Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
Is there a difference between the terms "wild" and "native" when it comes to fish? It seems as though both are used loosely and interchangeably when it comes to describing a trout. The truth is, there is a huge difference between catching a wild trout and a native trout!
The most basic fact about either wild or native trout is that they must be born in the body of water in which they are found, or a tributary in that drainage. Trout reared in a hatchery or aquarium do not qualify for the distinction of either term. Moving on from that one similarity is where we start to see the true differences in wild versus native.
For a trout to be native, it must have historical roots to the water or region in which it is caught. In the Appalachian Mountains, that means the brook trout is our native trout. This is where those fish are from and some populations can trace their lineage back 10,000 years to the last Ice Age! If an angler catches a brook trout in Pennsylvania and it was born in that stream, it's correct to call it a native brook trout.
Let's stick with the brook trout as our example. Fly fishers who travel west to places like Colorado or Montana have probably encountered a brook trout or two in those waters. So what's the correct term for those fish?
Brook trout are not native to the Rocky Mountains. It's a bit harsh (albeit true) but a fair characterization is to coin them an invasive species. The brook trout found in these western streams and lakes were brought there by settlers coming from the East. Therefore, since brook trout do not have an historical place in the Rocky Mountains, they are considered wild fish when caught in those areas.
So in simple terms, a fish that is born in the waterway as opposed to captivity can be either wild or native. A fish earns the distinction of being called native if it is caught within the boundaries of its historic range. Going back to our brook trout example, the same type of fish can hold either term simply based on where it's caught!