The last century has seen the rapid spread of the rainbow trout across the USA, and Anders Halverson’s award-winning book An Entirely Synthetic Fish) does an excellent job of chronicling the rainbow trout’s manmade diaspora – along with the negative effects on native fish populations.
Halverson is a thorough researcher and a fine storyteller, and his engaging book never lags or lapses into biologist “geekspeak.”
Instead, it’s an engrossing read – one that’s hard to put down, and just as hard to forget.
Halverson dives into the history of the rainbow trout starting with the expedition up the still-wild (and dangerous) McCloud River to establish a hatchery.
With sportsmen cheering every step of the way, Halverson highlights the rainbow’s rapid spread across the USA (and the planet), and the displacement (and wholesale extinction) of the native species who get in the way.
Fortunately, he manages to do this without casting the fisheries managers behind the rainbow diaspora as “bad guys.”
It was a “conquer the wilderness” era, and it wasn’t until the watershed event on the Green River – where biologists used tons of Rotenone to poison out every last native species so millions of rainbows could be stocked – that fisheries people finally blinked.
Halverson’s account of the Green River project was gripping, and in fact, read a lot like a novel (I half-expected Bond to show up).
Later, Halverson examined Montana’s “no stocking” legacy, the impact of whirling disease on several key fisheries, and the ill-fated decision of Colorado’s hatchery program to knowingly stock whirling-infected rainbow trout in almost all the state’s waters.
Halverson’s examination of the Sierra lakes hit closer to home, where rainbow trout introductions into formerly fishless alpine lakes played havoc with amphibian populations.
As someone who lives and fishes in the mountains of California, I’ve heard a great deal of grumbling from “sportsmen” about the high country fish removal policies, especially since “our” trout are being removed to protect frogs, which most people don’t fish for.
Clearly, the “sportsmen first, natives second” attitudes of the past century still loom large in many of today’s outdoorsmen (witness the cutthroat recovery and wolf reintroduction issues of the Northern Rockies), and while it’s tempting to dismiss Halverson’s book as documenting a bygone era, that’s more self-delusion than reality.
Overall, An Entirely Synthetic Fish is an engrossing book that sometimes reads like a novel (though its 30 page bibliography will dissuade you from that thought).
It deservedly won a National Outdoor Book Award, and is well worth any fly fishermen’s time.