Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bull Trout

It amazes me how some fish can get such a bad reputation, and how long it can take for those perceptions to change. It reminds me of the saying "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." In this instance, we are referring to the historically maligned and misunderstood fish, the bull trout.

The bad reputation stems from it's aggressive predatory behavior. The bull trout eats other fish, it is a piscivore, and the apex predator in the aquatic systems it inhabits. This puts it in direct competition with human fishermen. I guess we don't like competition...bull trout/salmon, wolves/elk, etc. Salmon is really what made the issue a big deal. As we began to continually overharvest salmon, and the populations plummeted, we began to search for scapegoats. The bull trout was an obvious candidate, and consequently a bounty was put on these fish. Fisheries workers would pitchfork spawning fish up onto the banks to rot, and people were encouraged to kill these fish if they were ever caught. Thankfully these practices were discontinued, and the bull trout managed to hang on and eventually receive needed protection under the ESA.

I have been fortunate to fish for bull trout in some of their few remaining strongholds in Montana and throughout the west. These fish are truly a worthy pursuit, and the potential for some really large trophies exists. A bull trout can grow to lengths of 35+ inches and can top 20lbs. I'm sure that the thought of hooking into a monster like that would make any fly-fisherman drool. I think the future of bull trout will depend on the perceptions of today's new breed of angler. The image of the bull trout needs to become one of a respected fish and a coveted trophy experience. If more anglers target this fish in catch and release areas, than it will do nothing but assist the long term recovery of the species.