For most of my life the only trout that I ever caught were born and raised in a fish hatchery. The trout hatcheries would post a weekly schedule for the streams that they were going to stock. On the stocking day it wasn’t unusual to see the stocking truck leading a parade of vehicles with anglers inside, heading out to the trout streams for some “Put and Take” fishing.
There are behavior differences between hatchery raised trout and trout that have lived in the wild. Fish in a hatchery environment have been raised on a diet of processed food. Hatchery trout are raised in densely populated concrete raceways and rearing ponds which causes them to feed more aggressively than wild trout. The protected artificial hatchery environment also produces fish that have not learned to avoid predators or to seek cover. Most anglers would agree that hatchery raised trout are easier to catch than wild trout.
My working definition of a wild trout is a fish that has either lived it’s entire life in a natural stream or is a stocked trout that has spent enough time in a stream to have adapted to life in a natural stream environment. Wild trout eat natural foods that they find for themselves — no nutrious man-made processed foods for these guys! They have proven that they can live through floods, know how to use available natural cover to defend themselves from predators (including anglers) and they can adapt better than hatchery raised fish to changes in their environment. When a wild trout sees you, they immediately start darting about seeking cover and you’ll find yourself looking out over empty water.
Hatchery fish play an important role in enhancing the experience of both anglers and visitors wanting to enjoy the natural beauty found along the streams and rivers in Southeast Minnesota. In heavily fished streams, stocked fish are used to supplement the population of the larger fish that many anglers are seeking. Streams where fish may have experienced a period of poor natural reproduction can benefit from an occasional infusion of fry. Finally, stocking can be used to create new angling opportunities by re-introducing trout to suitable streams and rivers.
Stocking programs combined with stream habitat work done by organizations like Trout Unlimited and stream easement programs administrated by the State help to maintain a trout fishery with access that can be enjoyed by all anglers. Most of the streams in the Driftless Area support abundant populations of trout – occasionally they may need a little help.
One morning, many years ago, my son and I we were fishing a large pool on a “Put and Take” stream in northern Iowa. We had caught a few fish and were looking to fish until late afternoon before heading home. A stocking truck pulled up to the hole that we were fishing and the driver dumped two baskets of fish into the pool. He came over to visit with us and said that we would be able to quickly catch our limits if we would just let the newly stocked fish settle in for a few minutes. He was undoubtably surprised when we packed up and drove away to find another stream before he even managed to reach his next stocking point.
“Trout get larger after experiencing ‘catch- and-release.’ ” UNKNOWN