I’ve heard it said that Pennsylvania is home to more miles of trout streams than any other state except Alaska— and of course Alaska is over 14 times the size of Pennsylvania so it’s hard to feel bad losing out to Alaska in that regard. Of the trout streams in Pennsylvania there are many hundreds that are considered Class A Wild Trout Streams adding up to more than 1500 stream miles of Class A trout water. And this doesn’t even represent all the miles of stream that have natural trout reproduction, Class A is only the highest ranking for streams that harbor naturally reproducing trout.
Most of the wild trout water is home to the native brook trout or the naturalized brown trout. With brookies mostly holding sway in the smaller headwater streams. Wild rainbows are not very common in Pennsylvania. I’ve personally caught them in four streams and have heard tale of them in a few more. Considering the thousands of miles of wild trout streams it’s always puzzled me why there are so few with wild rainbows. My puzzlement is compounded by the way wild rainbows have flourished (sadly to the detriment of the native brook trout) in other parts of Appalachia like the Great Smokies. I reckon I should consider it a blessing that the situation is so. Our native char have enough to deal with given the constant pressures of habitat loss and competition from the non-native brown trout.
So I should probably begrudge Oncorhychus mykiss even the small hold that it has in Pennsylvania – especially considering the mutt strains of hatchery produced rainbows that it must be descendant from and the poor choices made by generations past to stock them everywhere. But somehow I cannot. The fish are just fish. They cannot help what they are or where they came from. But because of their rarity they hold a special place in my angling heart and I can allow myself the luxury of enjoying them for that same reason. Our modern life is full of these kinds of contradictions – we are constantly at odds with the very things that we love. And yes, sometimes you need to think about these things… and at other times you need to turn off the thinking.
So I go in search of these shining silver spotted contradictions, these fish. I go out of my way to track them down from time to time. I just push the notion that they don’t belong here out of my mind and I get on with the business of matching wits with a creature with a brain the size of pea while leaving behind my own swirling thoughts and constant internal dialogue and I try to just get lost in the finding. And so find some peace with the way things are.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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