If the national emblem of the United States were a fish, instead of the bald eagle, I wonder what species it would be.
The natural choice might be the largemouth bass. After all, largemouths are found throughout the country. And you can make an argument that largemouths do more for the business of fishing than just about any species.
But what about smallmouth bass? They’re pugnacious and fickle, arguably among the most fun fish to chase with a rod and reel. Granted, they’re not the prettiest things to look at. I think of them as the wild turkey of fishes. I bet Ben Franklin would have voted for smallies, like he cast his lot for the turkey over the eagle.
Maybe the most appropriate bass of all is really the striped bass. What a noble fish indeed—so muscular and powerful. And you can catch stripers on both coasts, as well as in a number of inland lakes, from Georgia to the Utah gorges.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to leave trout off the ballot, but which trout would it be? The brown trout, though we love them, really aren’t American fish. They were imported from Europe in the 1870s. They aren’t really “invasive fish,” more like immigrants.
And rainbow trout are from a native range (Pacific Coast) that’s far more limited than all the stocked lakes and rivers where you can find them now, even as far south as Texas.
The real trout contenders would have to be brook trout and cutthroat trout. But they’re also regional fish, more appropriately “state” fish. Brookies are the state fish in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia, and Michigan, and New Jersey (though how they beat stripers in Jersey is beyond me). Just about every Rocky mountain state has attached itself to some strain of cuttie.
How about the northern pike? Too sinister, I guess. And too northern. But I kind of think a national fish should have teeth.
You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that America’s national fish “identity” revolves around the multitude of different species we can chase, in every state, in any season. We really are blessed in that regard.
Let’s keep the eagle, and get out there to go fishing.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT magazine, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.