Idaho is taking a new approach to stocking trout by planting larger fish but fewer overall.
The rationale behind such a move is clear. Anglers prefer catching larger fish. The 12-inch trout are a surprising 70% heavier than their 10-inch counterparts. In addition to angler preference, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has been struggling to stretch their budget.
With increasing hatchery food costs, the department has already made several cutbacks and improvements to save as much money as possible. Stocking fewer fish will allow them to save money and maintain the quality of fishing across the state.
It seems counterintuitive that stocking fewer trout will result in better fishing. The IDFG has not taken this decision lightly and has been studying the problem for the past four years. Because the goal of stocking trout is to provide a recreational fishery, the main measure of success is angler catch rates.
Using their “Tag-You’re-It” program to tag hatchery trout and then ask anglers to report all caught fish with tags, the department was able to learn some interesting information about their stocked trout. The tag program was very cost effective compared to labor intensive studies like creel surveys and check stations so the agency also saved money with their research.
First, and probably most importantly, anglers catch 12-inch stocked trout more often than the 10-inch fish. In fact, less than one 10-inch trout was caught for every three that were stocked. By comparison, anglers caught more than one 12-inch trout for every two that were stocked.
“We don’t have more money to buy more fish food, so the shift to larger trout will mean that fewer trout can be produced and stocked,” said Fish Production Manager Gary Byrne.
State Fishery Manager Jeff Dillon said that:
Our four year evaluation shows that in places where we switch to stocking larger trout, less means more. The waters that will be stocked with 12-inch trout will receive stocking numbers reduced by about 40 percent, but since larger trout are caught at almost twice the rate, the number of trout that anglers catch will actually be higher and anglers will enjoy the added bonus that the trout they catch will be two inches larger.
That should sound great to anglers who love fishing Idaho.