It comes out of a warmwater lake; springs and seeps contribute colder water as it makes it’s way through a steep, heavily wooded ravine for about three miles and change.

    Then it flattens out some and runs along a road. The state used to put browns in this stretch, but they stopped about 15 years ago and designated it Class I wild trout (catch and release, single hook, etc.)

    The browns held on and in the lower part there is now a population of wild-ish browns that are not easy to catch.

    Upstream there’s a stretch of perhaps 200 yards where there are browns and brooks.

    After that it is pretty much all brookies.

    Luckily for me, it’s a five-minute drive from my place. Plus my family owns a summer camp on the mountain in question. Handy in these weird times.

    So there’s hope. A state agency made the correct call.

    But we have plenty of stocked/wild streams too.

  6. Another argument I hear all the time is that the stocked trout simply die or are harvested, and so they don’t affect wild trout for more than a month or two in the spring. The failed logic in that argument is that; if the stream supports wild fish, why on earth couldn’t a stocked trout make it? I’ve found so many stocked trout in wild trout water far into the fall that it makes me sick. Call me an “elitist” or “snob” or whatever you want, but nothing burns me more than catching a stocked rainbow in a wild trout stream. The fish and boat commission has become little more than a hatchery operation. It’s sickening. The very organization that was established to “protect” the resources, is (in my opinion) one of the number one factors in destroying the resource.

    I strongly urge every single wild trout enthusiast in Pennsylvania to buy the voluntary wild trout permit. The money is earmarked for wild trout only, and I hope it eventually sends a message to the fish and boat commission that more people care about wild trout than they thought.

  7. Your position makes absolute sense. You’ve already raised my awarness some time ago.
    🙂 However, I don’t understand the “posted land” argument. What’s the incentive for land owners to keep their land open to stocked waters NOW? Is the state paying them to do so? If not, it seems that a landowner would want fewer, not more, yahoos trampling their their land and leaving trash – which would point towards them being anti-stocking.

    Stated differently, if I had a stream running on the edge of my property I would rather it not be stocked and see occasional fly fishersmen on spaced out over some months than have it stocked and see bait fishermen descend on it like locust for a month a year.

    What have I got wrong?

    • Hi Tomas,

      Oh I don’t think you have anything wrong. I would feel the same as you.

      However, some landowners along these streams really like having the state stock their water. (Yes, even though there’s already an excellent population of wild fish in there.) But that’s a perfect example of how ingrained the stocked trout culture can be.


    • Tomas,
      I totally agree with you. If I were a landowner along a stream, the last thing I would want is a bunch of fisherman eroding the stream banks by climbing around and leaving trash all around my section of stream, or any section for that matter.

      I think many of todays fisherman just want it easy, even some land owners. They want to be able to walk to the edge of the stream and put a few trout on the stringer in an hour or so and go home. The stocking program fills that need for them. You sure don’t see as many people fishing stocked waters into the fall long after that year’s stocking schedule is complete. Personally, I enjoy fishing, even the stocked waters, into the fall when I can have the water to myself.

      If I happen to run into a land owner, I take the time to talk with them and communicate my passion and concern for keeping our trout waters clean and healthy. So far, I’ve had positive interactions. Maybe if that happens more, land owners will be more accepting of keeping the water running through their property for fishing, even if state programs become more aware of how stocking negatively impacts wild trout water.

  8. I fully agree with most of your article. Your statement, “I’m not in favor of restricting tackle, but I am in favor of restricting the harvest”, troubles me. I don’t think live bait should be allowed or no restrictions on artificial lures (treble hooks for example). Live baits and barbs, especially more than one destroy wild trout! Don’t you agree? As well, you either restrict harvest or you don’t. No partials, in my opinion. Great article.

    • Hi Bob,

      I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. And I do agree that bait fishing kills more trout. Let me explain . . .

      I’ve held this position for a long time: By restricting tackle, we exclude a large group of anglers. Restricting tackle draws even more lines among fishermen in a time when those who love the outdoors need to join together to protect our lands and wildlife.

      I absolutely HATE the elitist tag that comes with fly fishing. But all too often, it’s well deserved. And it’s things like Fly Fishing Only waters that add to that stigma. Have you ever put yourself in the position of the bait angler? Imagine being told that you can’t fish miles and miles of water because the way you fish just isn’t good enough.

      I grew up fishing minnows. In my late teens, I began releasing much of my catch. And I can tell you that I did less harm to trout than many fly anglers do. I used small, double hook with strung minnows on a tight line, and I set the hook as soon as i felt the hit — not waiting for a trout to swallow it. My point is, there are a lot of ways to fish bait, and not all of them harm trout much more than a fly.

      In a perfect world, I’d say sure, restrict the tackle. But we do not need more divisions here. ALL anglers who want to be for wild trout, let’s do it.


      • “I absolutely HATE the elitist tag that comes with fly fishing. But all too often, it’s well deserved. And it’s things like Fly Fishing Only waters that add to that stigma.”


        I’m a devoted fly fisherman, but the last thing we need in our state is more division of people. Labels like “fly fishing only” only helps to divide others.

      • Very well said Dom. Too many people want to expand tackle restrictions and further divide trout anglers.

        I am a catch & release artificial lures only angler. I use spinners and plugs. Most plugs come with two sets of treble hooks. I always remove the front treble hook. I also snip off the third point on my hooks, so I use double hooks rather than trebles. I’ve been on several guided trips out west and the guides have said that my lures don’t do any more damage than flies.

        The goal should be for all types of anglers to have access to and enjoy our abundant wild trout streams. Once people begin to enjoy fishing for wild trout, they will take more of an active interest in protecting the resource. Exclusion breeds indifference which is the last thing our streams need.

    • Hi Bob,

      Back in June 2014 there was a thread on entitled, “Do bait and spinners kill more fish?”

      Mike Kaufmann, then Area 6 (southeast PA) Fisheries Manager with the PFBC, wrote:

      “Treble vs single hooks have been tested scientifically and the results published in the scientific literature. Angler lore and emotions aside, here are the results.

      Single hooks on spinners cause significantly greater delayed mortality due to the deep hooking in vital areas of the mouth and esophagus. The vital areas, such as the tongue, bleed excessively, resulting in delayed mortality.”

      He went on to write:

      “As for the scientific studies evaluating barbed vs barbless hooks and delayed trout mortality, the barbless hooks cause one percent less delayed mortality. This insignificant difference is so small that anglers would not be able to detect it in fish populations.”

  9. Yes, yes, yes!

  10. Totally agree with your point Dom. Perhaps the best bit of local research I’ve seen to support your argument is the study done in Penn’s Creek zones 4 and 5. Measured over a long period of time, wild fish population in non-stocked zone 4 was healthier, bigger and more plentiful than the over-stocked zone 5. As you know, that study was the basis for no longer stocking zone 5, which will benefit all anglers in future years. Granted, not all PA streams are as blessed as Penn’s, but leaving all class A streams wild seems a no-brainer. Thanks again for flagging this issue!

  11. Agree totally. Another PFBC policy I don’t get is managing wild trout streams in sections. I feel they should be managed as a whole unit. Why should a section of a stream be classified Class A, and a section above, and below, not be. It’s all interconnected. Even better would be managing by watersheds.

  12. Dom,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your assertions about the absurdity and negative effects of stocking over wild trout. Keep up the good work on this topic.
    In my area we have seen the benefits of discontinuing stocking on our local limestoner, Valley Creek. When the stream was found to be contaminated with PCB’s from the local rail yard adjacent to the stream stocking was halted. Over 35 years later the stream is loaded with wild browns. Due to significant fishing pressure they are very hard to catch but having fished it for most of those 35 years I can attest that the numbers of wild fish are as high as ever.

  13. Great article. Very logical view of the situation with plenty of science to back it up. Unfortunately, I believe politics and ultimately money drives the policy. I suspect a class A stream is valued by a smaller group than a stocked stream and as such has less “value” to the public. Less value means less justification for public funds and smaller department budgets. Don’t get me wrong, I share your concerns but the choice might be class A designation with stocking or no management and public access at all. Stocking may be a necessary evil to insure a section of river remains accessible to the public.

    This article did get me to donate to your site. I appreciate the message!

  14. It makes me wonder how great the Esopus Creek and East Branch Delaware would be if they didn’t stock over the wild trout.

    • Amen

  15. Great article, Dom. In western PA, where I live, the Class A designation has all but lost its true value. There isn’t the same abundance of streams under this classification as compared to other parts of the state, but that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of streams with healthy populations of reproducing trout. Unfortunately, many of these streams are heavily stocked, making it even more of a challenge for our naturally occurring trout populations to hang on. Though I understand the stocking program has brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people—myself included—I often wonder if the fisherman in western PA are truly aware of what we COULD have on this side of the state. Though the water quality in many of our streams has suffered from human interference, I’ve witnessed first hand how hardy our wild trout can be. I feel strongly that a difference could be made if we reevaluate the way trout in our state are managed. I really appreciate this article as it helps heighten that awareness.

  16. While I do agree with you about pure class A streams. In Wisconsin, where I live now, we do stock class A (1) streams to reintroduce brook trout or boost the genetics of the browns using “feral” trout. These are the offspring of wild trout, where the eggs and milk have been harvested and hatched and raised at state hatcheries and local cooperatives. When shocking surveys dictate a stream with wild trout is either a class B, or C (2, 3 in WI) stream or the above mentioned, the biologist for that county makes the call. Not sure if PA has a feral trout program, but it’s awesome and it should.

  17. This practice has stuck in my craw for years. The logic on all accounts stinks. Being blackmailed by a landowner so he can have his own back yard trout stream is a poor excuse, and a lazy one at that. Let him close his property and return his stretch to its natural state, the way it belongs. In the end, the landowner won’t be happy, his neighbors won’t be happy, but the fish will be. Unfortunately, at the state level, the bureaucracy is not about the fish, it is about protecting the organization, the jobs and their publically perceived image as protectors. The operating mantra seems to be, “we’ve always done it this way”, shutting down any opportunity to rethink, retool and adopt new methods to help do their job better. It is way past the time when the focus should be on the fish and what is in their best interest. They need to change. They won’t. The state should dump their finless stockies into “Plum Creek”, those marginal ones near population centers if they just want money. They won’t. They should at the very least just stock brook trout, our native species that they only give lip service to, into those “Class A” streams. They won’t.

  18. We spoke about this when you guided me back in October. The Farmington River would be absolutely epic if they didn’t stock pellet heads over top of the wild browns non-stop. You have the State, MDC, and private orgs stocking over what could be one of the best tailwater fisheries in the state. Why? Big government really…state run hatcheries, state budgets, state employees doing the work.

  19. Where do I start! As the leader of the Little Juniata River Association, I have long advocated for wild trout. Until 2010, the PFBC stocked 30,000 to 50,000 hatchery fingerlings a year in our river. Finally (at the urging of LJRA ) PFBC did a study on the impact of these releases. Their findings were that more than 95 % of the brown trout in the river are “wild born”. To their credit, they stopped stocking immediately. Since then the Little j has gotten steadily better and is now a premier wild trout river. It attracts anglers from all over the region. I should mention that half the river miles (14 out of 30 miles) are managed with C&R All Tackle Special Regulations, The important policy is no kill C&R, not the method of angling. LJRA is now advocating for C&R All Tackle regulations for all the river miles including the newly listed 5.2 miles of Class A Wild Trout water upstream from Bellwood. Our reasoning is that we know from our telemetry studies conducted jointly with Juniata College that our wild browns travel throughout the river system, routinely. It makes no sense that 1/2 the river is C&R and the other half (including 5.2 miles listed as Class A) is Catch and Kill, 5 trout a day over 7 inches! BTW the 8 miles of water from Tyrone to Bellwood has just as many wild browns as the 13.6 miles downstream and the 5.2 miles upstream. We will not rest until all our Little j wild trout have C&R special regulations protection.

  20. The New York State DEC has is finally modernizing its trout management program. This new proposal will hopefully be implemented in the 2021 season. Here is the key take-away regarding wild trout:

    The plan sets a management policy in which “trout stream reaches will be managed based on a combination of their ecological and recreational potential, with a clear distinction between wild trout and stocked trout management.” It also delineates between the management of stocked and wild trout, with a guiding rule that “Wild trout can be present in a stocked reach, but hatchery trout will not be stocked in a reach managed for wild fish.”

    One of the other proposals is to reduce creel limits in the three new categories of wild trout waters. In the “Wild Premier” designation there will be a creel limit of only one trout of any size.

    Another part of the proposal involves extending the season to a lure/fly catch-and-release period from the currently closed season (Oct. 16 – March 31). There are many concerns regarding the protection of both spawning trout and their redds that would no longer be in place under this proposal.

  21. Have you ever seen a true fly fisher trash a stream? Or not care about the well being of the fish and the environment where they live? Maybe there are some, but they are few and far between compared to those who use other gear. There is something about migrating to fly fishing that helps one appreciate the process of catching a fish, rather than just the end result.

    It’s a shame that it is such an elitist sport with price tags that prohibit many from trying it. I find it mind boggling the prices that we pay for fly fishing gear when you compare it to gear for other types of fishing. Those of you who don’t realize this are either rich, mostly fly fish, or have been in the fly fishing game so long you don’t realize what top of the line gear costs in other fishing disciplines.

    Bottom line: I think we need more fly fishers. Kudos to groups and individuals that do their best to introduce people to the sport. Time for there to be more budget friendly options to get people into the sport. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Just my 2c.

  22. Good read, Dom. Then again, I have never come here disappointed. I totally agree with you, STOP doing it. I am glad you are willing to take a stand on it. I could see the fear in being earmarked as “that guy” or being wary of the PAFBC being out to get you for comments. However, they need to hear it. People like you, TU, and any organization that promotes clean water, fishing, and angling, should have a similar approach. Even in non-class A streams I am not a huge fan. For example, I fished a stream the other day, and even weeks ago, that has a WONDERFUL population of healthy wild trout. Honestly, I have caught some real slabs out of it, although it isn’t class A. Mind you, there is still a healthy population of YoY fish too. However, my point is, I went on the first weekend after trout stocking, totally ignorant they stocked this stream, and I am watching barely ANY stocked fish being caught. My immediate though it, I PRAY I catch these big wild browns first so they hunker down the rest of the day. The last thing I need is some person, who can’t identify wild from stocked, or doesn’t care either way, to be harvesting this incredible specimen. I think they should only stock non wild trout streams. Start EARLIER, in the year with stocking, open EARLIER in the year, so the water is still cold for the stocked fish, and let them naturally die out by May/June. I see NO reason to stock class A, or wild trout streams. Cheers Dom!

  23. I have lived in Montana where all wild and native fish live free from any rules set by anyone any more. In mid 70’s Montana made best ever decision on stopping stocking farmed trout anywhere in MT streams. Their motto was : live the nature alone and let her take care of itself.
    Results ! Stream-born trout and no fuss from anyone !
    We have lost of C&R sections of rivers and plenty sections with special rules.
    Makes me sick see anglers canoeing from the east coast fishing and I personally saw them harvesting our fish on the stringer from no kill area of Maddison river , I saw their car with NY plates bastards never learned back home.
    It was two of them with 8 nice wild rainbows.
    Everyone is welcome to come to Montana , enjoy the wild strong trout but same time give respect to fish and people who worked so hard to creat this Mecca and wild fish freedom. BTW I greatly enjoy your blog , keep up great work , very educational and correct on every level. Regards, les Korcala , Florence Montana

  24. Thanks for sharing this very insightful piece. I’m a beginner fly fisherman and really enjoy the website!

    I’ve seen the sign posts for years and found them confusing. Until this past weekend, I had never fly fished for trout. I reside in Bethlehem, PA and fished a portion of the Monacacy that was obviously stocked and hooked five fish and landed four. I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment having never caught trout on a fly rod. Having read this piece, I feel as though my “personal best” has been tarnished because they were obviously “stocked” fish (2 brookies and 2 rainbows). That said, it was still an enjoyable day on the water trying something new. I will certainly keep exploring this new form of fishing, but is fishing stocked waters something to be avoided?

    • Jeff, you are being way too hard on yourself. Fishing stocked waters is a great place for a beginner to learn and have some fun while doing it. Experience in put-and-take waters can help you establish the knowledge and skills necessary to move to the next level.
      Even a stocked trout can be a good teacher – if you pay attention in “class”.

      • Thanks, Rick! I am interested in learning and will endeavor to use every moment on the water, stocked or otherwise, as a teaching moment!!

        Tight lines!

    • Hi Jeff. Nope! Nothing wrong with fishing for stocked trout at all. They aren’t wild. That’s all. I think there’s no argument that the stocked trout are inferior to wild trout in almost every way. But fishing for them is fun. And if that’s what you have around, go get em. But fish for wilds whenever you can, and advocate for policies that are committed to maintaining and enhancing wild populations.

      Those are my thoughts.


      • Thanks for your message, Domenick. I’m becoming more active with TU and absolutely will try my hand at wild trout when the opportunities present themselves. I’m a novice when it comes to fly fishing for trout in my local waters but have had some experience nymphing for steelhead on the Salmon River in Altmar, NY. I love my time on that river. Its always a great trip.

        Is there a difference between stocking rivers versus the hatchery model that is in place on the Salmon River? Many of the steelhead seem to “come home” to spawn but do so before reaching the hatchery. Is this more of a hybrid scenario?

        If you can tolerate a novice that is “in training” I’d enjoy the chance to book a day of fishing with you in the future.



  25. Well that’s a good and thought provoking article. I agree. With one “rare exception”, lol. I think you’re talking about the way things are. But there is the way things could be. Theoretically, it’s possible to stock a wild trout stream, and it could be beneficial under the right conditions, as I’m sure you could probably imagine. One that springs to mind is where the stream is a great wild trout environment *except* that there is a shortage of good spawning habitat for some reason (possibly dealing with siltation or whatever). This sort of stream bottom could still sustain good bug growth. This would involve using wild trout eggs and wild trout DNA and doing a sort of “in vitro” reproduction method if you will. Outside the scope of your article, I undestand, since this is not what is happening.

  26. I don’t think trout should be stocked in any water that has a wild population of any gamefish. Perfectly good smallmouth river populations are also damaged by the addition of stocked trout. People need to adjust their expectations to match the natural realities.

  27. This is such an important topic. Dom, thanks for speaking up.

    Little J is the proof.

    I like the idea of introducing feral stocked brooks to boost their numbers.

    Need to figure out how to get the state to get on board.

    Seems like one way to increase our collective voices is to do what was mentioned in a previous comment:

    “I strongly urge every single wild trout enthusiast in Pennsylvania to buy the voluntary wild trout permit. The money is earmarked for wild trout only, and I hope it eventually sends a message to the fish and boat commission that more people care about wild trout than they thought.”

    • “I like the idea of introducing feral stocked brooks to boost their numbers.”


      Just let the brook trout do their thing. If anything, improve the habitat, and nature will take care of itself.

      • A lot of my fishing is in the Shenandoah National Park where native brookies are the primary trout. Luckily all of the trout streams in SNP are fly fishing only C&R. The brook trout population seems pretty healthy. Personally I’d like to see more trout water to be regulated to FFOCR and have an off season during the spawn. We also need better enforcement of these streams.

        Delayed harvest on fewer streams (that are not entirely sustainable) to appease the meat eaters my be an answer.

        In over 35 years of fly fishing, I have never had my license checked. I have seen numerous poachers and have reported them but nothing seems to happen.

  28. I agree with you on all points

  29. GO WEST YOUNG MAN, GO WEST!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Not sure what that means. But this is actually an issue from the west to the east. Stocking over good populations of wild trout happens all over the country.


      • I agree completely with your thesis that hatchery trout should not be stocked on top of a wild trout population. We have known this for a long time and it is well documented by the science. State agencies tasked with management of our resources also know this but are captured by a variety of economic interests. That needs to change if we are to protect our wild trout streams. Letter writing campaigns can be very effective.

        With a change in policies that prioritize the resource we may be able to reclaim or enhance the wild trout populations in some rivers but as you point out, bleakly but accurately in my opinion, there will be an ongoing attrition of wild trout streams as population and industry increases. This makes preserving those few that remain all the more important.

        I see no reason why each state with native populations of trout shouldn’t have a wild trout initiative. Trout Unlimited has promoted something like this for many years. This is not elitism this is just fair and representative usage of resources by rate payers.

        There is lots more to be said on this topic but for now thanks for a timely and insightful article.

  30. Job self-preservation? Without the stocking program, what would all those people do?

  31. This is a crazy policy, and I concur with your thoughts. I’m tired of policy being driven by the number of licenses that get sold, and this is just another example of that.


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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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