The sphere of controversy regarding fishing for trout seems to be growing faster than I can keep up.  We hear talk of how hero shots and grip-and-grins when photographing fish needs to end and now we expand into another area of concern:  one which offers some interesting points to consider.

So much of this seems to be driven by the fact that many of our rivers (most applicable to the trout waters out west) and streams (most applicable to our eastern trout waters) feel the stress of high temperatures (I believe this means water temperatures) and increased angling pressure at the same time.

Those of us who feel the need to keep up with the latest fishing-related news are aware of the drought conditions plaguing the west and various actions proposed and adopted to address those stressed waters and the trout.  On the flip-side, here in the east it's a different ball game.  We had our time of it last year.  And, believe me, it wasn't good!

On it's face using these two factors as a lead-in makes for the beginnings of a good case.  But, at least the way I look at it, it's the beginning of a developing problem.  You may be thinking, "O.K., Dave, why would you say that?  Well, read on and I'll tell ya'.  

From what I see there's a really big difference in the way fishing is viewed - and managed - out west.  I see that there's more "high profile" talk about crowded conditions and fishing when water temperatures rise.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  To contrast, I'll use my home state of Pennsylvania.  And, since I live just shy of the middle of the best PA has to offer trout anglers I'd say I have a bit of knowledge of what goes on here and I not only get to see it I get to hear what folks are doing and saying.  Of course, there's always social media that may, at times, provide a snap shot of what anglers are thinking.  And, regardless of how you may feel about it, there's the issue of climate change and it's purported impact on that which is near and dear to us.  

I'll admit that I can't understand why you would close fishing down on a specific waterway in the early afternoon whether it's out west or anywhere else.  Yeah, I recognize that the decision is driven by water temperature.  And, yes, I understand that the span between daytime highs and nighttime lows may be significant.  And I'm pretty sure the decision to close is supported by anglers, as well.  I've said it many times already.  If water temp. is expected to rise above the limit of acceptability at any point during the day the ethical thing to do is DON'T FISH.  PERIOD.  Hooking, playing, landing, removing the hook and releasing a trout earlier in the day takes it's toll and with water conditions as they are I'd say their recovery time is extended.  Too, that trout is now back into the same environment where it is susceptible to being caught again.  As the day goes on the stressful conditions only deteriorate.

Here in PA we don't have any of that.  None of our public trout waters have ever been closed to fishing during stressful conditions.  Only recently has our fish and boat commission advised against fishing for trout when they're gathered at the mouths of cold water tributaries or at other cold water refuges during these periods.  There's a reliance on anglers choosing to engage in ethical practices.  And if you're wondering, this is what happens on some of our most prized wild trout streams.  That's right, no legal restrictions.  Just hope anglers do the right thing.  Unfortunately, not all do.  In fact, I'm still amazed at the number of fly-fishers who don't know that there is an ethical cut-off.  And then there are those who don't seem to believe it - or just don't care.

Now, let's talk angling pressure   I could almost glean from what's said that there's a feeling that more anglers fishing more often could be a significant contributor to declining trout populations on some western waters..  I'm not saying it ain't so;  however, I've got to wonder if a segment of the angling public - especially that segment which focuses so strongly on this factor - has any real understanding of what we see here in PA.  Let's put in clear perspective.  Our most well-known trout waters are smaller in size than those more popular waters out west AND we have more anglers fishing for trout than most any other state in the nation.  We used to rank at the top of the list for numbers of trout anglers.  If we've slipped it sure isn't by much.  I guess you could say that we have far more angling pressure per surface acre - or any other measurement you'd like to apply - than anything out west.  I'd venture to say that we have a lot more angling for trout over a 12 month period than any trout water out west, too.  I know we have seen an obvious increase in anglers over the last two years as a result of COVID.  That's a given.  Fact is, PA just saw big numbers of anglers grow to a bit bigger.  I'll gladly listen to anyone who would like to prove me wrong here.  All of this begs the question:  is the angler pressure increase factor more significant per angler on smaller waters than on larger waters?  Hhmm, interesting.

What about an increase in angling pressure and a decline in a trout fishery:  is there a nexus here?  I'm not a fisheries biologist, for sure.  However, I've been around this stuff long enough to look for hard facts - data - to support allegations.  We should all acknowledge the fact that fisheries experience ups and downs.  It's the nature of the beast.  I don't know of one person (not saying they don't exist) who would disagree with the statement that there are many factors which may contribute to a population decline in any particular wild trout fishery.  To answer the question:  yes, there is a nexus.  If anglers are responsible for, say, a 5 percent mortality rate then each additional angler adds to the overall mortality which occurs as a result.  Here's where the waters get a little muddy.  While I'm not going to get deep into the hypothetical math it's all dependent on how effective the anglers are at catching trout.  Remember the old adage "10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the trout."  Well, studies reveal that's pretty accurate.  Based on my observations over a relatively long time I believe the skill level of those anglers entering the arena wouldn't fall within that 10 percent.  Therefore, I'm led to conclude that the resulting mortality increase may not reach a level that would be worthy of the label "significant."  

I'm going to use as an example one of our most popular wild trout fisheries.  Probably in the top 5 and may be in the top 3.  Without a doubt one of our most heavily fished streams.  There's a section of this stream that's managed under catch-and-release artificial lures only regulations and it's a few miles long.  Going back 15 to 20 years ago surveys determined the wild brown trout density was a little over 40 kilograms per hectare or roughly 40 pounds of trout per surface acre of stream.  Fast forward to today and that same stream section has seen an increase in trout density to 75 kg/ha.  Not too shabby.  

Now, wait a minute.  There's been a significant increase in angler pressure over the last 15 or so years and we've seen what could be described as a substantial increase in trout density.  And let's not forget that there's been a few floods and droughts thrown in the mix.  Oh, and we don't need a watercraft to access the best holding water.  All we need to do is wade out a bit from the bank and fish.  

I absolutely agree that one example doesn't make for a rock solid argument.  I do believe, though, that this example is not an exception and, therefore, is a valid one.  And it's certainly enough to really get me thinking that there might be a fair bit more to this.                  

I don't remember all of this talk about these issues last year when PA was hit by one of the most severe droughts in recent history.  Flow levels on some of our popular streams hit all-time record lows.  Personally, I was sweating bullets when I gave thought to trout surviving in many of our wild trout streams.  It wasn't only low flows.  It was this in combination with excessive hot weather over a prolonged period of time.  Yes, there was a lot of talk among guides and concerned anglers but there was no loud voice proclaiming conjecture like I'm seeing now.  Of course, this year is dramatically different than last year.  More normal if there's really such a thing as normal.  

Why would one part of the country draw so much more attention than another part?  Unfortunately, I've seen this more than once over the years.  It's something that needs to change.  No one can convince me that fisheries in one region - and the folks who revere them so highly - are more important or valuable than those in another.  We must, however, accept that there are differences.  What's unsettling to me is that some of what I'm seeing come out of all this appears to be driven by emotion - at least the issue of angling pressure and it's potential to negatively impact our fisheries.  If there's science in the backstory I'd like to see it.  If not then that's when I see it as a problem.  Could we be heading toward a position that we should fish less or even not at all?  Wow, wouldn't that be the extreme...or, to some, perhaps not.  I fear I'm already seeing the beginnings of division among anglers.  Those who hold a particular view are becoming bold to the point of accosting others whom they see as acting contrary to their views even if their activities are ethical and innocent.  None of this is a good thing.

Oh, and there's more for me to rant about;  however, I'll save that for another time since the keys on my keyboard are heating up.......  

1 Comentarios

  1. Dave: I may not agree with all your views, but I am impressed by both your reasoning and your writing. Your essays are nearly as impessive as your nymphs (I tie your March Brown). Keep up to fine work.