Fishermen line the banks of the White Clay on one of the first days of trout season. I quietly hiked upstream on the dry silty trail and found a 50 yard section that was unoccupied. I suited up, and gently slid in. I didn’t want to disturb my fishing neighbors.
Some small fish shot off into faster moving water from the rocky riffle. I assumed they were darters based on how they swam. I was looking for put and take trout – fish that are hatchery raised and released for the purpose of getting fished out rather than restoring depleted populations. Not that there are depleted populations of rainbows in the east since they aren’t native to here. I traversed the riffle a few times, checked in the eddies behind larger rocks and crept upstream into a larger, deeper pool all in the hopes of spying a pink and silver sided speckled beauty. None were there. I did confirm that the fish I saw earlier were darters and one of them had a calm personality that allowed me to closely approach and watch. It wasn’t a trout but darters are cool too.
“Now that you swam through my favorite hole what is in there?” a fisherman shouted as I waded back to shore.
“Here it comes.” I thought. I usually get along with fishermen, especially fly fishermen. We have a lot in common with what we do. Snorkeling explorations are methodical, take patience, and result in an intimate knowledge of the stream, just like fly fishing. Fly fishermen and river snorkelers love rivers and what lives in them. But sometimes, rarely, fishermen don’t appreciate my presence. I was worried this was going to be one of those times.
“Not trout” I said.
“Where did they all go? They just stocked this last week. There’s is no way they were all fished out. Did it flood?”
“I don’t think it flooded.” I said.
We conjectured on why the fish were absent and ruled everything out except they must have been fished out. I enjoyed our conversation. I always like talking to people who love rivers as much as I do and this gentleman knew the white clay much more intimately than I did. I gleaned as much knowledge as I could.
There is a growing body of evidence that shows hatchery raised fish can have a negative effect on native populations and river ecology. Rainbows aren’t a native east coast fish, so when we stock them not only do we stand the chance of changing river ecology, we are putting a non-native fish onto our streams.
I’m not a fan of hatchery fish, but I’m not an opponent either. They bring people to the river and that is the first step in forming a connection. The white clay doesn’t have any native trout left, so in this case the non-native rainbows don’t compete with the natives, though they could affect other fish and the benthos. Still I wanted to experience the thrill of capturing an image of a put and take rainbow, native or not, just like my new fisherman friend wanted to experience the thrill of capturing one on a hook. The search for that perfect rainbow continues because it seems all the put and takes were taken.