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The Extinction Of The Large Trout

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I have trout fished for 49 years and I have personally seen the many transformations of Trout Management in Wisconsin. In the early days the battle cry was: “Limit your kill, Don't kill your Limit.” This seemed like a very appealing alternative to what I had seen in the early days. I observed many anglers back in the 60s that limited out every time they went out and they even took young family members along so they could double or triple their limits. The views of stringers with 30 trout on them were revolting to me.

The thing that even burned me more was the same people would go back to the same stream 2-4 times a week and harvest 30 each outing. A family could easily decimate a trout population in a single season. My father always told me to not be a fish hog and to only harvest what I could actually eat. The 30 on a stringer crowd took many of those trout home and they eventually were thrown away due to freezer burn.

The Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources changed the regulation a while back to five trout a person from ten each. This seemed like a logical move to conserve and protect the trout population. They even made a few streams catch and release only and no bait also. I questioned the wisdom on these types of stream 15 years ago.

The conservation effort paid off in my home waters. There were many streams that did not hold a natural reproducing population of trout back in the old days that had a booming population. “This Limit your kill, Don't kill your Limit.” was paying big dividends I was on board and singing its praise.

I started using a Yearly Log Book back in 1975. It told me the streams I fished and the weather conditions on each day I fished. The log also told me how many trout I caught and their sizes. I average 120 days on the trout stream yearly since 1980. By 1995 my success on stream had doubled from my early 1975 log books. The average size of the trout was constant. I thought that more trout and still big ones is great. This is really working well. The Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources really seems to have the right thinking going on here. When they changed the limit in my area from five to three a few years back I was in support of it.

I use to be a keeper of large trout to put on my wall. I loved showing them off. Nine years ago my wife told me that the only way I could put another trout on the wall is for it to be bigger than what is on there already. I have not mounted a trout in nine years. I have continued to fish the same amount of times yearly also. My numbers of trout have increased each year.

Back in the 60s when I began as a trout angler, I kept my limit every time I went out. My log books from 1975 show I still routinely kept my limit back in 1975. I totaled up my keeps every year and my range was very different. The most keeps was in 1975 where I kept 350 trout to my fewest in 2009 with a total of 9.

My 1975 total trout caught for the year was 1,123 for the year. My 2009 total trout caught was 2,201. This is almost a doubling of the trout I caught back in the 70s. In 1975 I kept 30 percent of the trout I caught. The percentage for 2009 was less than 2 percent of my total.

Two years ago I was fishing with a friend and he caught a nice trout. It was obviously going to die but he insisted on releasing the trout. He said: "It may live and I want to give it every chance to make it." I respected his wishes and off we went upstream. We walked back the same way. Out in the middle of that hole laid that big trout dead. I asked him if he was going to wade in and get it. He looked at me in disbelief. I waded over my waders to get the trout. I told him I was going to take it home and grill it. I do not believe in wasting trout.

I drove home and we talked all the way there. This angler had been trout fishing for 10 years and NEVER had harvested a trout. He watched me clean the trout at home and wanted pointers on how to do it because he had never cleaned a fish before. Finally he took it home with him. He called me the next day and told me that he grilled it and it was excellent.

I was on board with the “Limit your kill, Don't kill your Limit.” movement until about 5 years ago. The same groups that were using that limit your kill mentality changed to Catch and Release, period. I looked in my log book for 2010. I caught 2,357 trout this year. The beating of the Catch and Release, period drum had no effect on me this year. I kept 73 trout this year.

Catch and Release period is not the solution. Sure the population of trout have skyrocketed in the area since the groups have gained influence. I went back to my log books and evaluated my logs again. Yes I know that it is unscientific but most people make their decisions on their own life experiences. Although the trout population has double since the 1970s here, the average size of a trout has shrunk yearly and has continued to shrink even more dramatically in the last 5 years here. I have thought long and hard about this and conferred with many other anglers. It is a trade off. There will be fewer big trout but there will be more little ones. More fish in the waterway means more competition for food. Less food means slower growth rates and eventually a large trout in the Wisconsin Driftless Area will be 16 inches and it will be illegal to keep any if the conservation groups have their way. This is not conservation this is elimination of the large trout and the anglers that love the taste of trout. I am glad the Wisconsin Department Of Natural Resources has educated fisheries staff that see the error of the Catch and Release, period mantra.

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it's been a long time for me since i have fished for "wild" trout in the arrowhead of minnesota. last summer i saw some awesome pictures which a guy took up on the gunflint trail on one of the small streams there. those pics made me promise myself to go back to those streams i fished when i was younger. i will keep a few but only for one or two meals tops. especialy those that appear injured. the thing about large trout or any large fish, if you want that fish, get a replica made. i fish mostly stocked trout lakes and only keep two sometimes and other times none. to me as far as trout are concerned, keep what you need for a meal and let the big trout go. strictly catch and realease laws are not the answer. good luck.

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I agree the Rush river has this problem. Went from decent fishing with some large browns to a lot of small fish. The Kinni also is packed with small trout.


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I agree that the Rush in particular would benefit from a regulation that encouraged keeping fish under 10 or 12 inches rather than over 12.

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