Merriam Webster defines tradition as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior”. Trout fishing in Pennsylvania is a deep-rooted tradition. It’s an annual cycle of published stocking schedules, pre-season tackle sales and conversations that often open with questions like “going out opening day?” or “get your limit?”. Opening day is a ritual that often involves families, tailgating, lawn chairs and hordes of people lined up along the banks of a stocked stream. It can appear like a carnival that often leaves artifacts on the landscape that makes many of us cringe like forked sticks planted in the ground that held rods earlier in the day, little piles of canned corn drying in the sun, empty Styrofoam bait containers, a ball of mono from a tangled line and the “fillet and release” of severed trout heads and guts thrown back in the stream. White trucks back up to the creek and the bucket brigade brings more sport until the stream gets “fished out”. It’s easy to know when a stream has been restocked by the renewed interest in the game and the number of cars parked along it. Most of the fish are like cookie cutters in shape and size with worn fins. A “breeder” or two might be thrown into the mix; or perhaps a few of the ultimate prize, the banana fish or palomino. Trout “Rodeos” are another strange but strong tradition in the game. The stocked trout crowd is not exclusively put and take anglers.
The Fish and Boat Commission will stock 4.4 million hatchery trout in 707 streams and 127 lakes in 2020. It’s a Pennsylvania tradition that’s been a ritual for generations of trout anglers and a tough culture to change. Truth be told, the stocked trout “put and take” crowd puts a lot of revenue into the system, and the last time I checked their fishing license cost the same as mine. When we manage our fisheries primarily for recreation (man) this is the natural outcome, and it’s firmly woven into the fabric of many a Pennsylvanian’s angling tradition and perspective. It’s also woven into the security of a revenue stream for the agency that manages our fishery resources. Truth be told, many stocked streams are marginal or seasonal habitats that don’t hold wild fish yet offer recreation for a lot of people. Unfortunately stocking also finds its way into a lot of streams that hold wild fish; even some that are designated as Class A Wild, and the overlap presents a contentious friction point among serious anglers. Trout stocking in Pennsylvania will likely continue as part of the tradition, but there is an opportunity to let our streams that hold wild trout maximize their true potential by re-thinking how we manage them. Stay tuned for Part III. This week’s pic is the Lil’-Le-Hi fish hatchery in Allentown. Till next week ……… #ItsAboutTheFish