The other night, while wandering through the late Robert Behnke’s iconic book – a compilation of his articles on all things salmonid – titled, “About Trout,” I happened to turn the page to a chapter named, “From Hatcheries to Habitat? Look Again.” Dr. Behnke had written these articles over the course of many years for TROUT, the quarterly magazine of the coldwater conservation organization, Trout Unlimited.

In the article, Dr. Behnke contends that there has been little or no progress made toward TU’s goal of replacing hatcheries with habitat, and replacing hatchery trout (catchable trout) with wild trout. He covers in detail the reasons for this lack of progress, as (with the brilliance so typical of his work and writing) he also makes the case for wild trout.

The article was written in the fall of 1991, and Behnke was obviously chiding TU members; asking us to recommit ourselves to our founding mission.

Here is a snippet of what Robert Behnke has to tell us about the value of wild trout.

“I will not attempt a weak imitation of Robert Haig-Brown to extol the more intangible aesthetic values associated with wild trout, but a value differential becomes apparent by playing a game of “what if.” Consider the changes in impact, meaning and symbolism in Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Big Two Hearted River,” if Hemingway had Nick Adams drive to a stocking site, toss out his bait, and haul out a fish transported from a hatchery a few hours before.”

Now, I understand that there has been a lot of derogatory drivel written about Hemingway by desk bound scholars saddled with masculinity issues – but if you are an angler, and you haven’t read Hemingway’s, “Big Two Hearted River,” then I urge you to find it and read it, because Hemingway’s story renders tangible the “intangible aesthetic values.” These are the qualities that Thoreau suggests we are searching for when we are fishing for more than fish. Even if you don’t fish you should read it, simply because it is one of the most finely crafted short stories of 20th Century American literature.

When we read, “Big Two Hearted River,” in the context of Behnke’s “what if” proposition, the message shared by both Robert Behnke and Ernest Hemingway becomes clear: wild trout and wild places are important because we need them, and life would be an empty exercise without them – but here I have to defer to the story. Hemingway tells us why it is so far better than I am able to.


3 thoughts on “THE MEANING OF WILD

  1. Paul E. Pezza

    Thanks to Brian O’ for putting me on to this blog. It’s nice to find well-informed and thoughtful commentary on these issues.

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