Monday, November 20, 2006

An Eight Fish Limit

Several years back I imposed upon myself a limit of trout that was reasonable to land in a days fishing yet minimize the impact I was having on the resources I frequented. Being somewhat of an Old School’er I set that number at eight. Why this number versus another or for that matter any limit at all , especially given fewer fish to the hand isn’t what most anglers are pursuing these days?

To begin, I arrived at the number eight based upon Utah and many of the west’s fishing regulations prior to catch and release or slot limits becoming effective management tools. Back then a legal limit was eight trout. After pondering this, that number seemed like a reasonable goal for an outing. So "8" it is.

This impetus was derived 25 years of being a fly fishing professional in various capacities and observing first hand the impact as anglers we were having on our waters. Having run a shop for the past twenty years I’m privy to a tremendous amount of feedback on everyone’s days out. It soon became evident that there were a lot of 20, 30 or 40 plus fish days being done out there. Even if some of these numbers were stretched, halving them would equate to a fair number of fish caught in a day. If you’re on some wilderness stream that rarely sees a soul, that’s one thing, but on many of our pressured western waters it’s becoming evident that fishing with the proficiency we are capable of does have an impact on our resources.

I don’t know your preferences, but I don’t care much for catching a trout that harbors the evidence of past battles, especially those that bear the scars of numerous hookings. I refer to these fish as “Trout Junkies” their jaws marked from previous catches, much like the residual tracks on a drug addicts arm. I remember one of the largest rainbows I’ve landed in some time on a Shop outing to the Beaverhead. The fish gave me a great battle, but upon landing it looked like Rocky in his most recent film at the end of the fight. Its mandible was torn, the mouth bore countless scars and it’s body had the evidence of numerous past photo opportunities. That was the last fish I caught that day.

As fishers we have become very efficient at catching trout. Today’s tools, such as Fluorocarbon (I don't think this stuff is all cracked up to its hype) and the berth of the strike indicator, combined with a wealth of readily available information have significantly improved our successes. Those successes, in my mind, have deteriorated the quality of our resources and fly fishing experiences on many of our most fabled waters. The questions simply became: does the catching of one or two more fish really make a difference? By limiting a catch does it really deter from ones enjoyment and success? My personal findings and challenges surprised me.

Since my limit was established, days on the water surprisingly have become much more enjoyable and rewarding. For the first time in a while, I find that I’m experiencing those aspects of the sport that I found attractive in the first place. Fly fishing compared to many other types of angling is challenging. I would venture to say, that's why many of you first picked up a fly rod.

It has also greatly transformed the way I approach my days fishing. I no longer randomly cast a fly in hopes that any trout will accept my offering. I don’t’ have favorite holes, or pieces of water. My days and angling ambitions are more centered on finding challenging trout to fish to. Having fished this way for over a decade I now understand that the methods were far more rewarding than the overall volume of a days catch. Situations that were the most memorable were those that were the most demanding. My restrictions have taken me back to the root of what I find the most enjoyable about this sport, the callenge.

In my early years of initiation I was fortunate to share the waters with some of the west’s most skilled fly fishermen. For them, a day on the water was about catching a particular trout. It was quickly evident that their daily quests challenged them in ways that required hunting, skill and patience. One of my early mentors was Reid Bonson. After a day on the water he took me to the Box Canyon to check out this fish. It was in fairly broken water, so it took me some time to locate the big rainbow. That particular evening we just watched. This obviously wasn’t the first time he’d been here, sitting in quiet observation waiting for the right moment. Over several months he patiently pursued a single trout without ever casting a fly. When the day finally arrived and he crawled from the heights in an attempt to catch that trout, he did. It was a 28"rainbow that had the tail remains of an 11" rainbow still protruding from its gaping mouth.

Reid was the consummate hunter when it came to trout fishing. To this day he’s the most skilled trout fisherman that I’ve come to know. From him I learned that the more you put into the game the more you got out of it. He was a superb caster and flawless at presentation.

As much as I took these early lessons to heart, for a time I got off track and simply just caught trout and at times a fair number of them. I guess I thought that such feats were important and the reason I fished. As time went on my outings had little meaning nor left any semblance of recollection at days end. Small or large, it didn’t matter, for I’d reduced each trout to nothing more than a part of an insignificant whole. Over time my thoughtless proliferation was having an impact on those waters, waters that were special and offered valuable recreation.

As pressure on our limited resources grows to ensure the quality of our experience is preserved we must take into consideration the impact we are having. The next time you have one of those epic days of 10, 20 or s0 plus fish, try limiting your success on your next outing to a fish or just a few select fish. Challenge yourself with the one that got away. If you're new to the sport just trying to get to an 8 trout day, spend more time hunting trout and focusing on catching specific fish. You'll learn a great deal more about fishing with a fly than by sticking a strike indicator on your line hoping it will signal you've possibly hooked a fish.

Bottom line is, I'm excited for anyone who wants to fish with a fly, regardless of their daily limits. I'd like to see everyone get as much out of the sport as I do, whether it's one fish or more. We must, however remember we are stewards of our resources. Therefore, we should be concious of the impacts we are having upon them and on others we share our waters with if we care to enjoy this great sports as we've come to know it.

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