Aristocrat of fresh water fish

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114184785311615.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘Taxidermic mount of an 18.5-inch rainbow trout caught by Rockford attorney Michael Hedeen in the Apple River in 2005.’);

The Orvis Company of Manchester, Vt. was in business before Lincoln became president. It was started by a man named Charles Orvis in 1855 as a supplier of fly fishing equipment for trout, and today it has grown into one of the largest mail order companies for outdoor and fishing equipment in the world.

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit the Orvis store in Manchester and went immediately to the large room containing the fly fishing supplies. Upon entering the room, I was dazed by a glitter of tinsel and feathers making up the huge selection of artificial flies Orvis offered for sale. I asked a clerk how many different types of flies were available, and he replied he did not know exactly, but he was sure it was at least 3,000. Most of the flies were designed and individually tied to induce trout to believe they are catching some sort of insect for dinner.

Fly fishing for trout is very popular in much of the northern parts of the United States, and many trout anglers look down their noses at those who fish for bass, walleyes, northern pike and other game fish. They consider the trout to be the aristocrat of the freshwater fish kingdom and only those extremely dedicated to the piscatorial art should be permitted to attempt to catch them on artificial flies cast by long, slender rods.

Unfortunately for us in Illinois, the only native species of trout we have is the lake trout found in Lake Michigan. From the early 1930s until the mid 1960s, this magnificent trout was almost wiped out by the predacious sea lamprey, but extensive control measures of this beast resulted in a dramatic comeback of lake trout beginning about 1970.

There is, however, some inland fishing for stocked rainbow, brook, and brown trout in various locations in Illinois. There are four state hatcheries that rear trout for stocking with the largest being the Jake Wolf hatchery operated by the Department of Natural Resources. In 2004, this hatchery provided 72,000 finger-sized rainbow and brown trout to 35 locations throughout the state. Special fall and spring fishing seasons are mandated for trout in Illinois, and a trout stamp must be affixed to your regular fishing license

However, only a few of these stocked trout survive more than one year in Illinois’ inland waters, which reach 70 degrees. or more in the summer. Trout must have a water temperature of 60 degrees or less to survive, and none can find conditions favorable for spawning.

Trout differ from other freshwater species in their spawning habits. Instead of breeding in the spring and summer, they reproduce in the fall and winter. The eggs are large for fish eggs (about 1/5th inch in diameter), and in the cold water, the embryos develop quite slowly. Up to 100 days may be required before the embryos are mature and hatch. Trout like to lay their eggs buried in gravel that offers a degree of protection, and clean, unpolluted water is a must.

It is not a hard task to raise trout in hatcheries because of the ease with which eggs may be milked or stripped from gravid females and then fertilized with milt from a male. The fertilized eggs are allowed to develop in cold running water for about three weeks, when dark eyespots of the embryo show through the transparent shell. At this stage, they may be packed in damp moss and retain their viability for many weeks while being shipped to various locations for further development before transplanting. Unlike the European carp that has become a nuisance fish in this country, imported Native American trout have improved fishing in many European countries, especially Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries.

Most supermarkets these days feature rainbow trout in their fish department. In addition to raising trout for the fisherman to catch, commercial hatcheries raise them in great numbers to go directly to your dining table.

I remember years ago when I was camped out by the Tolsona River in central Alaska and was wondering what to have for breakfast. I had noticed small trout in the river the evening before, so I proceeded to catch a few rainbows in the 6 to 8-inch size, roll them in cracker crumbs, and deep fry them in fat. I don’t think I have ever had a more satisfying breakfast.

Anyone in this area who wishes to angle for trout this spring may consult the DNR for the opening day, number permitted, and the locations where trout have been stocked. For a welcome change this spring, forget about the common bass, walleye, crappie and bluegill, and have a go at the aristocrat of fresh water fish.

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

From the March 8-14, 2006, issue

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