It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I developed a consciousness for environmental conservation. There was my first catch of a pickerel as an eight-year-old in Medford Lakes, New Jersey. That was more of a scare than an encouragement! The days working for my Dad, surveying wetlands, and laying out future developments helped build an appreciation for the natural environment. My first catch of a bass at Medford Lakes as a teenager was an exciting memory. I had lots of camping trips with my family and friends where I explored forests and streams. It wasn’t until much later as an adult when I caught my first fish on a fly with Mark and Brian. Several years later, I caught my first trout on a fly that I tied at Tulpehocken Creek (Scott Major’s Isonychia pattern). All those moments built a conservation ethic inside of me.
This week I helped stock rainbow and golden rainbow trout in a city stream. In non-pandemic years, the stocking would be followed with the City Catch event where youth from Baltimore are invited to fish in Leakin Park and experience the outdoors. This year there won’t be crowds of kids fishing along the stream banks. There is hope that community leaders, parents, and youth leaders will be drawn to the stream and experience the connection with nature. My hope is that with each fishing excursion, at least one more conservationist is created.
I have written several times about my friend and mentor, Jim Gracie. I fondly remember sitting with him at lunch one day as he told stories. He told of the first trout he caught and how excited it made him. He had tears in his eyes as he confessed that his lifelong goal was to bring reproducing trout back to Gwynns Falls and to protect and expand the populations in the Jones Falls. His moment of catching a trout set forth a lifetime of environmental legislation, restoration implementation and education, and advocacy through work with Trout Unlimited, The Maryland Stream Restoration Association, and many other organizations.
Helping to stock the fish brought Jim Gracie back to my mind. I know the City Catch event was important to him. Carrying the buckets filled with trout, I imagined a younger child catching each fish, inspired by the magic of feeling the fish pull the line, turning the reel, and lifting the rod to net the fish. Staring into the water, I tried to identify the camouflaged patterns of the rainbow trout that allow them to disappear almost instantly. Casting a line into a stream feels like casting into the unknown. When a trout pulls from depths, with a flash of silver, gold, and pink, that connection creates a lasting memory. At least it has for me.
There are drawbacks to stocking fish in some ecosystems, where non-native fish compete with and sometimes prey on native species that are present. When stream ecosystems are recovering and natural populations are rebounding, it may be better to limit stocking. In impaired systems with the potential to support trout or other cold water species, it is important to connect people to these resources. Anglers provide a tremendous amount of support through licensing fees to natural resource protection and conservation efforts nationwide. George Bird Grinnel, a famous conservationist, stated that, “The linkage between conservation and recreation is strong…to show someone the finite nature of the natural world allows them to find the way to connect to conservation.”
Conservation efforts can help repair damage done to ecosystems and promote species diversity for future generations. Those efforts provide opportunities for education, recreation, aesthetic benefits, food security, economic benefits, and many other values for years to come.
I am proud to be helping Trout Unlimited protect and enhance our waters for the lives of aquatic species and the appreciation of our communities. As I walked by the stream and saw the flash of a rainbow trout performing underwater acrobatics, I hoped that the stocking efforts would connect to a future Jim Gracie or maybe even a future Scott Lowe :).