Rarely do we see trophy trout in Switzerland. Why is that?
Trophy Trout in Switzerland
Truth to be told, there is a steady decline in the number of trout in Switzerland. In the same wake, it is a rare occasion to be able to find and document large trout feeding on insects. Anglers have argued about the reason for this decline since decades. Yet, regarding those reasons there seems to be no common ground. Therefore, I summarize common reasons put forward for the decline of trout by anglers.
The following clip is from a river that is not open to the public:
Threats to Trout
The following threats are commonly referred to as reason(s) for the steady decline in trout population in Switzerland.
Birds of Prey
Many anglers in Switzerland reply to this question by accusing birds of reducing the fish populations. Yet, I am not buying it. If the same river features a significant difference in trout number and size, but being physically only 50 meters apart. Therefore, it is affected by the same amount of birds and other environmental preconditions and thus there must be another explanation.
The obvious villain of our vulnerable fish population are birds of prey. Indeed, birds were blamed for declining numbers in fauna for centuries. Be it the vulture for killing livestock and children or kingfishers for feasting on fish. Apparently, such reasoning seems still applicable even in 2020.
To some extent certain birds, such as migrating cormorants, can have a detrimental influence on fish populations. For example, the number of cormorants at lake Geneva is staggering that even the trees suffer from their presence. Nevertheless, to blame the entire situation on birds is ridiculous. There is more to that.
Hydro power is a huge business in Switzerland and does not halt to block even small streams. As it looks now, it is our number one opportunity to achieve our goals to battle climate change and become a “green” country. However, as good as it might sound, history taught us that migrating fish cannot live with dams, unless they feature sophisticated fish ladders. Recently, my good mate Jonas Steiner released a film about atlantic salmon in Europe and how they went extinct.
Apart from blocking migrating routes for salmon and eels, hydro power causes the level to rise and drop quickly. Among the most detrimental effects on waterways are a hardened bottom of the river and unusual mud flooding whiping out entire populations. Therefore, it is highly questionable whether hydro power is the solution to attain our climate goals by sacrificing our very own fauna.
A third commonly referred threat to our brown trout population in Switzerland is agriculture. Intensive farming requires the use of chemicals such as Chlorothalonil. The longterm effects of these chemicals on our environment are still to be determined. Certain pesticides and fungicides have been limited or even prohibited recently. Yet, to what extent this influences trout populations remains to be seen.
Another alarming finding for human and trout alike, is the fact that our very drinking water is polluted. Shortly before COVID overtook the news around the globe, there was an outcry about the quality of our drinking water. Apparently, the extensive use of the fungicide Chlorothalonil is detectable in our life-source in unsettling quantities throughout Switzerland.
Heatwaves are recurring more fequently, mountains begin to crumble and glacier retreat faster than ever. Climate change is real and visible at our doorstep. The steady incline in temperature slowly suffocates our trout populations*. For example, the praised endemic tiger trout population of the Doubs river struggles a lot. Even though trout can migrate upstream to colder waters (unless there are dams), the advanced effects of climate put a serious risk for trout and fish who require cold, oxygenrich water.
Oberserving wild Trophy Trout in Switzerland
I am aware that I use the term trophy trout flexibly in this post. Nonetheless, all these observed trout are massive in Swiss terms and therefore earned their title. It is a rare occasion to be able to find feeding trout in that size. Explanations for the decline, such as birds of prey, might be applicable to other parts of Switzerland, yet these locations I visited receive the same amount of birds. Moreover, it is the very same water that feeds this creek and it is far from natural. Pointing out a few explanations common among Swiss anglers to why it is rare, I think anglers in combination with other human induced pressure are the most obvious. Thus, I refer to my post about Catch and Release in Switzerland and call out to every angler: Limit your catch!
For further but not conclusive reasons to the decline in trout population check out the project Fischnetz (fishnet) .
* I use the term “trout populations” in plural in this post due to the presence of several different strains of brown trout. They are genetically unidentical and differ significantly in appearance. For more information read here.