Tiger trout becoming scare throughout state

Bob Frye
| Sunday, March 23, 2008

If catching a tiger trout is on your to-do list, you might want to get to it, and soon.

Time is running out.

Don't panic; you're not dying, as far as we know, so you can quit checking for your pulse. But tiger trout are about to become scarce.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which has raised a relatively small number of tigers -- a hybrid mix of a brook and a brown trout -- for the last four or five years is about to pull the plug on the experiment.,

"There are tigers being stocked this year and there are still some in the system for next year, but after that we are going to terminate the program," said Leroy Young, director of the commission's bureau of fisheries.

The tiger trout program was never an "official" undertaking per se, Young said. Rather, hatchery managers have been raising the fish.

How big the effort has been is hard to say.

The Reynoldsdale hatchery in Bedford County has produced about 20,000 each year for Greene, Fayette, Somerset, and Bedford counties. But the hatcheries do not have specific tiger trout production goals, so no one has kept close tabs on how many have been dumped into waters around the state, said Tom Cochran, manager of the commission's southern hatcheries.

The commission first decided to try raising them for a variety of reasons.

One was tied to sport. Tigers have a reputation for being a tough, acrobatic quarry.

"They're a good fighting fish. They'll come up out of the water like a salmon and walk across the water on their tails," said John Angelo, who raises tigers as owner of Angelo's Trout Farm in Normalville.

They're also a distinctively-marked fish, Young said. The wormlike markings found on the backs of most brookies become enlarged and often contorted into stripes on a tiger trout -- hence their name. They often exhibit a greenish cast, and their fins can bear the distinctive white trim of a brook trout.

Hybrid fish often exhibit what's called "hybrid vigor," too. That is, they grow faster and more efficiently in hatcheries than purebred species.

For all of those reasons -- and simply to give anglers something unique to fish for, like the golden rainbow trout known as palominos -- the commission has been giving tiger trout a try.

The results have not been promising, however, said Fish and Boat Commissioner Don Anderson of Somerset County.

In a hatchery setting, 90-95 percent of the brook and brown trout eggs that hatch survive to reach the fry stage. With tiger trout, the survival rate is closer to 25 percent, he said.

"So when you do some math, you can see that if you're running a hatchery and you want to produce 100,000 tiger trout, you're going to have to keep three times as many brood fish as you would with brook or brown trout," Anderson said.

In a perfect world, the commission could afford to house the extra brood fish needed to raise tigers, Young said. But with hatchery space at a premium already -- Reynoldsdale will go partially offline to undergo a complete renovation next year -- tiger trout seem to be a luxury the commission can't afford.

"Producing tiger trout is an interesting thing to do from a fish culture standpoint. And they are a neat looking fish, no doubt about it. But we can't afford to continue trying something that doesn't seem to be panning out," Young said.

That's not to say tiger trout are going to disappear forever. The commission could try raising them again at some time in the future, Anderson said.

But that time is not now.

"We may have to put them on the back burner for now, but we could always look at them again later," Anderson said.

What does it take to catch a tiger trout• The most important thing, it seems, is fishing in waters that hold them.

Tigers feed largely in invertebrates, just like any other trout, so the same baits, flies and lures that take brooks, browns and rainbows will take tigers, too, said the Fish and Boat Commission's Leroy Young.

Not all waters get stocked with tigers, though.

The Fish and Boat Commission only stocks tiger trout during the pre-season stocking period, and only in waters that otherwise get brook trout.

So if you want to know where the tigers are headed, look at the trout stocking list, pick out the waters -- mainly streams -- that get brookies in the preseason, and you can expect to find a few tigers, too.

Tigers can also occur naturally in the wild, but they're extremely rare.

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