Sunday Classic / Trout Deformities

11 comments / Posted on / by

Timmy!!!  Photo by Louis Cahill

Timmy!!! Photo by Louis Cahill

I spotted this little guy in a hatchery supported stream in North Carolina and fished to him until I caught him so I could get a photo.

While not common exactly, deformities like this are not unusual in either hatcheries or in the wild but you seldom see a ‘special’ fish like this in a wild stream. Nature deals with this sort of thing in short order. In a hatchery, however, a fish like this will do fine and grow to maturity.

This brook trout would have been a solid 16 inches if he were normal. A buddy suggested I bank him. There was no need. This kind of deformity stems from injury to the fish’s spine early in life. There are no defective genes or disease to pass along so I released him. After all, he plays an important role in the ecosystem, at least from the otter’s perspective.

There can certainly be problems with hatchery raised fish. Disease and poor genetics can wreak havoc on wild populations. On the whole, I think North Carolina does a good job and it’s important to remember that this is a regional issue that is best evaluated by region. What’s right for a trout stream in North Carolina is not right for a steelhead river in Oregon. That’s another topic worth some considerable ink, but not just now.

It did get me thinking about some more troubling fish deformities. Specifically Idaho’s two-headed trout. There was a little bit of excitement about it when the New York Times published photos, in February of 2012, of the deformed fish which were spawned in a laboratory from fish caught wild in streams surrounding the Simplot Smokey Canyon mine.

The photos were from a report Simplot filed with the government for the purpose of asking the EPA to raise the allowed levels of selenium caused in local streams by phosphate mining. I’m going to repeat that for the sake of clarity.

Simplot raised two-headed trout spawned from wild fish poisoned with selenium run off from their mine, showed the results to the government and said, “see, nothing wrong here, I think we can safely say a dramatic increase in poisoning is in order.”

If this seems surreal to you, you are not alone. What is even more insane is that the EPA seems to be buying it. This made my head hurt so badly that I picked up the phone and started calling friends in Idaho. After talking to several folks who are active in TU and other groups in Idaho, I was referred to some folks with the local fisheries department. The answers I got were, again, surreal. They amounted to this:

“Yeah, it’s pretty bad…it’s getting worse…there’s not really anything we can do about it…Simplot owns Idaho.”

I did a lot of reading about it and had every intention of writing a well-informed, well-articulated, thoroughly documented article on the subject and then decided, “FUCK THAT!” There are plenty of those out there already and I’ll include links to some of them but if you’re not reading them you’re not going to read mine. It would be boring and redundant. So instead, I’m going to offer you ‘my version’. It will be short and to the point, totally undocumented and quite likely inflammatory. I hope you enjoy it.


If you believe in the Devil, I know where you can find him. He lives in Idaho and he’s in the phosphate mining business. He’s hopelessly poisoned the water in a big part of the state. A state where the largest natural aquifers in the world can be found, by the way. A few folks, not enough of them fishermen, are upset about it and are raising a fuss but since they don’t have any money and are not in high positions in the government, like the board of Simplot are, nobody cares.

If Satan were forced to clean up his mess it would cost him a small fraction of the fortune he has stolen from our public lands and he wouldn’t like that so he has called up his gay lover, the government, and asked him to change the facts to accommodate the answer.

“No problem here, two-headed trout should be twice as easy to catch!”

The Prince of Darkness has fired up his spin machine and cranked out a bunch of dissenting opinions. He’s pointed out that the fish in the photos published by the NYT never swam in Idaho rivers. He’s made the case that mutations occur in nature and he’s convinced a lot of people the pollution is good and natural and nothing for us to worry about. The ‘experts’ have it under control.

He’ll get away with it too, and he’ll frack the Hoback and build his pebble mine and poison the air over the Green and fill the gulf with oil and what ever the hell else he pleases as long as we all care more about dollars than fish. These are boom times in hell so quit bitching about the spotted owl, pick up your shovel and get back to work. We’ve got a planet to sell.


So there’s my opinion, for what it’s worth and that’s not much. If you don’t like it, come back tomorrow and you can read about how to catch bonefish or something like that.

If you want a well-articulated, even-tempered, thoroughly documented story about Smokey Canyon, follow some of the links below and decide for yourself. The whole thing has me too worked up and I just have to move on. There are some good stories here by real journalists. None better than the video report from The Daily Show.

Conservation is all of our jobs. Get excited, get involved.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

11 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Trout Deformities

  1. Point well taken, Louis. It always surprises and saddens me when I talk with a fellow fisher/hunter who wants to deny the importance of protecting our resources against abuses. The Devil has had no trouble in recruiting henchmen. Whether it’s denying climate change or being unwilling to speak out against fracking, these henchmen seem dead set against thinking about the downsides of what their politicians are trying to sell them. Earlier discussions here about turning public land over to states get at another aspect of the Devil’s work. We must never stop fighting the Devil’s work.

  2. I absolutely agreed with your positions and thoughts until I got to ” so he has called up his gay lover”. That is out of line, disrespectful to gays and inappropriate as they certainly have no bearing upon the rotten situation in Idaho.

  3. This makes me very sad. What can we realistically do? I took my son for his thirteenth birthday (he is now 38) down the middle fork rafting with local guys(not paid trip) for 7 days. We fished together and caught cutthroat trout and released everything it was so much fun. Doubt the new EPA director gives a s–T

  4. Your gay lover comment is out of line. We have no relevance on the awful situation in Idaho. There is enough homophobia in the outdoor world, why perpetuate that in an otherwise good article.

    • I apologize that folks found this offensive. It was a South Park reference, which everyone got the first time around. It’s way out of context in today’s political environment. I assure you it was not meant to be disrespectful to the gay community. I’m as sympathetic the struggle of gay Folks as you are likely to find. Anglers are welcome here regardless of their sexual orientation.

      • I hear ya. I love that movie, but that one went over my head. Too much hate around every corner these days.

        Keep up the great work, and spreading the word about all the things we have to look out for as anglers and citizens.

  5. Great piece, but first part is off a bit.

    I guide here (NC, TN, VA) and have for over 30 yrs and NC Wildlife Commission many years ago (over a decade) began stocking triploids that are incapable of reproducing. Also, the majority of areas in our state that are stocked do not have wild fish and haven’t for over half a century….my lifetime.

    Even if the water quality is good, and it is in most of our mtn counties, a lot of areas don’t have wild fish due to elevation/water temp issues. They have some gradient, way more hatches than higher elevation waters, but they are marginal because of the elevation/temp issues. That is the very reason they are managed put/take or Delayed Harvest.

  6. “…If you believe in the Devil, I know where you can find him. He lives in Idaho and he’s in the phosphate mining business…”

    I’m sorry the Devil is in the White House and his minion is Scott Pruitt. Expect an Executive Order to be signed today requiring the EPA to review the previous administrations regulations to ensure that said regulations are not hurting the economy.

    Economy over Environment? That’s what they want.

    My voice will be heard, I might not get a damn thing done, but I refuse to stand idly by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...