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.


bill said...

We have not met, but I ran across this blog and having been in the fly fishing business for over 17 years and having fly fished for 50 years, I must say that your comments are "spot on". We seemed to have entered an age in fly fishing where people demand to know which rock to stand on and at the same time expect to know how many fish they will catch before going to the river. Skill be damned. Strike indicators are simply an outgrowth of this attitude. Easy seems to always be better and the attributes of "just going fishing" have in most cases just faded away with things like "patience" and "learning". Our industry is always pushing for having more people in the sport. I think we should be pushing for more education in the sport. I know of no other sport where folks are so ill informed as to the skill sets and simple behaviors required for success. My hope is for a day when participants will come into my shop and ask for a class in nymphing without a strike indicator, instead of wanting to know which type of indicator works best.
Bill Edrington
President and owner
Royal Gorge Anglers
Canon City, Colorado

Rob said...

Having fly fished for 30 yrs, since the age of 7, I too have seen many changes over the years. Unfortunately these changes (many of which are not for the better) apply to many areas of life, not just fly fishing. I think with the increase in population people are becoming hardened. They are inconsiderate on so many fronts. This is why you will never catch me on the Provo or lower Weber on the weekends.

chris Thomas said...

Right on Steve.

Chris Thomas, President
utah Trout Unlimited

Nelsons said...

Steve, well spoken. I sent this article around to all my fishing buddies. Everyone should read this before heading out on the river. Thanks for your efforts to protect our beautiful trout and their rivers. We all need to increase our efforts to teach and practice proper etiquite and technique.

Mike Nelson

Travis said...


There are many things that I have always admired and respected about you, your take on the resource, ethics and your willingness to stand up for them is certainly one. While my fishing "lifestyle" has been short, I've been lucky to have such great mentors to teach me correct principles and ethics. You are a great steward of the "sport" and your have touched many people who walk through your doors and to this day you continue to. Thank you for all that you! (Side note, missed you on the HF by a week...Had similar experiences and itching to go back...I wont make the 24th trip but maybe we will cross paths again)


Rick L. Peterson said...

I always enjoy dropping in on your blog and reading your writings. I have a number on my computer that I find myself rereading on numerous occasions. Thanks for a great write up. I'll be adding this to my class handout if you don't mind. I very much appreciate your parallel efforts on such an important issue*

Rick Peterson

JayMorr said...


I appreciate your comments and thoughts. Although our paths have not crossed much I have always looked up to you and your approach to fly fishing. Thanks for all you do and that which you represent. You are a great example.



Steve Schmidt said...

I thank everyone for the supportive comments. Unfortunately I feel like I'm "Preaching to the Choir". That said, I'm thankful there is one. You guys are why I continue to do what I do. See you on the river....

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Rat said...

Boy you hit right on!
You know the funny thing...
If people would take the time to study a river, a lot of the rudeness may fade away.
I remember in the fall of 2006 on the Middle Provo. I was casually walking to one of my Fav. fishing spots and was almost there, when two guys passed me and went right in to the spot!
What they didn't realize was that there are fish in little runs as well. I stood there and watched them and the river for a few minutes, saw a rising fish, tied on a PMD, went down and caught a 14" brown.
I saw them all looking at me and just had to laugh inside!
But I do agree. People are rude and GREEDY!



Lonnie S. said...

Ballondicators and thingamabobbers are the work of the devil!!! :)

Seriously, thanks Steve for capturing the reasons why I fish. There are times where I would rather sit on the bank and wait for the hatch to start than to put on an indicator and lob nymphs.

For some of us, we've migrated to a different form of fly fishing just as we transitioned from regular fishing to fly fishing.

Thanks for writing that.

Alan said...

Steve, great observations. Although I haven't had the "pleasure" of someone horning in on where I'm fishing (maybe my demeanor has something to do with it) I've read other comments from other fly fishers about the same problem. How do we solve it? I don't know the answer but maybe find out where the guides are working out of and confront the shops or owners and ask their help with it. It could be a start.