In the different parts of this series I talked about groups of anglers; each of them with vastly different perspectives, values and traditions. The point that I wanted to make with those posts was to talk about the chasm and division that exists between those angling expectations and how it affects the game we all enjoy. This week I want to talk about “We”, the collective group of anglers, and the significant potential for a state with over 86,000 miles of running water. The quality of our cold water streams and wild trout populations are the best they’ve been in many years. The opportunity for a self- sustaining wild trout management model on many of our waters has never been better and it’s a conversation with increasing velocity which is very exciting. Social media now has a number of groups that have "wild trout" woven into their group name and their purpose. I hear more and more anglers expressing wishes for Pennsylvania to change their fisheries management model to one similar to other states that don’t stock trout anymore. What gets in the way of change? The things that stand in the way are the things I expressed in the last few posts; anglers, traditions, values and expectations. It’s also about the financial stability of the agency that manages the waters of the Commonwealth.
Trout fishing in Pennsylvania is a tradition. Stocking programs are a significant part of that tradition and places trout in areas that wouldn’t naturally support wild populations, while providing an opportunity for people to get into the game. There’s also a proud tradition of serious trout anglers that look for a completely different experience on the water. There are vastly different sets of values at play that all deserve respect and a place; and truth be told, there is enough room for everyone to engage in trout fishing in the manner that they enjoy. Managing all of this while trying to balance the interests of all anglers is the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission. I firmly believe they are doing a solid job considering the scope of work they have, and the challenge of providing a range of services that recognizes the diversity of their paying customers. The F&B has to operate like a business, and smart businesses know their customers and what they want. They also face the difficult things they can’t avoid like every other business does; like wages, benefits, retirement benefits, pension funds and operational budgets with no ability to set their own fees for fishing licenses. A change in management philosophies isn’t an easy process and there is no one size fits all approach.
So, how does the game ever change? How do we improve our wild trout fisheries? How do we reduce the amount of stocking over wild trout populations? I think there’s a great opportunity to change the game by trying to influence the customers rather than depending on tackle regulations or lobbying for more, as it only increases division between different angler groups. Changing the game doesn’t always mean changing the rules, sometimes it’s about changing attitudes. It’s about valuing the fish more than the way we pursue them. How can we do that? Focus on how you can influence the conversation and who you can influence. Butting heads with someone firmly dug into their angling tradition will probably not get very far. Take a kid fishing. Take a friend or neighbor fishing. Teach and educate them on the value of wild trout. Give one of your old rods to someone that has an interest but lacks the gear to get started. Show them how cool it is to release a fish unharmed. Explain how long it takes nature to grow an 8” brook trout. Teach them why it’s important to respect nature. If they learn to respect and value it, they will defend and protect it. Show a kid how to tie a fly and feed them some materials to work with and a book or two to get them started.
We are at an interesting crossroads in the state of fisheries management here in Pennsylvania where there are more conversations about wild fish that I can ever recall. A good farmer knows good soil when he sees it, knows when the time is right to till and plant. It's a perfect time to look at how to bring the different camps together around the same fire on wild trout management. There is so much potential here …. This weeks pic is a nice wild brown from an un-stocked Pennsylvania stream. Till next week ..... #ItsAboutTheFish