Must a Fish Be Huge to Be a Trophy?

The words “trophy fish” are synonymous with “big fish” these days. Everyone has their own standards, of course, but a trophy trout might be a 20-incher or larger, and a trophy largemouth bass might be one that tips the scales at 10 pounds or more. Trophy tuna can weigh hundreds of pounds, and a trophy billfish in the thousands!

Of course, most people wouldn’t hang a minnow mount on their wall. But, on the other hand, the word “trophy” (to me at least) represents an award or achievement more than sheer girth. And as such, some of my favorite trophy fish have fit in the palm of my hand.

Take, for example, this native greenback cutthroat trout—one of the best fish I caught all last summer. It didn’t pull very hard. And I certainly didn’t have a replica made to hang on my wall. (It would have been more appropriate to get a magnet replica to put on the side of my refrigerator, but I didn’t do that either.) The thing is, there are not a whole lot of greenbacks around in the wild (their native range is in central/northeastern Colorado, east of the Continental Divide). To find them usually requires some careful planning, and long hikes. And where they are easier to find, that’s usually the result of intensive efforts by wildlife officials and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited.

In other words, it’s a reward.

I think it’s only natural for anglers to want to catch whoppers, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Goodness knows, I love to tie into Mr. Big whenever I can.

I just think it’s important for us to also appreciate the smaller trophies—like the native brook trout in Maine, and resurgent Atlantic salmon in certain rivers, the grayling that can still be found in small pockets in the lower 48, lake trout that used to rule the Great Lakes, and on and on.

And any angler’s first fish, regardless of what it is, where it was caught, and certainly how big it is, is a trophy in my book. Maybe the best one of all.

I’m not foolish enough to imagine the day when fishing magazine covers feature grinning anglers gripping itty-bitty fish. But then again, I do see a lot more focus on the “why,” and the “how” of fishing, as opposed to just the “what,” not only in magazines, but also on websites, in blogs, and on television.

And that’s a good thing. Because those of us who find fishing truly “rewarding” understand that every fish is a “trophy” in one way or another.

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Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter

Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and he co-wrote The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing with the late Charlie Meyers.