I caught my first brown trout in Wyoming four years ago. I didn’t know how to hold a trout, I didn’t know how to differentiate them from other species, I didn’t know where they came from, and I sure as hell didn’t know how this moment would change the course of my life. This catch triggered a passion—arguably an obsession, that would take me around the world to fish and research the incredible propagation of brown trout. Last year I settled down in Montana, a fly fishing mecca satisfying my brown trout cravings. It was here that I began researching the history of brown trout in the US.
How the Brown Trout Came to America
Brown trout, native to Europe and Western Asia, were introduced to Michigan from Germany in 1883. Eighty thousand fertilized eggs were delivered to the United States and incubated. Despite some initial propagation issues, in spring of 1884 close to five thousand fish were released in the Baldwin River in Michigan.
Since then, they have been released into most states and in some places their populations are self-sustaining (they no longer stock the rivers). Evidence shows in certain places that this aggressive trout has displaced native populations—this must be balanced with angler demand as brown trout are a highly sought-after sport fish.
Environmental and Ecological Impacts of Brown Trout in America:
Brown trout are on the top 100 invasive species list of the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUSN). Although they hinder native populations through predation, competition, displacement, hybridization, and occasionally extinction they have indirectly benefited river ecology in most states through policy and protection. People love to fish for brown trout and because of this, people are motivated to protect their habitats. This then helps other species who rely on the river.
In some rivers, brown trout negatively impact the native fish species and in other rivers, they survive where other trout cannot. It is hard to say whether the benefits of brown trout out way the drawbacks or not. This introduced species is here in the United States and not going anywhere; for now, all we can do is monitor populations and follow Fish and Wildlife guidelines on how to handle brown trout river to river.
Economic and Social Impacts of Brown Trout in America:
As one of the most coveted sport fish, brown trout motivate anglers to buy fishing licenses. The funds from these contribute to maintaining fishing accesses and boat ramps, improving water quality, restoring fish habitat, teaching new anglers, and planning for long-term conservation.
These trout also attract anglers from around the globe to fish in rivers across the United States. Fishing tourism supports Fish and Wildlife funds to reinvest in protecting the rivers through out-of-state fishing licenses, but also the local economy through fly shop purchases, fly fishing guides, hotel bookings, and food and beverage. This adds up, and we must consider that brown trout are somewhat to thank for our clean rivers and local economies.
Conclusion: They Are Here to Stay.
I think we can all agree, there is nothing like the tug of a brown. Their aggressive takes and streamer eats combined with their pronounced jaw hooks make them a prized catch, no doubt about it. They have made both positive and negative environmental, ecological, economic, and social impacts in the United States.
They have made a home here and at the moment they are not going anywhere—but if time travel were plausible and given all that we know now, would you have chosen to release those eighty thousand eggs into the Baldwin River over a century ago?
Article and photos from Gloria Goñi, @lapescadora.