Tiger trout, photo by Terry Miller

“I’m not sure,” says the dad, holding up the fish.  “It’s got weird spots all over it.”

It’s a nice one, that’s for sure, even viewed from a distance, its silhouette as long as the boy’s legs.

Joe Kelly

“Must be a brown,” says Joe.  

Later, I, too, get a weird spotted fish.  Not half as big as the one the boy caught, but a trout all right—the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

“Must be a tiger trout,” says Joe.

“What the hell is that?”

A better question, now that I know the answer to the first, is why?

Tiger trout, photo by Terry Miller

Tiger trout are produced in fish hatcheries by fertilizing female brown trout eggs with the milt, which includes the sperm, from male brook trout.  Since the parent trout are from different genera, with different numbers of chromosomes, the fertilized eggs need to be shocked with heat to create an extra set of chromosomes, dramatically increasing the survival rate of the eggs.

While the science may sound complicated enough, I find the motivation for such efforts bewildering.  Or, better, if not bewildering, nonsensical.

Do we really need to invent fish? 

Of course, I get it.  Sort of.  Tiger trout grow quickly, and since they’re piscivores, they can presumably help control the sort of unwanted “rough fish” species that often show up in reservoirs and the like.  And they’re kind of groovy to look at.  

But is this a direction our fish and wildlife management should take?

I can’t help but think of the splake, a cross between the male brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) and a female lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush). First described in the 19th century, the hybrid, although possible in nature, was rare until the 1960s, when hatchery scientists tried to use the splake to replace collapsed lake trout stocks in the Great Lakes.  Fisheries managers sold the idea on the argument that the splake hybrid is fertile.  Problem is, however, the brook trout and lake trout don’t share the same habitat nor spawning behaviors, creating a condition known, somewhat poetically, as “behavioral sterility.”

In other words, if it worked, we would have already found splake, abundantly, in nature.

Tiger trout, too.  Sadly, I’m left wondering if both these fish are evidence of management strategies that continue to try to justify the existence of fish hatcheries.  Clearly, neither tiger trout nor splake are self-sustaining.  Groovy or not, is a new trout the answer?  Wouldn’t it be smarter to put our money on fish, and habitat, with a proven track record?

Then again, it’s hard not to like a jackalope.

Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, is still waiting for a meteorologist to tell him which came first, the high pressure or the low.