Hmong, fishing, and conservation

Sam Moua hefts a beauty from the Kings River.


By Steve Thao

On any given day, if you are fishing on the San Joaquin or Kings rivers around Fresno, California, you are likely to see other anglers – and a majority of them will be Hmong.

The Hmong first came to America in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. They were the “secret army” the CIA enlisted to help fight the North Vietnamese communists.

Today, there are some 30,000 Hmong living in the greater Fresno area, near the great San Joaquin River. And a lot of them fish. 

I am one of them.

Most Hmong fish not for sport but for food. Coming from a land where you fish to eat and provide for your family, daily bag limits seemed strange and illogical to many Hmong-Americans when they first arrived 30 years ago. 

Fishing is imbedded in the Hmong culture, but conservation is not. However, the younger generation has slowly started to fish for sport and embrace a conservation ethic.

Recently I participated in two Hmong events, as part of my outreach to this community on TU’s work to restore the San Joaquin River and its salmon runs.

I attended the annual Hmong New Year celebration in Fresno during the last week of December. It was quite a spectacle, with people dressed in Hmong cultural clothing and endless displays of Asian food and goods.

Over 80,000 people attending the seven day event, and I had a steady stream of visitors to the Trout Unlimited booth interested in both fishing and fish conservation. Many Hmong are excited to learn about salmon coming back to the San Joaquin River and fully support the goal of restoring this river for the benefit of anglers and the community.

I also had a chance to fish with the Hmong Fly Fishers group on the Kings River. I personally got skunked, but others did indeed catch some impressive fish. Six pounds of speckled beauty came up to snatch a fly from a relative newbie who just started fly fishing!

I consoled myself by saying sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was happy to see Hmong anglers slinging flies and releasing fish they caught, signs of an emerging conservation ethic among this community of serious sportsmen.


Steve Thao is San Joaquin Valley Outreach Coordinator for Trout Unlimited.


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