Thursday, June 14, 2007

What ever happened to just going fishing?

My last two outings I’ve had run-in’s with inconsiderate guides & anglers while fishing locally. That’s putting it politely. These irritating circumstances appropriately occurred while I was working on this Blog. Timely one might say. From the equipment and techniques we employ to catch trout, to our conduct on the water, fishing with a fly isn’t what it use to be. Personally I feel many of these modifications and behaviors are ruining our sport.

Since opening Western Rivers Flyfisher in 1986 I’ve seen considerable changes in how we gage success and in our fly fishing practices. Uneducated and poorly trained guides have contributed significantly to this current state of affairs, since they are oftentimes the first to impress many of our new participants. Fly-fishing competitions and their practices have accentuated current trends. Where in the past we’d go fishing with no real measure to the day in mind, today it’s strictly about personal numbers for a growing percentage of flyfishers. By the increasing number of complaints I hear, to the conditions of the fish we catch, if we have an interest in preserving that which motivates us to fish with a fly, we need to rethink our approach.

I got into fishing with a fly rod some 44 years ago and just like everyone I wanted to catch fish. But, if it was just about the catching, I would have stuck to the worm and bobber I’d started with. After moving to Utah in the 70’s I was fortunate to be influenced by some of the west’s most skilled fly fishermen. These guys laid the groundwork for me; a foundations rich in the sports traditions, ethics, and sportsmanship. Under their tutelage I became a student of the sport. I was fortunate to have such mentors.

I don’t know about you, but I was drawn to fishing with a fly simply because it was challenging and more complex than conventional methods of fishing. Now some may dispute this position and for a small percentage of conventional tackle anglers you have a good case. Yet, arguably casting a fly rod to hook and land a fish is more difficult than other methods of fishing. Such was the case when I began my journey, but today this point is arguable given the techniques and equipment we no use.

Advancements in equipment have us catching more trout and fish than ever. In the world of trout the strike indicator has helped us put more fish to the beach than any other single piece of equipment we us. In most instances it’s latterly taken the rod and its function out of the equation. I’ve written of my feeling for strike indicators in past Blogs. I use to think these things had a place in our sport, but I question that tolerance at this point given what they have done to the sport and seeing the overall heath of our fisheries slowly deteriorate.

On our more populated waters we’ve got to put limits on our day’s successes. For every 10 fish we touch, one dies. Even as catch and release angers we have an impact. Often times these are slow deaths. I’m giving away my age, but in the good old days if you caught a limit of trout (8), that was a dam good day. By today’s standards a limit of 8 would be viewed as a rather meager showing. With frequency I listen to customers who catch 15 or more trout on a daily basis. I’m delighted with their successes, but given everyone’s ability to catch more fish collectively with the growing number of participants fishing our limited number of resources, something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it’s our trout that are taking the hit. Many look like heroine addicts with the hook marks that scar their bodies. And we often ponder the question of why our fisheries aren’t as good as they use to be.

One of the magical aspects of fishing with a fly rod is the cast. In a “River Runs Through It”, the cast was the mesmerizing aspect of the movie that attracted so many to the sport. Today, with the introduction of the strike indicator it’s rare to find an angler who can perform a cast with any type of proficiency, yet the cast is the defining aspect of the sport. That’s why most people these days fish with nymphs and not dry flies. They simply haven’t taken the time to learn how to cast or present a fly. Fly fishing is supposed to be challenging.

As I eluded earlier, guides have had their hand in the declining skills of many of today’s fly fishers. They often are the first to teach, that’s a novel concept, and impact our new entrants to the sport. The Bob Lamb’s, Greg Pearson’s, Jeffrey Cardenas’s, Emmett Heath’s, and there are many more, of the world are getting hard to come by. On the average, today’s guides rarely know enough to teach. They’ve made the strike indicator the crutch of our sport, rarely use a dry fly that isn’t made of foam, and will literally race you down the bank to get to their favorite run in quest of their life blood, the tip. Guides should be stewards of the stream. For that matter we all should. Unfortunately, most are far from that and are there to serve only their own best interests.

It’s apparent there are a growing number of confrontations on our waters these days. Come on people. I had a guy several nights ago jump in the water so close that before long he was actually fishing to my fish. What really pissed me off is he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. How could he not. Just a week earlier I had a guide walk himself and his clients down the bank that one of my students was fishing. Later, he crossed the river in the run my students were fishing to see if they needed a guide oblivious to the fact that he just trashed their water. He offered his card. He’s lucky he didn’t get punched. Unfortunately these are not isolated cases.

These days our streams are crowded. It’s only going to get worse. If we are to enjoy our days on the water, we are going to have to be noticeably more considerate. Share the water. So you don’t get your twenty fish that day. Who cares? It’s not about catching fish anyway, it’s about fishing.

In some instances we literally are loving our resources to death; from fishing to spawning fish, to the use of fluorocarbon materials to catch just one or two more fish, to the employment of bobbers, to the aggressive and encroaching behavior some of us are exuding. The extent we willing to go is pushing the limits of our resources and our sport. We fish to remove ourselves from the chaos of everyday life and to be in beautiful places, yet what I’m seeing these days is every bit as chaotic and stressful.

The length’s we’re going to catch a fish is getting out of hand. We can no longer afford to have unlimited catches. Challenge yourself. That’s what fishing with a fly is all about anyway. Slow down, leave a few for others, share in your experience with others, and most of all look around. Fishing with a fly is an incredible life sport. As stewards, which we all should be, let ensure that our resources and our sport are enjoyed by all for our lifetime and more importantly generations to come.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Good Friends are Hard to Come By

I first met Rich 15 to 16 years ago. He casually wandered into my shop to purchase some items to go fly-fishing. We hit it off the very first time. Hard not to given his infectious personality and enthusiasm for fly-fishing. Over time it was his passion for fly-fishing and the solace he sought in the outdoors that cemented our friendship. In this chaotic frenetic world in which we live, rivers and fishing were his sanctuaries. There he seemed to be most comfortable.

Since that meeting Rich and I have shared many days on the water that rarely went without an insightful streamside conversation. Two days before he passed away we had lunch. We talked of the rivers we were planning to fish this upcoming year. Although he was going through difficult times, which also occupied a portion of our conversation, it was always dialog that centered around fly- fishing that would balance his life’s challenges.

To the end Rich rarely confided in others. It had only been over the past several years that he had begun to open up some, but at best those windows were brief and unrevealing. For those that knew him he had been struggling with his health to the point of great personal frustration and discomfort, yet he rarely let on.

For a time his health prevented him from participating in those activities he loved. Only on rare occasions did he feel well enough to fish. Even though I tried as did others, he would seldom partake mostly not wanting to burden or be a distraction from that which we enjoyed. That was typical of him, not wanting to burden others.

Even though we still spent a great deal of time together over the past several years, I greatly missed his streamside absence. Our trips and travels regardless of timeframe always bore merit. Although since meeting we had ventured to many waters we were just arriving at a stage in our life’s where it was wade the waters of the west with more frequency. Selfishly our days on the water were as healing for me as they were for him. Looking back I wish I’d been more persistent in my efforts to get him out, even if it was to just sit on the bank of one of his favorite rivers to simply watch the world go by.

He’d recently gone through a second bypass operation that for the first time had shed some new light and optimism on his life. Shortly after this, we travel to the Green. It had been a while since we’d been able to fish together. Although brief we were both excited about the opportunity. We caught a few nice fish that day but, it wasn’t the catching of the rivers beautiful trout that was important, it was those moments in-between where we’d find a good rock to sit and watch eagles soaring overhead, relaxed and forgetful about the our often chaotic lives.

Over time Rich had become my fishing partner, mentor, and one of my best friends. Given recent turn of events I was looking forward with great anticipation to the year ahead. For the first time in years he was feeling strong enough to travel and again wade the rivers we loved so much. For now that will have to wait. Dam you!

With his passing one of my regrets is that I never took the time to fish his favorite waters, Buffalo Ford on the Yellowstone River. Whenever he fish there he’d call me to inform me of his experience. For him the Yellowstone country was not just a place to fly-fish, but a spiritual place. He’d tell me of the trout he’d caught, especially the ones that got away, and of all the amazing wildlife he would see.

I remember one event in particular that he told me of, where late under a dark sky brilliant with stars he sat alone with one of his amazing drums and drew in a pack of coyotes, their cries so close he could barely hear the deep rhythm of his native instrument. For all of his accomplishments in life, and there are many, this one is one of his fondest. We talked of it many times for there was magic in this moment. Often on our treks we’d sit up late and try to replicate this feat, however never with success.

Rich’s passions for the outdoors recently immersed him in an effort to preserve a parcel of Utah’s Green River from being developed. Many of you are aware of this issue. On May 11 this critical portion of the Green River corridor was sold to the Division of Wildlife Resources to be preserved and protected forever. I was in Florida, when the controversial transaction took place. Although, there were a number of individuals involved in this effort, it was Rich’s persistence, ethics, and professionalism that lead to this successful outcome and he alone. He never took credit for any of his contributions. He was humble in these efforts and passed praise unto those less deserving. Such was always his nature.

By accounts I was the last person Rich called.

Several hours after we’d hung up he took his life. Over his last few days he’d contacted many of his friends and family. Not a one of us suspected anything unusual, his efforts to not burden us with his suffering masked to the end. I’ve spent sleepless hours going over that last call. Even as I write I’ve paused to reflect on our final conversation.

In a selfish way I’m pissed knowing that we’ll never sit in the tall grasses on the banks of the Henry’s Fork again or float the Green together sharing a bag of lemon cookies as we always did and that I never took the time to fish Buffalo Fork or sit under the stars there in hopes of enticing the coyotes to join us in song. Dam you!