Fake Fish in Fake Rivers

In 1962, people thought it was a good idea to poison the native fish of the Green River in Utah to make way for stocked rainbow trout.

In the early 20th century, New York State nearly exterminated native brook trout by stocking non-native bass and pickerel in pristine Adirondack ponds.

Today, as the Reuters news agency notes, “the conservation paradigm shifts to the preservation of native species.” But introduced, non-native species like brown and rainbow trout are often treated with the same reverence as indigenous fish — especially by commercial fishing interests along tailwater rivers in places like the Catskills, which love to tout their “world-class wild trout fishery.”

Anders Alverson, author of the new book, “An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World,” told Reuters he sees no great harm in stocking tailwater rivers with species like rainbows. “We’ve changed these environments so drastically that really they aren’t native habitats anymore. There is not a great deal of harm in stocking them in these habitats which are already modified,” he said.

As I’ve written before, the trout in tailwaters may be wild but the rivers themselves no longer are. Don’t get me wrong — I love fishing for big, smart, handsome, streambred browns and rainbows in the cold tailwaters. But in order to enjoy it as a “natural” experience, I need to ignore the fact that if New York City (or whoever) hadn’t built an impoundment with a bottom-release dam upstream, there would be hardly any trout there at all.

At least in New York, the real world-class wild trout fishery is the six-inch brookies in the headwaters.

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