In the 1950s and ’60s the booming postwar economy gave rise to an increasingly prosperous middle class in our country and around the world. For the first time in history, a significant portion of the population had something that had never been experienced before: leisure time.
Millions of families had jobs good enough to allow them free time on weekends and even a vacation each year. A huge chunk of that newly prosperous populace headed for the outdoors.
Fishing, hunting, hiking and camping numbers grew astronomically. Opening day of trout season resembled a traffic jam on the Pasadena Freeway. Waters that had previously seen very few anglers rapidly became crowded with people, all eager to have fun and also take home dinner in the process.
Simply put, the natural populations of fish just couldn’t accommodate that kind of fishing pressure. Some thought the answer was to construct fish hatcheries and raise millions of trout to stock the streams to meet the rising demand.
When a hatchery truck arrived at the stream, all too often, a mob of anglers assembled to cast to the buckets full of disoriented fish that were dumped into streamside waters. It reminded me of the crowds at the Roman Colosseum demanding bread and circuses. What had once been a solitary, contemplative pastime became a competitive race to grab free chow.
The hatchery fish at the time were a poor substitute for their wild cousins. Instead of being beautifully colored creatures, the hatchery trout were all a uniform battleship gray. Their fins were stubby and often bleeding from enduring crowded conditions in concrete tanks. Worst of all, their flesh was sort of a mushy off-white color that reminded me of semi-hardened Elmer’s Glue.
Over the years, several changes occurred. Anglers became more discerning and wanted a quality experience rather than free meat, and fisheries managers were constantly improving their techniques. They found that rather than stocking full-grown hatchery fish ready to be caught and eaten by anglers immediately, they could raise trout to fingerling size and plant them in waters where at least some of them might survive to adulthood. A fish that has lived in a stream for a year or two eating natural foods is a world apart from a liver-stuffed guppy wrapped in rainbow skin.
Hatcheries and stocking programs can be a real asset to the angling world. Stocking barren lakes high in the back country via aerial fish drops can create quality wilderness fishing where none existed before. The stocking of Pyramid Lake by the Paiute tribe there has been a resounding success and has created a world-class fishery. Even the stocking of roadside waters with catchable-sized fish has a place in modern fisheries management. My hat is off to those fisheries managers doing a great job with limited resources.
Still, despite the improvements in hatchery management, I prefer pursuing wild trout in the solitude of backcountry waters. I’d much rather catch a 12-inch brook trout while listening to the gurgle of a stream with the sound of a woodpecker rapping in the background than reel in a 3-pound cutthroat with the sound of 100-horsepower outboards racing in the background.
The good news is that there are opportunities for all of us in the great outdoors. The important thing is to get out there and do it.
Until next time, tight lines.
• Don Moyer, author and outdoors columnist for the Tracy Press, began writing Tight Lines more than three decades ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.