Stocked vs Wild: What’s the Difference?

When I was a kid a trout was a trout was a trout. I paid attention to which species of trout they were, but that’s about it. I was aware that there were stream born trout and hatchery trout. I didn’t think of differentiating wild from stocked trout in my catch though. All trout held an equal value.

Early on, each trout was a prized catch. Later, each trout was a source of incremental pride. It was part of a running tally to be compared with my peers, and forgotten by the end of June. How many do you have? I have 97. Did you hear so-and-so has 114?

A turn of century wild brown from my trout dabbling years.

Salmonids took a back seat for many years. Not that I was a hardcore trout fisherman that gave it up cold turkey. It was more that I was a serious seasonal trout hunter as a kid, who gradually became a year round trout dabbler as an adult.

A native brook trout from a small, cold stream poses for a quick pic before release.

For the past few years I’ve been more into trout than ever. I’ve been especially bitten by the small stream/wild fish bug. That’s where this question and comparison idea hatched. If you asked me today what I prefer; wild fish or stocked fish? I would answer, wild, without hesitation. Now if you asked, why? My answer would be, er uh umm, I’m not sure.

A nice ‘bow from a holdover lake with an IRT200 spinning reel.

Let’s get the asterisks out of the way first. I pursue salmonids in holdover lakes where there is little if any natural reproduction. I love catching and releasing those fish. I don’t care if they came off a truck yesterday or two years ago; they are fun.

A stocked trout in my Northkill Tackle Scout net, caught in a “put and take” pond.

To go even further; several ponds within a short drive of my home are stocked with trout on a “put & take” basis. They are stocked with trout to provide angling opportunities in the spring and in some cases the fall or winter. There is a slim chance that any of those fish survive the warm water of summer. Like the McRib, I enjoy them for a limited time (see Stock-A-Palooza 2017).

A perfect mountain stream for wild trout.

To get back on track, we are talking about trout in streams that remain cold all year that may or may not be stocked by a state hatchery. That’s where my preference or prejudice shows up. What’s the difference between wild fish and hatchery fish, and why would I prefer the wild ones?

A good sized stocked trout from a pond.

It can’t be the size. The wild ones I catch are typically in the 6-8 inch range. A 12 incher makes my day. Stocked fish in these parts start at about 10 inches and range into the pounds.

A standard issue wild rainbow with proportionally diminutive 2 weight rod and NorthKill Native net.

Way back when, I would have said wild fish are more colorful. I can’t say that any more. In recent years, my local stocked rainbows have become the most colorful fish I catch – of any species. Their wild counterparts can’t hold a candle to those made by the state.

The wild rainbows I catch are mainly silver with muted pink and blue tones.

I don’t know if it’s the strain of trout currently being raised or some sort of high quality feed the trout grow up on, but the stocked trout I now know are heavily spotted fish with deep red cheeks and matching side panels.

The full spotting and deep reds typical of the local stocked rainbows.

I’ve been intentionally alternating between stocked streams and wild trout streams for over a month now. I’ve made a number of observations and comparisons. Some results I expected. Some I didn’t.

I have found that stocked fish are no more likely to take gaudy attractor patterns or junk flies than wild fish. If anything, wild fish are more impulsive and hit them at a higher rate. Wild fish will sometimes race across a pool to eat a fly like a dog chasing a tennis ball; even if it’s the same color as a tennis ball. Meanwhile, stocked fish tend to stay in their lane and feed on what comes to them.

Aggressive wild trout sometimes come to my Northkill net two at a time.

Wild fish are more skittish. One misstep can spook a whole pool. Stocked fish will let you fish quietly along side them. Similarly, catching one fish on a wild stream can put down every other fish in the pool. Whereas, you can often pluck one stocked fish after another from the same pool.

Perhaps the most interesting observation I made in my alternating comparison was the quality of fight. I have to say that a wild fish, on average, pulls more than a stocked fish of the same size. Now, we are talking about small stream fish, so this may be splitting hairs. 

A stocked trout about to be released after a head-shaking fight.

The wild fish seem to get their nose down more and pull. Freshly stocked fish thrash more and pull less. I do most of my stream fishing with a fiberglass 2 weight flyrod. A ten inch wild brown or rainbow puts up a nice little fight on this flimsy outfit. A ten inch stocked rainbow very often just head-shakes his way to the net. 

It’s a subtle difference, but it holds up more often than not. This instance is what made me take notice. I was fishing a heavily stocked stream. I had already caught and released five or six stocked fish. The next fish felt different. It pulled harder, and ran side to side. It didn’t touch its nose to its tail in convulsions. Sure enough, it was a wild brown of slightly less mass than the stocked fish that preceded it. Before ever seeing the fish, I knew something was different.

This wild brown fought significantly harder than his stocked neighbors.

My conclusion: wild fish behave more like predators and stocked fish behave more like livestock. Stocked fish are not dumb. They are just inexperienced. They are more accustomed to human presence and “unnatural” disruptions.  They haven’t had to work hard for their food or to avoid predators. They’ve been taken care of.

That’s really the difference in my book. Wild fish don’t offer more to me than stocked fish do. I just admire the work that a wild fish has put in before we ever crossed paths. The wild fish has been dodging herons, mink, and other dangers his whole life. The stocked fish is just getting started in the real world. That’s it. Wild trout inspire an admiration that stocked trout do not.

I can’t imagine this one would have survived long if hatched in the wild.

 

What Can the IRT200 Do for You?

When I first laid my hands on the IRT200 I asked myself, what can this reel do for me? Since that day, it has accompanied me everywhere. I’ve used it for nearly every fishing situation I’ve come up against. New situations brought about new permutations of that same question. Practical application provided the answers.

Does it have the guts for snakehead fishing? It sure does. I used to think periodically wrecking the internals of spinning reels was par for the course in snakehead fishing. Not anymore.

The IRT200 is tailor-made for this work.  It has a remarkable 30 pounds of drag for bone jarring hook sets, and the power to winch big snakeheads out of heavy cover; all without fear of mechanical failure. Meanwhile, it has the finesse to accurately cast weightless soft plastics into the aforementioned cover without a plague of wind knots. The 200 is built like a tank, yet drives like a sports car.

Would this reel be too heavy for general bass fishing? No, not at all. The 200 has balanced nicely with all of my 7 to 7.5′ bass rods in medium and medium heavy powers. I’ve cast for hours on end with buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, crankbaits, you name it. The IRT200 is a phenomenal bass reel, and certainly not too heavy.

Is it suitable for northern pike or musky fishing? The IRT200 has been an outstanding tool in multiple pike and musky presentations. The reel is sturdy and powerful enough to work big plugs and spinnerbaits. At the same time the 200 can be used for subtle presentations that would be difficult or impossible with traditional musky tackle.

That amazing IRT drag is another asset to Esox anglers. I’ve used it “locked-down” for “no budge” hook sets on a stout, pool cue rod. I’ve also used it with a lighter drag setting on a softer tipped rod when casting smaller lures. That dependable drag has assured that small treble hooks did not straighten or pull out of lunging pike. The 200 brings the best of two worlds to pike and musky fishing.

Sure it’s heavy duty, but is it capable of light line fishing? You bet it is. I use the IRT200 routinely for trout and landlocked salmon. Conditions and lures sometimes require me to fish leaders down to 6 pound test. For these situations, I pair it with a 7′ medium-light power rod. I can fish confidently knowing that the drag will pay out line smoothly to a running trout or salmon.

That’s lots of talk about freshwater fishing, but is this reel appropriate for saltwater use? Of course it is. The salt is where IRT cut their teeth. This is saltwater technology coming inland; not the other way around.

It has 6 internal seals to resist splash, spray, and even the occasional dunking. Add to that, the 200 handles braided line like a dream. Long casts from the sand are no problem for this reel. Once again, let’s not forget the 200’s drag. It’s perfect for hard fighting saltwater fish.

A versatile size, excellent casting and line handling characteristics, a butter smooth drag, a super high drag capacity, and saltwater ready construction all wrapped up in an American made package make the IRT200 clearly the finest multi-species reel I’ve ever seen. I started by asking, what can the IRT200 do? I’ll end by asking, what can’t this reel do?

For more information on the IRT200 or other IRT reels click here.

 

 

 

Blurred Backgrounds: Selfish or Selfless?

The sole reason to blur a background is to conceal a location. That is clear. Where ideas diverge is with the impetus for the effort to conceal.

The most obvious prong of that divergence could be described as selfish, and justifiably so. I will spell this out unapologetically.

If given a choice between splitting a particular location with no other boats or one other boat, I choose no boats. If it’s nine boats vs. ten boats, I’ll take nine. It’s just math and common sense. I tend to take pics with generic backgrounds for this reason more than any other. When necessary, I’ll blur to cover my tracks.

The crowded composition of a selfie negates the need for a blurred background.

This is the other prong. It applies to all, but to illustrate the point let’s say you are of the “I’ve got nothing to hide”, or “I don’t mind company” line of thinking. That sounds awfully nice on the surface. We will look at a couple scenarios, and see if full disclosure is really an altruistic route.

A friend brings you to his favorite yet recognizable fishing location. You catch the fish of a lifetime. This is a textbook situation for careful photo composition or a blurred background. Seems like common sense – right? He shared his spot and the sweat it took to find it with you, not everyone you know.

One level deeper is where the lines of blurring start to blur. You fish Location X regularly. You sometimes see another angler or two. Are they the same one or two? Probably not. I recall several years back running into a fisherman on a very small trout stream. It turned out we had both been fishing that same little stream for 20 years before ever crossing paths. What I am getting at is this; there are probably more fishermen on your spot than you think, but I digress.

Close up pics are a subtle alternative to blurring a background. This option is particularly suitable for colorful species like brook trout.

Back to those couple guys that fish your spot. Posting pics with a “no secrets” mindset is well within your rights to show & tell whoever you like as much you like, but here is the question. Are you comfortable making that decision for every single person who thinks of Location X as their spot too?

Location X is as much their spot as it is yours. It’s a bit of a moral dilemma. That is where a blurred background would truly be a selfless act. You would be protecting the interests of other people, even if you yourself are an open book.

Respect the work of those that came before you. Maybe those guys have been concealing your spot for years by blurring their backgrounds. Think good karma.

In this age of social media, we share images & information at an incredible rate. It’s hard to know where to draw the line. It’s easy to step on someone’s toes, or even stub your own. When in doubt; blur it out.

 

 

What Happened to the List?

So, 2019 has come and gone and the Fly Fishing Species list has remained dormant for months. You may wonder why. The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. The simple answer is, I lost interest.

The complicated answer is an explanation of why I lost interest. It started out fun – maybe even more fun than last year. It was a second shot at the previous year’s goal. Before too long I realized I was just going through the motions for the sake of clicking fish names off a list, or rather onto a list. It was turning recreation into desk work.

It’s the same reason that I don’t keep a log or compete in tournaments. I understand why lists and logs and tournaments are great for other people. They just aren’t for me. I fish for the fishing. Whether it’s bass or bowfin or bluegill, I like to make that choice based on what’s the best bite or just the most enjoyable experience at the time – no side agendas, no paperwork.

You only get so many days on the water. If there’s a good catfish bite on cutbait, I don’t want to feel obligated to spend the day fly fishing for crappies. The reverse would be true as well.

The 2019 fly fishing species list shall end at just 12. That is a humble number, but it was part of a great year of fishing overall. Good luck to everyone in 2020.

  1. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  2. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  5. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  6. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar sebago
  7. Hickory Shad – Alosa mediocris
  8. Fallfish – Semotilus corporalis
  9. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
  10. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  11. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  12. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus

 

Glamping and Multi-Species Angling

I recently had the opportunity to fish some new waters. The top dog at Northkill Tackle was planning a camping and fishing trip in the middle of nowhere. He had room in his camper, and I had room in my schedule. It was perfect timing.

Maybe it’s not fair to say the middle of nowhere, but you could see it from there. More important than the remoteness was the variety of water types in the area. I got to sample four different waters, and there are more. It was a fishing cornucopia.

Day one started early for me. I had a few hours to drive. Half of that was before the sun rose. Coffee, snacks, and the promise of fishing kept me alert behind the wheel.

I arrived at the campground and found the Northkill mobile headquarters without too much trouble. The camper was a cushier set up than I was expecting. Running water, electric, Seinfeld on the TV; I can see why there’s a market for those things.

Our comfort pod in the woods.

My past camping experience had mostly been the tent kind. I did have a childhood friend with access to pop-up campers, but that was a long time ago. Camping for me was generally some acceptable discomfort for convenience or cost cutting. Anyway, enough about the micro-hotel on wheels. This was a fishing trip.

After a quick breakfast we packed up for the first venue. It was a boulder strewn, freestone trout stream We were rigged up for tightline nymph fishing. My expectations were low. I wasn’t prepped with glorious fish stories. The preface for this stream was a story of the sentimental significance. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. The foliage was beautiful too.

The boulder strewn freestone stream.

Well, the stream gods were listening. They gave us what we asked for. We bugged out at midday with no fish landed and maybe two strikes between us. It was fishing, not catching. Time to mix things up.

The trophy of spot #1 – maybe a fossil.

We needed a sure thing for the PM session. A short drive and a shorter walk brought us to a mountainside trickle inhabited by native brook trout. We leapfrogged our way up the creek with our lightest fly rods. The resident fish were plentiful and hungry. Most pools at least produced strikes. Many produced one or more landed fish. This was a great water for field testing the prototype Northkill Native net.

My host working for a brookie.

The Native is a net with a small hoop and a deliberately short handle. This reduces weight, and presents less length & surface area to catch on the bushes & boulders that line mountain streams. Aesthetically, it pairs nicely with the diminutive tackle that is so effective on native brook trout streams. It’s the two weight of nets.

The Northkill Native is the perfect net for rugged mountain streams and the wild trout that dwell in them.

Back to the stream. The afternoon was as much about catching as it was about fishing. Our final tally could be measured in dozens. These weren’t big fish. Some were no longer than the beech leaves that covered the ground. What they lacked in size, they made up for in color and cooperative spirit. We wrapped it up before the sun set, and headed back to the glampsite.

Some brookies were no longer than a beech leaf.

The next day started early. We wanted to squeeze in a trip to a local lake before the forecasted afternoon rains arrived. We loaded up a cartop boat and were on our way to what I thought was the final venue.

A respectable largemouth on the Fishbelly Hawg Shad.

This was planned to be mainly a spinning trip. The pre-frontal winds made sure it stayed that way. We used a mix of plugs & plastics, and found success with both largemouth bass & chain pickerel. The rain was drawing near. We both had things to do, so we stuck a fork in it before noon. This warmwater fishery had been a perfect, complimentary juxtaposition to yesterday’s trout fishing.

Lifting a chain pickerel out of the Northkill Boat/Steelhead Net.

Before I left the glampground, it was suggested that I scout out Lake Such-n-such on the way home. Sure enough, 15 or 20 minutes down the road I see a sign for the lake. I better check it out.

It was a good looking body of water. It was a moderate sized lake. There were some visible weedbeds. The surrounding topography lead me to believe there were some steep shorelines too. Then it happened. I caught a glimpse of movement. It was time to stop looking and go fishing one more time.

After a little more observation I was fairly certain they were trout cruising a shallow flat. I still had a small minnow plug on my ultralight. I tried that first, then a few different soft plastic presentations, then a spoon. Nothing garnered more than a follow. At least the followers revealed they were indeed trout.

I ran back to the vehicle and grabbed my two weight, a rig I normally reserve for the smallest trout streams and panfish applications. With the rain almost upon me, I didn’t want to waste time rigging a bigger rod.

Bucking a stiff wind, I was maybe casting 20 or 25 feet with the six foot something fiberglass rod. On about the third or fourth cast with a leech fly I had a take. As soon as the line came tight the trout went full berserker mode. On one of its jumps it actually hit dry land and bounced back into the water. Somehow the barbless fly stayed secure in the jaw. After a few more jumps, a couple short surging runs, I slipped my Native net under a healthy rainbow.

A nice rainbow fills the Northkill Native to end the trip.

I’d like to say I released it and walked away a winner as the rain began to fall, but I can’t. I did release it, but I also stuck around casting until the drizzle turned to a driving rain. I didn’t get another bite. At least I caught a fish and maybe found a new fishing spot for another time.

 

 

Bushido on the Rocks

Sunrise Fishing on an Inlet Jetty

 

A  Bushido Shad rigged on a leadhead jig was deadly for stripers prowling among the rocks.

The “meaty” Bushido tail created a thump that the stripers couldn’t resist.

I swear the bluefish are working for tackle companies. Not only do they destroy soft plastics, they almost always know where to stop biting – just short of the hook. They must have inside information.

A switch to a pink Bushido Shad was fine with the stripers.

They came one after another until it was about time for me to quit.

I found redemption with the last fish of the morning. This bluefish was overzealous with his bite. He paid the price with a quick visit to the rocks before being released.

A Quick Update To The List

I’ve been busy with both fishing and non-fishing things, and neglected the fly fishing species list for several weeks. Here’s a quick update to get it up to date. In no particular order we have:

Fallfish

Smallmouth Bass

Redbreast Sunfish

Pumpkinseed

Green Sunfish

The 2019 fly fishing species list stands at 12 going into the second half of the year. That bodes well for reaching 20 by year end.

  1. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  2. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  5. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  6. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar sebago
  7. Hickory Shad – Alosa mediocris
  8. Fallfish – Semotilus corporalis
  9. Smallmouth Bass – Micropterus dolomieu
  10. Redbreast Sunfish – Lepomis auritus
  11. Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
  12. Green Sunfish – Lepomis cyanellus

 

A Simple and Effective Shad Fly

  1. Lay down a bed of thread on the hook shank.

2. Affix the dumbell eyes or bead chains eyes of your choice. I like to add a bit of nail polish/head cement at this point.

3. Add a little lead wire behind the eyes, and tie in a a few strands of Krystal Flash to start forming a tail. Sorry about the blurry pic.

4. Top the Krystal Flash with marabou.

5. Top the marabou with 4 or 5 full strands of pearl Flashabou at an equal or slightly shorter length. Do not trim off the long ends.

6. Fold the long ends of Flashabou back, and tie in a few inches of metallic braid.

7. Bring the metallic braid forward in overlapping wraps to form a tapered body.

8. Wrap the long ends of the Flashabou forward with no gaps. This adds a smooth, pearl iridescence to the metallic braid. Build a head with thread and whip finish. Top the body and head with a thin layer of clear coat for strength.

9. Add the Hickory Shad to the 2019 Fly Fishing Species List.

The 2019 Fly Fishing Species List:

  1. Brook Trout – Salvelinus fontinalis
  2. Brown Trout – Salmo trutta
  3. Rainbow Trout – Oncorhynchus mykiss
  4. Creek Chub – Semotilus atromaculatus
  5. Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
  6. Landlocked Atlantic Salmon – Salmo salar sebago
  7. Hickory Shad – Alosa mediocris