We found that we were forced to only keep hatchery trout on what was a very expensive outing to the south fork river this past week. This is a fish we could have fished for a few miles from home. We also found that while fishing for trout in the south fork, it was very hard to find a native fish. The native fish we did catch were small and a lot were foul hooked. I have fished this river for years and have never foul hooked as many fish. I feel that this was a bad addition to south fork or any river. I think the hatchery fish will starve out the native fish.
Every year we release over one million hatchery steelhead smolts into the South Fork Clearwater River (no hatchery rainbow trout catchables are released into this river). Two years later, many of these steelhead smolts will return as 12-16 pound steelhead that attract anglers from all over the country. Releasing over one million steelhead smolts may seem like a lot, but survival during this two year trip is not that great (less than 2% make it). As such, if we want to create a good steelhead fishery in the future, we need to release a lot of fish. A portion of these steelhead smolts don’t migrate to the ocean and remain in the river (we call this residualizing). Even if only 1% of these fish remain in the river, that leaves over 10,000 hatchery rainbow trout for anglers to harvest. For this reason we encourage the harvest of these fish (they have a clipped adipose fin) and allow a 6 fish limit. We do not allow the harvest of wild fish (fish with an adipose fin) because many of them are actually wild juvenile steelhead that will eventually migrate to the ocean. These fish are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and that is why we don’t allow any harvest on them. We also don’t allow the harvest of cutthroat trout in this river as their numbers are very depressed due to habitat degradation and overharvest. Our hopes are that having a catch-and-release season on them will help bolster their numbers. I’m not sure why your fishing experience was different this year than in past, but I can assure you that we have not changed the number of fish we stock into this river.