Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
I was recently asked why the fish in the pictures we post are so small. "Why don't you post pictures of the BIGGER fish?!" It's a great question, and there's a few ways to tackle the answer. Hopefully I'll be able to properly convey why those little fish are blasted out on our Instagram and Facebook so often and why we love to catch them!
For starters, some of those little fish are darn pretty, and that counts for something in my book! It's what makes the fish so pretty that starts to reveal the bigger piece of the puzzle behind posting a picture of a nine inch fish. Most of the fish in those pictures are native or wild trout, meaning they naturally reproduce in the stream they were caught. That is what makes those fish so special. Stream-bred trout aren't necessarily a rarity, in fact PA is blessed with some of the best wild trout fishing in the East, but they are extraordinarily special.
Every winter the PA Fish and Boat Commission releases the yearly stocking schedule, identifying when and where upwards of 3 million trout will be released. These fish grow up in state-run hatcheries filled with row after row of concrete raceway. They are fed food by the workers throughout their lives until they are earmarked for the stocking truck. There's nothing wrong with these trout, in fact they give PA anglers opportunities in certain waters that would otherwise be barren of fish, but they don't hold the value of wild trout.
Wild trout didn't have the luxury of a safe upbringing and regularly scheduled and delivered meals. They didn't have netting over top of their aquatic home to safeguard against birds of prey and other animal threats. The wild fish that make it to even a few inches have defied the odds time and time again. By defying those odds and surviving, they become more and more acute to their surroundings. A fish doesn't get to old age (relative old compared to the rest of us!) by playing fast and loose. This includes being aware of anglers! Catching these fish in their natural habitat often requires some stealth and at least a modicum of knowledge into the trout's behavior and feeding patterns.
Because these fish grow up having to fend for themselves, the food they ingest is only of the natural variety. Bugs, fish eggs, freshwater shrimp, other fish, and mice are on on the menu! This veritable smorgasbord results in fish with extraordinary coloration. The saying "you are what you eat" holds quite a bit of credence in this particular case. Wild fish, eating natural things, display far more unique and attractive colors than their stocked counterparts. Now, once those stocked fish have been in the stream for some time, without the delivery food system of the hatchery, they will start to adopt more vivid blues, reds, browns, and greens. Unfortunately a relatively small percentage of stocked fish make it past their first year. If they are put into a waterway that cannot sustain a naturally reproducing population, there's probably a reason for that.
In most instances, wild trout are merely products of their environment. They have long since been pushed further and further into watershed headwaters by over-fishing, trout stocking, deforestation, urbanization, and a litany of other things. The water they inhabit is often times no wider than a dozen feet or so! In water such as this, there's a limit as to how big the fish can get. A stream the size of a two lane road doesn't have the food capacity to support huge trout, usually :) Therein lies why those fish we post are sometimes small! Those eight or nine inch trout might be a few years old and the dominant being in the stretch of water they call home.