Blessed Are The Stocked Trout

Question from a Customer:  “I went to XYZ Delayed Harvest Stream last week.  I saw large groups of fish swimming around, but they would not hit any of my flies.”

As I tell anyone who will listen, stocked fish are inconsistent. First, if the stocking truck has been there, the fish are there. If it has been a while, the fish are either not there, been rolled in corn meal long ago, or (in the case of Delayed Harvest waters *) they have been worked over with everything a tackle shop could offer. After some two weeks out of the hatchery tanker, I think those DH fish could go to a sporting goods store and organize the baits on the peg boards by name, size, color, and price. Don’t get me wrong, stocked fish have a place and yes, they can be fun. In fact, consider that the reason stocking takes place is because there are habitat problems in that particular stream. If there was not stocking, there would be hundreds of miles of “trout” water with no trout.  The biologists at our NC Wildlife Commission determine this by their assessment of overall water quality, conditions, and suitability to the land owners of that river bed.

Example:  Last year,  I was asked to come down to South Mountain State Park (DH section) to be filmed for a state park promotion. I was to play the part of a fly fisherman visiting the park: tying a fly, getting ready to go, dressing up in waders and vest, putting the rod together, selecting a fly from the box, rigging, casting, and stalking pools…………………..

Before the fishing scene started, I previously sneaked up inside the woods and out of sight to peer into a couple of pools upstream of the movie camera sitting on a tripod in the creek. I spotted a significant pod of stockers. In fact, they were thick. Returning to the pool way below that one to stay hidden, the camera started rolling. I purposely cast into the next county to avoid any evidence of my body being near that pool………….. NADA,  nuttin’, no looks, no peeks, no takes, not even evidence of window shopping. After some 10 presentations, I was tucking my tail in defeat. I was offering them 2 different tried and trusty patterns on each cast, knowing they would jump on at least one of them.


So far,  I was humiliated by mass produced, cookie cutter fish of questionable genes possessing a brain the size of a # 4 shotgun pellet.

Stockers are inconsistent !! They are either dumb as dirt, or they get so skittish from being stepped on so many times and having all kinds of stuff thrown at them that they sometimes totally shut down. This was the end of April. Those fish had been stocked 1st of April and had been fished over by the multitudes, to the point of abuse.

Happy ending. I finally asked for a moment without the camera rolling while I put on a “secret pattern.” Taking a gamble, I tried a pattern born of pure desperation. On the second cast, it worked. They got the strike, the fight, the netting, the fish being held up, and the release. (A somewhat grayish, vitamin deficient 12 inch brook trout with rounded fins, and mushy looking body – but it was the fish for the film that counted.)Mission accomplished, maybe achieved better than Dubya  himself, and saved all NC taxpayers the rent of an aircraft carrier.

The  final results of this effort  was that when you ask to see the film in the little theater at the main park office, you will see me land and release the only fish I caught for the camera that day.  I am also filmed casting, walking down a trail in my waders, and shown tying trout flies.  The fish gave a satisfying tail-kick that sprayed water on me when he darted out of my hand – – – – –  really nice for the camera.

Thank goodness I was not expected to do that again.  I had quickly run out of aces on those fish. Also, you see stocked fish gathering in large, tight groups in the pools as they seem to prefer “safety in numbers.” This is typical and obviously noted by your statement above. Many eyes are looking as they circle around each other nervously.

THE OPPOSITE:  Wild fish are consistent. If the habitat is there, they are always there – – barring some catastrophe. Wild fish are always on guard, but they are there and feeding until something disturbs them. Wild fish are spread out and seek their preferred abodes in a pecking order that includes size and species needs. Think what happens if you show yourself to a wild fish in a small mountain stream. They disappear under a rock or undercut bank, sometimes for the rest of the day. I can catch wild fish all year long using the same methods and patterns.              Stockers??????……………… well, they are only visible and possibly catchable if they have either been newly stocked or have been rested from human pursuit for a while. But there they are, still milling around in their congested pod in full view, all those eyeballs peering at the fisherman.  If they have been fished over hard recently, they will be sending silent signals to each other upon viewing another one of those wader-clad humans standing over them.

 Many have “complained” to me that they go to a well-known Wild stream and see no fish.  If the stream is marked “Wild,” the fish are there because the NCWRC graded that water appropriately for that regulation status.  Wild water means it is quality water free from most environmental problems or pollution.  Most people cannot see wild fish because by the time they attained an angle where they could view the water, the fish have been spooked and are long gone.

Whether stocked or not, if you see fish, they also see you. If all those eyeballs are packed into a dense grouping, they have a way of communicating danger which can sometimes be noted by their movements, as a potential predator approaches, especially one that resembles one of those two legged things that has been throwing all that crap at them every day, all day long, for weeks.

* For the purpose of defining Delayed Harvest Waters for the reader, this is an NC program where selected streams in trout districts are stocked heavily in fall and spring.   For most of the year, one can fish in these waters with only a single hooked artificial lure and all fish must be released.   After the waters warm up in June, these fish can be killed with any bait,  treble hooks allowed, and 7 fish may be creeled per day.    During the “Delayed Harvest” months, these fish get pounded pretty heavily as it is a popular fishing program with hundreds of anglers.

2 thoughts on “Blessed Are The Stocked Trout

  1. “Whether stocked or not, if you see fish, they also see you.”
    Therefore, are we to conclude that we can still catch a fish that has seen us or should we only fish for un-seen fish?


  2. I’ve often wondered about why the state conservation programs use these stocking methods. I can see for the purpose of the fishermen to catch fish and to stimulate a given part of the local economy. But I can’t understand why they don’t do small batch limited stocking in “secret” areas and let these go wild in due time. We do this with our game birds here at home. Due to the decline in the grain and cattle market in the late 80’s and early 90’s and the up tick of the cotton market, our local quail populations diminished to almost nil. The vast majority of the habitat gave way to more farming acres, loss of fence rows, and loss brushy pods and watering holes. Now that things have somewhat come back in cattle and grain we’re getting some of this back. In order to build the population back we’ve started raising and stocking birds. We designate a small number to plant in areas we don’t hunt in order for the birds to mix with the native wild birds and become wild over time. This usually only takes one or two seasons. Granted, we lose about 60 – 70% of these pen raised birds to predators which is expected. But the survivors have adapted well and the populations are on the rise. We plant the majority of birds in areas we’ll be hunting within a week. These “stock” birds that are hunted quickly learn very fast that if they get up and fly they’ll be shot (or shot at in most cases). They learn to stay put which is why you see so many times you literally have to kick the bird out of the grass and somewhat launch it in to flight. These birds have never had a “natural” predator stalk them so they haven’t “had” to fly to get out of danger. This is why they seem to learn quickly how to avoid being shot at by these clumsy, orange clad, two legged predators. Simply stay put. It seems from your article that stock trout adapt this same way. They see humans which they are used to seeing anyway from the brood ponds, and simply learn that when they see us “throw the feed” in the water and someone take it all hell breaks loose and soon develop that famous “lockjaw” syndrome. So, in a nutshell, I’d like to see them start to find areas restricted from fishing along some creeks and rivers and let some of these fish try to become “wild” on their own then migrate up or downstream through nature’s course and see if this helps the population growth. Just a thought.


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