In aquatic life the battle for existence and the survival of the strong are convincingly proved. It is very fortunate that the larger game-fishes continually take a big toll of the young of undesirable coarse fishes, like suckers, catfish, eels, chub, dace, perch, and some of the larger species of minnows, most of which feed and devour a great quantity of game-fish egg spawn. While nature rights itself in the long run, it is wise to assist her to further development in the abundance and size of all edible game-fish, especially so that each and every one of the species are of unusual economic food value, the choicest being the gamiest, from the salmon and trout down the line. In this valuable assistance, anglers can do their part in more than one way; first by refraining from the use of live bait, allowing it to remain to foster game-fish growth, and by using in its place various artificial baits, either of their own make or procured from others. Nearly every State in the Union, east or west, maintains competent fish commissions and hatcheries to breed game-fish for planting in their own waters. They can, I think, help their States to a much greater degree by more feeding rather than by breeding. The poultryman does not stop at the incubator, turning loose the tender chicks to forage anyhow for themselves; he provides food to fatten up and make them grow. There is no reason whatever why all barren streams and lakes in America should not be well supplied with ample natural food to sustain many times the quantity of edible game-fish now available, if scientific methods were in vogue.
It requires no genius to know that birds, animals, and fishes live to eat; the latter more than any. Fish always congregate thickest in any water where food is most abundant, and the more food of any sort they eat, the more rapid their growth and numbers. Give them ample food; they cannot help but breed and multiply to a much greater extent than by means of artificial culture. I am given to understand by those who are competent to judge that the natural food for game-fishes is far more abundant in waters flowing to the Pacific, also in the Middle Western waters, feeding or fed by the Great Lakes, than in rivers on the Eastern seaboard. This, if true, accounts for the much larger size attained in the West in different species of trout, bass, and pike.
A six-pound rainbow from Eastern waters is considered a giant. One of sixteen pounds is of common occurrence in Montana. The rainbows there feed on a giant winged hellgrammite and large bullheads; even the insects are of unusual size. While the Eastern rainbow is crammed with tiny insects, which is the only available food, they would soon get the large-size food if it were at hand to devour. When nature does see fit to provide with unusual lavishness, we find the Eastern rainbow takes its full share to suffocation, and it is shown in other species during the annual shad-fly glut, which occurs during May. In our large Eastern trout rivers the minnow family are wofully scarce; indeed the same is true of other food-fish. I am convinced from my experience and that of others, that both the brown trout and rainbow are much more gamy in Eastern than in Western waters. This may be accounted for by the fact that Eastern fish must hunt more diligently for their food, making them more active, adroit, and cunning.
One of the most distressing things about angling, everywhere, is the large number of young trout caught under size, both by accident and design, which is due to the extreme voracity of all species of trout. When young they are reckless in the extreme, going for the fly or lure with such dash and vim as to often make impossible their return to the water without injury. With plenty of food it would not be so, and it is a crime to kill a trout of any species under ten inches long, because they grow so fast that an eight-inch trout nearly doubles its size in a year under normal food-supply. For that one reason alone worm fishing in brooks where food is always scarce should be forbidden, especially if such brooks be stocked by the State. Indeed all places where fish are planted should not be fished at all for the reason that a young brown trout only four inches long will rise to a small worm or fly in the most audacious manner in precisely the same way his granddaddy does. I agree, in such cases the conscientious angler is helpless, and the only thing possible is to unhook the foolish youngster as carefully as possible and return it to the water uninjured. It would be hard to judge how many times a trout gets hooked and escapes during its short life, but we do know that if he is captured at seventeen inches instead of seven, the difference is, unquestionably, advantageous to the angler. We are all naturally very proud to capture the big fellows; the satisfaction is greater because the battle is more even. Adroit cunning against our skill - and to encounter such battles often, the angler must curb his insatiate desire for large numbers by returning to the water all but the larger fish, that they may grow for him, or for the other angler, to capture at a later date. This is one important way to encourage the growth of fish. If every angler would do so, in time conditions would be such that all could capture fish of a decent size that would furnish far better sport. I never met or heard of a fisherman having captured one or more large fish but who was, with pardonable pride, most anxious to talk about them or show them to friend or stranger. The larger fish should be most ardently sought after, for it is a most undesirable condition to have lakes or streams contain many large fish of cannibalistic traits that deplete the waters they occupy of an astonishing number of smaller fish of their own kind and others. If anglers only capture the smaller sizes, and the big fish eat them as well, the chances are very poor for the stream or lake to be supplied with fish sufficiently large to make fishing worth while as time goes on. It is quite true the bigger the fish the harder it is to capture; for that very reason we should push our efforts more in the direction of finding out just what are the best methods and lures to get them. In that way we solve another problem of how to encourage a greater abundance of fish.