Fortune smiled and gifted me with a delightful evening on the local small waterway. No insects of the biting kind were in evidence and the air temperature was of such a degree that it was warmly pleasant but tempered by cool crepuscular breezes. I found myself in successful contest with fishes of 5 species: Catostomus commersonii, Lepomis cyanellus, Micropterus dolomie, Ambloplites rupestris and Lepomis macrochirus. Except for C. commersonii they were all sunfish of the family Centrarchidae, C. commersonii being one of the Cypriniformes, an order that includes carp, minnows and loaches. What they all five have in common though, is that they are all native to my local environs.
When you use latin it makes everything classier right? Maybe not. Here’s what I caught in plain English; a white sucker, some green sunfish, a few smallmouth bass, a couple of rock bass and a bluegill or two. Woo-Hoo! It’s like a grand-slam(+1) right? But nobody brags about this kind of thing though do they? When you catch a trout grand-slam in a stream it’s pretty cool though, and you might mention it. A trout grand-slam would be something like brown, rainbow, brook and cuttthroat, right? Here’s the thing though – that combo is of course is not possible without stocked fish, or wild but non-native fish. It’s not natural. I could be wrong but I doubt that there’s any stream in which you could catch four native species of trout (if I’m wrong please let me know). Perhaps if you include salmon it’s more possible, I’m not sure.
The point is that I can drive a few minutes to small local warmwater stream and have an evening of catching fish on the fly rod (or tenkara rod as was the case). I can readily catch 5 or 6 species of native fish all in the same stretch of stream. And most put a nice bend in the rod. Pound for pound, the sunfish family fights better than any trout.
Is it a compromise? Or is it a promise. I used to think the former but now I say the latter. In the not too recent past I looked to the warmwater stream as a big compromise. Don’t get me wrong, I still love small stream, mountain stream, trout fishing. It is still my favorite kind of fishing. But I don’t view the local wamwater waterway as the compromise that I used to. It is a waterway full of promise. It used to be akin to an open sewer, a stream despoiled by industrial pollution, acid mine drainage, sewage. It still bears the scars of these former assaults, and judging by the presence of some high-water sewage overflow warnings it still suffers. But it has come back from the brink to be a decent little stream. The smallmouth aren’t huge – but they are there, along with many other fly catchable fish. Like the stream itself these denizens are survivors. They are natives. They belong here. Which cannot be said for many of the trout in Pennsylvania and all across the country. I don’t want to be preachy and I don’t mean that as any kind of indictment. Things are what they are. Some fish have been put where they don’t belong. Perhaps it was ignorant and in hindsight destructive but it is what it is.
The thing that struck me when I was fishing this stream and catching these fish is that, not only is it not a compromise but it is a privilege to be able to do so. These small streams and the native fish that live in them deserve our respect as tenkara anglers, fly fishers or whatever kind of angler you are. To catch these fish roots you in the present and connects you to the to the past.