By Brian J. Johnson, TU California Director
September was a great month for Californians who love wild trout. It’s fitting that the TU calendar featured a stunning photo of a golden trout in the California Golden Trout Wilderness, taken by Graham Owen. The accompanying quote, from Dermot Wilson, read “With the right conditions, Nature herself provides the best and the cheapest way of producing trout.”
Then a few days ago Governor Jerry Brown signed a new pro-fishing bill supported by TU and California Trout that will strengthen programs to protect, restore and sustain wild trout.
This is an issue near and dear to my heart, as it framed my first professional contact with TU. Some years ago I worked as a consultant to Steve Trafton, who was then our state director on an effort to bring greater scientific focus to hatchery and inland trout operations. I’m not the only one. Generations of California TU grassroots leaders have pushed the state to give wild trout a fair shake. On a national level, it’s not a stretch to say this was TU’s original issue.
So it is gratifying to reach a new milestone with SB 1148, authored by Sen. Fran Pavley. Among other things, the legislation requires all hatchery and wild trout programs funded by license fees to be guided by an overall Strategic Plan by the Department. It establishes overall program purposes for the Strategic Plan, including “Thriving and self-sustaining, wild and native trout populations throughout their historic ranges” and “Providing and improving angling opportunities.” And it authorizes additional staff and funding for the Heritage and Wild Trout Program – a unique California program established in 1971 to protect and enhance trout fisheries sustained by natural reproduction, and provide for the designation of streams to be managed exclusively for wild trout.
TU is not opposed to stocked fish – nor am I. Some of my kids’ favorite campsites have nearby streams filled with hatchery trout. Those of us who like to practice both catch and release and catch and eat fishing will continue to have that opportunity throughout California. In fact, the lion’s share of license fee support for trout programs will continue to pay for put and take stocking. The changes delivered by SB 1148, strongly endorsed by TU and California Trout, are long overdue and will improve trout populations and trout fishing opportunities for all anglers.
But let’s face it: there’s nothing like wild trout. Wild trout just fight harder and are a bigger angling challenge than hatchery-raised fish. When it comes down to it, a good river will always be the best hatchery. And the best fishing.