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Trophy Fish Smaller Than Years Ago
Eugene P. Macri Jr.
Aquatic and Environmental Scientist

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© 2011 E. P. Macri Jr.

A graduate student as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has estimated that trophy fish (predatory) have declined in weight by as much as 88% as compared to 50 years ago. Her analysis was based on the study of archival photographs over the last 50 years. Although this is not the most accurate method of doing such a study it will give you good ball park figures in my estimation (here's series of links on science for this study).

Other studies have shown similar trends. Ms. McClenachan believes it's over fishing of trophy fish that has caused this problem. However, I believe that it's not as simple as just over fishing and that conclusion should be revised. The amount of habitat for fishing in streams, lakes and the oceans has been diminishing in the last 50 years. Furthermore, the chemical soup from air, water, and land that empty into our waters has both cumlative and synergistic properties which must be considered.

Most fishermen will tell you that they believe that the stocks of trophy fish have been dwindling in both quantity and quality. But there are also other avenues that need exploring including the fact that commercial fisheries have better equipment and are much more efficient in locating fish and capturing them during the last 50 years.

Putting all of these things together gives you what the trophies look like today. Even in trout streams of a reputable nature for instance like the Letort Spring Run in Carlilse, Pennsylvania there are few trophy fish compared to the 40's and 50's. And this is according to the Pennsylvanias Fish and Boat Commission's data. Was it over fishing that killed this gene pool? Or was it environmental degradation of the stream with repeated assults of pesticides and herbicides from the nearby water cress farms over the years as well as increased sedimentation?

On Penns Creek 50 years ago there was a strain of large brown trout larger than anything that you would catch now. What happened to this race of big trout? Well my old fishing buddies who have passed away told me two things killed the gene pool: waders and the spinning reel! Yes, waders! Why? Because anglers 50 years ago didn't wade very far out into the stream (especially a rough large river like Penns Creek). But cheap waders allowed fisherman to explore areas they couldn't with hip boots.

The spinning reel took care of the rest. Because most fisherman even bait fisherman used a fly rod and reel back then for fishing. The new spinning reels allowed anglers to toss bait, and hardware in places that few anglers could reach in previous generations. As was the custom back then anglers kept whatever they caught including numerous large brown trout which many old timers thought were the genetic brood stock of wild trout in the stream.

In places like the wilds of Canada it is said that the stocks of large trophy fish have dwindled also. This make sense because for the most part those waters are oligotrophic (lakes with limited productivity in terms of nutrients and therefore the fish grow very slowly). So the trophies are pretty old fish and the theory of catch and release is just catching on in the last few years as compared to 30 to 50 years ago.

There is no doubt that our fisheries are threatened by a vast array of perturbations and problems but fisherman must do everything they can not be one of the problems on this list!




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