"Wild" Trout

Trout blogs, forums, Facebook groups, pretty much the online trout world in general, is constantly talking about catching "wild" trout. Almost no one wants to admit that they are targeting stocked trout, affectionally known as pellet heads, finless wonders and dough bellies. I constantly see grip and grin pictures of John Q. Flyfisherman holding up a trout that are captioned, "Look at this wild brook, rainbow, brown I caught!" I hate to break it to these guys but the vast majority of the fish they are holding up are pretty obviously not wild fish. Now I understand that a lot of these photos and comments are honest mistakes, I also realize that a good portion are not. I'm sorry, if you are fishing a stream in the southeast that is stocked and you catch a fish over 10" then there is a very, 90% or better, chance that the fish you just caught is a stocked fish and this percentage goes up exponentially if the stream has a road beside it.

Why do fishermen not want to admit to going after stocked fish? Easy, because it is fake. The fish are fake and the circumstances are fake. OK now before all of y'all out there get your pitchforks and torches, I fish for stockers, freely admit it and it is fun but I don't try to sell them for something they are not. Hatchery raised fish are genetically engineered to grow fast and be aggressive eaters, they are also habituated/trained to search for food floating on the water and to equate humans with that food. I have personally stood beside a freshly stocked hole and caught many, many fish, some of them over and over with no thoughts to matching a hatch, presentation, or stealth. Just chunk out almost anything and it will get gobbled up. Admittedly after the fish are caught and released a couple of dozen times they do wise up....a bit. A squirmy or mop will usually still get a few of the extra dumb ones, or starving ones, to eat.

Who would not want a pic of themselves on a pristine back country stream holding that big slab of butter in the pic to the right, some folks play it off as just that. Truth is, that fish is from the Paint Bank Trout Hatchery in Virginia. When that fish is stocked it will not hide at the sight of a fisherman on the bank, actually it will probably do just the opposite and look for that fisherman to feed it.

Years ago stocked trout could be identified from a mile away. They were all a nondescript grayish silver, most had no fins and the flesh was a mushy, grayish white. Now days it is getting harder and harder to spot a stocker. The hatcheries are responding to what the fishermen want and are specifically breeding fish for size and color and are turning out some gorgeous fish. They are still stockers but gorgeous none the less. There are still a lot of mongrels too, like the first pic of the brook trout at the beginning of the article with no gill flap, and this specimen that a friend of mine caught.
But I will say that there is one thing that the state has done with their improved stocking that is a very, very good thing, just like the fish being trained, fishermen are being trained as well. There is a new generation of fishermen that buy all the top notch gear, rods, reels, waders, packs, all for that one photo op when they land the big stocker. These guys hardly ever get their waders wet above the knees and the soles of their boots will last forever because generally speaking they stand on the same rock all day. They drive up and down a delayed harvest stream with their rods rigged and ready on roof racks of their Toyota or Chevy adventure rig looking for large holes with well worn paths down to the water. When they see what they are looking for they stop at the pull out, go down to the water and visually look for visible trout in the hole. If they don't see any, they might try a few experimental casts to see if they get a take, squirmies, egg patterns and mop flies are the attractor patterns of choice. If nothing bites then back to the adventure vehicle and on to the next stock hole. If they do find a honey hole that the state has just dumped a truck full of fish in then they stay right there for the rest of the day, catching stockers and posing for pics. Why is this a good thing? Because it leaves the rest of the creek to me. No one is wading up the creek fishing the pocket water, runs, riffles and plunge pools and the fishing is getting better and better. 

Now if this article sounds a little bit like a rant then I guess it is. As I said, I have nothing against fishing for stockers, I do it too, but please stop putting "wild" in front of the caption of the photos. If you caught it out of a big slick hole, full of fish, right next to the road, then there is absolutely, positively no way it is wild. 

So rant over and I'll see you on the creek, Chris

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