Sometimes, you just need a “session.”

You may be surprised to learn that Romano and I usually only fish together about six times a year. Indeed, sometimes, that involves some extremely cool places and great fish. But sometimes, we just head off to a little playpen I know to catch stocked fish on private water and see what happens. On those days, we do twisted things like throwing 3-inch articulated streamers with sinking tips (usually reserved for saltwater fishing), or we throw dry flies that look about as out of place as I would at a White House State Dinner. That’s play time, and it’s great fun. We actually learn a lot. And we call a day like that a “session.” Sometimes, we feel a little dirty after, like we each need to go to confession, but, dang, it can be fun. We are lucky guys, and we know it.

Goodness knows, I have caught enough stocked monsters and have enjoyed the pulls they provide as much as anyone else. In the right places at the right times–and appreciated in the right context–fishing for stockers can be balm to the soul. And without stocked trout, fly fishing simply would not exist in America as we know it.

But a reality check is in order.

I say this because I’m also the guy who has written stories on “world record” rainbows, and I was the guy who covered the “Hogzilla” phenomenon for Field & Stream. I’ve caught freak-show rainbows in Argentina, and while that was fun and worthwhile, the truth is that “Jurassic Lake” is “Jurassic Fake.”

I’m not knocking any of that for what it is at face value, but what I am saying is that it is very important for trout anglers to understand and appreciate the true value of wild fish in wild places, and keep everything in context. A 12-inch native cuttie may indeed be a greater “trophy” than the 25-inch stocker rainbow. The native and wild fish more accurately gauge the skills of anglers, and the health of rivers, always. To me, those are the most important measuring sticks.

As such, I worry that, in this day and age, it’s getting too easy to “pay to play,” and create your own wall-hanger photo with your wallet, rather than with your boots and fly rod. I don’t think that money should ever be the shortcut to “legitimate” trout angling success. I think that should all depend on what’s in the angler’s noggin, and not what’s in their back pocket.

So, as far as mondo-stocked fish are concerned, I say go and enjoy them if you can. And if you can’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out. Because they shouldn’t count. Sure, they may be appreciated for what they are (and that’s certainly no fault of their own). But, we all have reasons to keep our eyes on the bigger prizes.

And that inevitably revolves around wild fish.