I wanted to take a moment to talk about trophy trout in Northern VT's rivers, and my concern with VT's "trophy" trout program. Here in Northern VT we are lucky to have wild populations of Brook, Brown, and Rainbow trout, with rainbows being most plentiful. Pictured is a wild Trophy Brown Trout from a Vermont River.
WHAT REALLY IS A TROPHY TROUT IN VERMONT
I consider a trophy wild rainbow to be one over 15-16". Very rarely in this area do they get over 20", with my personal best estimated to be 22-23", and I don't expect to catch one that size again. Browns tend to be fewer in numbers on most rivers here, though make up the majority of fish over 20". A brown over 24" is very rare but possible. Brook Trout are plentiful in the headwaters and decrease in numbers as we move down the watersheds but I catch wild brook trout mixed in with rainbows and browns all the way into our big rivers, especially if the bigger river is near a small tributary. A trophy fish is one over 12-13". We have landed 3 in the 14-16" range this year which is exceptional, and I caught one 3 pounds or so years ago.
So why do I bring this up? Because I am concerned with what I am seeing on social media and even local news stories promoting stocked 2 year old rainbow and brown trout as Vermont Trophies, both by guides, recreational anglers, and VT Fish and Wildlife. I don't believe a fish raised in a hatchery, dumped in a river, and caught a few days later to be anything close to a trophy. I am worried that we, as fishermen, guides, and conservationists are accepting these fish to be trophies when they are anything but. If we accept that these planted hatchery fish are trophies are we going to fight to protect our true wild trophy trout and habitat? A hatchery trophy does not require great stream habitat, cool water, and spawning grounds. They can be dumped anywhere in the spring. If more fishermen's definition of trophy continues to fall in line with that of the VT Department of Fish and Wildlife, I fear the will to protect our wild trout will decline. I could go on and on about the archaic and awful regulations on our trout streams such as insane creel limits, lack of catch and release waters, lack of fly fishing only waters, lack of thermal refuge protection, stocking over wild fish, or lack of habitat improvements. But focusing on this one definition of a trophy I think is pretty important. As anglers, we need to make darn sure we recognize what is a trophy fish, what they need to survive, and try to influence VT fish and wildlife to shift focus more from stocking to conservation.
Bottom line, raised in a hatchery is NOT a trophy no matter how big it is. Those "trophy" fish hardly even have fins! Using our resources to protect wild trout and improve habitat will result in more true trophy trout at a cost far less than raising them in a hatchery.