World Trout

by James Prosek
Fly Fishing Catalog 2005

Last September, I fished with Yvon Chouinard in a pristine wilderness setting in Yellowstone Park. It was a cold day on the upper part of Slough Creek near the Montana border and we were discussing the alarming decline of trout and salmon populations worldwide. As a light snow began to fall, I told Yvon about the diversity of trout species I’d caught that summer in the Balkans and how the recent wars had greatly degraded their habitat and numbers. Yvon hooked a nice native cutthroat trout and as he released it he said, “Let’s do something about it.” I told him that there was little infrastructure for a conservation effort there, and I felt the situation was hopeless given the political climate. Yvon was silent for a bit, and then as we walked over the gravel to the next bend in the river, he told me a story about how he and his friends had climbed to the highest point of the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda and stood and peed. “And for one moment,” he said in his own shy way, “we were the source of the Nile.” As if to say, if you can be the source of the Nile, anything is possible.

So, the World Trout initiative was, well, spawned. We, as anglers, may not always be able to be the source of the Nile for trout of the world, but we can try to keep the numerous tributaries pristine. World Trout’s mission is to identify groups or individuals that protect native fish, and to support their conservation efforts.

About the Author

James Prosek is a self-taught artist, accomplished author, activist and fisherman. He has published seven books, among them, Trout: An Illustrated History, Joe and Me, The Complete Angler, Fly-Fishing the 41st, Trout of the World and A Good Day Fishing. Find his books at He is currently at work on a book about eels.

For the better part of my life, I have been documenting the physical diversity of the trout of Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America in watercolors. It wasn't always easy to find pure native fish. In Europe and Asia, native strains of trout had hybridized with introduced fish, dams had blocked their migrations, development and mining silted their spawning grounds, pollution and overfishing killed them outright, irrigation dried their streams. The headwaters of the Tigris River in southeast Turkey are wracked by civil war between the Kurdish people and the Turkish army. In the Balkans and Algeria, Afghanistan or Chechenia, the larger political problems and civil unrest make conservation efforts to save trout seem almost trivial. In the southern range of the brown trout, in Morocco, Sicily or Sardinia, the challenge is to find any water at all.

I witnessed severe overfishing and destruction of habitat. But what was there to do about it when oftentimes you were at risk just being there, or when people were eating the trout because they always had? How could you save a fish when a war was raging, in places where survival was dictated by necessity and conservation a luxury? Efforts in Iran in the 1970s to document and preserve individual strains of brown trout were abandoned when the Shah was deposed by the Ayatollah. But unique individuals and groups are out there working to preserve indigenous trout. And one important thing they need is to have their story told and their work supported.

Need we attempt to explain why it is important to preserve native trout? For one thing, the existence of wild trout means clean water, arguably our most precious resource. Their disappearance would not only be a physical loss, but a loss to the human imagination.