Last week the Cascade Family Flyfishers hosted author Dave Hughes for an evening of in-depth bug talk. Dave is a serious devotee of the McKenzie River, and it shows. The evening of his presentation, we met for dinner at the Steelhead Brewery with a few officers from the club. After the customary pleasantries, a nice lady asked me what I thought about hatchery trout in the McKenzie. I laid out my vision for a wild McKenzie. “Oh, I would just hate to see all the hatchery fish removed,” she said. “I’m just afraid that kids wouldn’t be able to catch fish without them. Kids need to catch fish to stay interested.” This sweet woman didn’t really deserve the barrage that ensued as I got on my soap box. Dave thought long and hard about the conversation over the following days and surprised me with the following letter, addressed to all McKenzie anglers:
“There are far more river systems in Oregon that have been degraded beyond the possibility of recovery than there are systems that could be restored to a natural state. The McKenzie River is a rare, recoverable stream, world famous for its native redside rainbow trout.
It’s critical to give kids opportunity to catch trout. Stockers serve this purpose by their abundance and catchability. If money is to be spent raising trout, it is not unwise to spend it on giving kids an opportunity to learn to fish. When those kids learn to fish, they will naturally gravitate toward wanting to fish in what I will call ‘real’ circumstances: they’ll grow the desire to leave stocked trout behind and fish in wild circumstances, for wild fish, for bigger fish, for less easy fish.
It is a given, through studies done by Jim Vincent in Montana among others, that planting hatchery trout in streams that would support wild trout is deleterious to the wild trout. So it would seem wisest to plant trout in degraded waters, and in stillwaters with little natural spawning potential, and to give kids opportunities in those waters that will, in truth, not be harmed by planted trout. There are an abundance of such waters in proximity to the McKenzie River.
It would also be wise to save the wild places that can be saved. If we don’t save them, our kids will advance through their fishing lives finding that all places are degraded places, that all fishing is the same degraded fishing for hatchery trout.
There are very few places left with the potential to be valued wild places. If we choose not save them, then those kids we have delivered into a desire to pursue fishing will not have the option of wild places in which to pursue it.”