If these trout
could talk...they might say
theories of fish management are wrong
?Hatchery trout aren't worth the money
?There is no such thing as a fished-out stream
?Bag limits don't make sense
?Size limits should be abolished
?Most fishermen can't fish
The mute trout
shown on the preceding pages—male and female in the first act of the spawning
process—have no voices with which to express themselves on the subject of man
and his works as they apply to trout. They do, however, have Dr. Paul Robert
Needham (below), on whose unique experimental station on Sagehen Creek in the
California Sierra these pictures were taken. And with Dr. Needham around, what
trout needs to talk?
There is probably
no man in the world who knows more about these fish, and certainly no one who
can express himself better on the subject. A deceptively gentle-looking,
roly-poly zoologist at the University of California, Dr. Needham has spent most
of his 58-year lifetime studying trout and developing explosive opinions about
them. He believes, and backs up his beliefs with factual research, that most of
the methods now practiced in the name of fish management to insure the
continued satisfaction of the fisherman's enormous appetite for fish are
ridiculous, wasteful and morally degrading.
Dr. Needham does
his best to bring the knowledge he has gained to the attention of fishermen, as
well as fish and game professionals but, curiously enough, he has found they
hate to listen. Fishermen live by fixed beliefs handed down through
generations, and their opinions are hard to budge, even when they are faced
with indisputable evidence. On Sagehen Creek not long ago, for example, Dr.
Needham encountered a disgusted angler, homeward bound after a morning spent in
futile lashing of the waters. Dr. Needham listened with a sympathetic smile to
the fisherman's complaint that the creek was "fished out." "As it
happens," he said, "we're pumping a pool dry downstream. Care to have a
did, and while he watched, four graduate students of Dr. Needham's staff pumped
out the pool. As the water level sank, the surface was shattered by more and
more skittering fish. When they had been carefully netted, anesthetized with
Chlorotone, weighed and measured, Dr. Needham turned to the frustrated angler.
"That makes 48 fish over six inches," he said, "including a
2�-pound brown trout. Not bad for a fished-out pool, is it?" The fisherman
said not a word. It was a pool he had fished in vain that morning.
know," said Dr. Needham after the angler had departed, "he saw all
those fish, but I don't think he really believed it. He'll probably go home and
holler for more fish plants. He'll still say this creek is fished out. But
there are more than 8,000 trout over four inches long in Sagehen in the five
miles above the highway. And there hasn't been any stocking here since 1951.
The plain truth is that, except in very special circumstances, I don't believe
a stream can ever be fished out. It's just that most fishermen don't know how
bear out Dr. Needham's statement. A study by the California Department of Fish
and Game showed not long ago that 65% to 75% of all fishermen do not—and
apparently cannot—catch any fish at all even when hatchery fish are dumped into
the stream right in front of them. Five percent of the fishermen—the real
experts—catch 25% of the fish; 10% account for half the total catch.
doubtless a great many fishermen who are secretly aware that they belong to the
65% to 75% who never catch anything, but what annoys Dr. Needham is that their
solution to the problem is so often simply
to demand that more fish be planted. "Most of the plants die without
getting anywhere near a fisherman's creel," he says, "so why the hell
do we keep spending millions of dollars on dead fish?"