I don’t think I have ever heard an angler say that stocked fish are better than wild fish, but I have seen a lot of keyboard warriors giving people shit online because they catch/caught stocked fish. Its an exhaustively mundane comment that is simply done to degrade and devalue the experiences and skill of other anglers. It is common knowledge that I do not fish for stocked fish but I understand their place in the world of fly fishing. I will attempt to examine common issues, comments, and misconceptions about fishing for stocked fish.
Let's start with some positives about stocked fish. Stocked fisheries provide a lot of fly guides the majority of their income, at least in my area. Stocked water, like the delayed harvest water that was just restocked in NC, provides a place for guides to take their steady stream of clients, most of whom are first time fly anglers. Which leads into point number two, stocked streams are an easier place for someone to pick up the sport of fly fishing. Stocked waters serve a purpose for hobbyist anglers and guide clients alike; they are the first step in a progression within the sport. Stocked water is easier to learn on because it is easier to catch fish there. Easier because there is a greater concentration of fish than a typical wild stream, and stocked fish are a lot less picky when it comes to flies, quality drifts, and don’t spook as easily as their wild counterparts. All of this helps the emerging angler catch more fish, develop their skills, and progress to other fly fishing ventures like fishing wild water. As someone who exclusively fishes wild water I have developed a greater respect for these areas because they also alleviate that pressure on the wild streams that I like to fish. The delayed harvest streams receive the most pressure of any of the local streams due to their accessibility and fish-ability. If they were removed, all the pressure the stocked water shoulders would be placed on our wild water. Stocked water is also the only option for some anglers. Depending on your geographical limitations, the closest trout fishing to some anglers might only be stocked water. So whether it's for economic reasons, geographical, accessibility, to get more people into the sport, to develop skills, or to relieve pressure from wild water, stocked fisheries have their place and do benefit anglers of all skill levels.
Although I understand stocked waters role from a business and developmental standpoint, my one issue with stocked water is a biological one. Fish should only be stocked in water that does not have a healthy, reproducing population of wild trout. Hatchery supported streams in NC tend to fit this bill. One of my favorite local creeks has a fantastic population of wild browns and rainbows year round and supports everything from your typical 8-10in wild fish all the way up to a 21in brown that I caught there. However, every March these streams are stocked with sterile fish from the fish hatchery. These stocked fish compete and steal nutrients from the wild population and only damage the health of the fishery as a whole. Granted, most of those stockers get yanked out of their by the locals on the first weekend of April, at the start of “trout season”, when you can legally fish for them but the point is valid. I do understand stocking fertile fingerlings to help supplement wild populations and help them grow for conservation purposes, but stocking mature infertile fish to an already established wild population is a problem. Stocked water, like delayed harvest streams, should be kept to areas that would not otherwise support a wild, reproducing population of trout.
Stocked fish seem to trigger some people on Instagram for various reasons. There are a host of pages of people and guides who primarily fish private trophy waters and are wildly successful on social media platforms.These people receive most of the disparaging stocked trout based comments that I see. People love to hate these pages mostly due to jealousy of their success or from feeling that their success is unwarranted because they are not fishing for “real” fish. I get it, to a degree, but I rarely have ever seen someone from one of these pages acting like they are superior to others in regard to skill. Empathy is needed to understand that these people and guides make most of their money and provide from themselves by fishing these waters, or as I mentioned above may be geographically limited as far as their trout fishing options. I don’t like hating on people for needless reasons because I don’t like inviting unnecessary negativity into my life and forcing that negativity on others. It is simply a waste of time and energy that I could be using to do more productive things. So as you are scrolling through your feed and you see an account like this and you get the urge to comment just ask yourself a couple questions:
Does this actually affect me?
Why do I care about this?
If you answered no to question one move on from the post and refrain from commenting, if not move on to question two. If your answer to question two is for valid personal/moral/ethical reasons go for it, but if your response stems from jealousy, anger,or petty emotions that are not serving you in a positive way you should just let it go and move on. I do realize that this takes a certain level of introspection and meta-cognitive thinking on the part of an upset person, so I may be giving people more credit than they realistically deserve, but it is a good exercise to start practicing.
At the end of the day we are all a part of the same sport, fly fishing. Elevating yourself over another angler based on whether they fish for stocked or wild fish is a needless exercise that does not serve you or them in a positive way. If you think someone should be fishing more wild water then invite them to come with you, but understand that stocked water serves a lot of people in many valuable ways. If you primarily fish stocked water, please realize that “public water” is not just stocked streams, wild water is typically accessible by the public as well and don’t be afraid to get out there and explore. Wild water and stocked water both have their respective place and purpose and if you can’t understand that, then someone catching a stocked trout isn’t the problem, you are. As long as you are having fun fly fishing that is the only thing that matters, how others enjoy the sport may be different than how you do it but it is no less valid.