Spot Check: The Trophy is the Experience


By Michael Wier
Field reporter and fishing ambassador for California Trout


In the world of salmonids, size does matter!

Being big is a great advantage to every type of salmonid.  From the beginning, the smolt that can get food first and grow the fastest has the best chance of survival.

Growing bigger quickly typically increases the chances of survival and provides multiple advantages.  Bigger fish get the best lies in the stream or areas of habitat in still water.

They can hunt and kill larger food sources sooner and are able to migrate farther, handle swift currents, and jump over larger obstacles.

The bigger a trout, steelhead or salmon grows, the better it can avoid or survive certain types of predators. 

What is it all leading up to?  For all salmonids the ultimate goal is to reproduce. 

The bigger a salmonid is, the better chance it has to successfully spawn. A larger female can carry more eggs and a larger male has a competitive edge.

The male can breed with the top female and pass on the best genetics to the next generation.

So why is it so ingrained in our culture to try to catch and kill the biggest ones and take them home as our personal “trophy”?



Cover Photo: Rainbow Trout in Truckee by Mike Wier




Photo: Mike Wier



There are many reasons why salmon and steelhead are becoming smaller on average, but for the sake of this article we will focus on inland wild trout fisheries.

Currently, (as far as I’m aware), there are no regulations to protect large brood stock wild trout except for catch and release only waters. 

This means that in most California’s trout fisheries, folks are legally allowed to keep the biggest fish they can catch.  And I regularly see this happen.

In fact, this practice is still encouraged in most areas. 

How many of you have seen the cooler in front of the Bridgeport Ken’s Sporting Goods on opening weekend where anglers are encouraged to bring in their big wild browns and rainbows to get a photo taken for the wall of fame then keep the fish on display for days or even weeks in the cooler? 

Or if you’ve ever stopped by the general store in Markleeville and seen the polaroids on the wall of huge, dead trout. 

I could go on and on. 

It’s in our fishing culture to want to keep the biggest fish we can catch!  But just because it’s legal to do so, should we? 


Photo: Mike Wier


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I think it’s time to move past the trophy trout kill mentality and start thinking about the future well-being of our fisheries. 

Am I against harvesting trout or eating trout?  No.

I think it’s great and I love to eat trout. However, I feel it’s important to understand the fisheries and know if the population can support harvesting of wild trout or if it’s stocked with trout for the purpose of harvest.

In wild trout fisheries, it’s important to maintain a brood stock of larger class fish to spawn and naturally maintain the populations. 

Here are some of the reasons I feel we should encourage releasing the biggest of our wild trout. 



In 2018, we released the revised Status of Salmonids Report stating that in 50 years we will lose 45% of our native salmonids and within 100 years 73% of our native trout, salmon, and steelhead will be gone if current trends persist.

All the science points to wild fish having a harder time surviving because of increased environmental stressors. Adding sport fishing to the list only makes it harder for trout to naturally reach those upper size classes.

Let’s take it upon ourselves as anglers to educate the angling population on the benefits of preserving our large wild fish heritage in this state and, in doing so, help sustain more quality fishing experiences for future generations. 


Michael Wier

Field reporter and fishing ambassador for California Trout


Photo: Mike Wier


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