Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just Because We Have the Right?

Recently the Utah Supreme Court ruled to allow anglers access to any river or stream where there is public access. This decision received a mix of emotions. On one side you have anglers, who couldn’t be more elated about the opportunities this created. Yet, on the other hand you have developers, land owners, and businesses who aren’t too excited about the prospects of having unwelcome visitors on their property. In many respects I can’t say that I blame them.

Back in the day, before the big western land grab, it was common as an angler to walk a dirt driveway to a farmers or ranchers home and asked permission to access waters that may wind through their fenced properties. Most times consent was granted given that a certain respect was extended in exchange for the privilege. Over time on occasions these impromptu and casual introduction spawned lasting friendships. Such instances are rare occurrences these days.

There were a lot of individuals who were involved in this recent ruling. In this age of information, news spread rapidly regarding this landmark decision and anglers rapidly began exploring those waters that had been closed and with that an imminent collision of apposing parties.

As anglers enjoy their new found freedom, those who adamantly oppose the current ruling are working on legislation that will negate this privileged opportunity. A Bill drafted for the upcoming Utah Legislative session has already been introduced. This bill single purpose will be to minimize our access opportunities. I’m sure they are looking at other ways to impact and negate the courts ruling. Only a well orchestrated front by those serving anglers interest will possibly defeat it.

As an angler, I’m very concerned how we have conducted ourselves in this short period of time. Where we may be within the law, we have shown in many instances total disregard and respect towards landowners who are disgruntled by the unwelcome visitors into their backyards: Property lines have been crossed, fences cut, verbal abuses exchanged. Such confrontations will only fuel their animosities, one that definitely does not need stimulation.

We have an abundance of water to fish without pissing people off. As many of us continue to work with landowners to gain access and improve the states fishing opportunities our ill mannered behavior will make future negotiations more prohibitive. Having been involved in such efforts for over twenty years, these efforts are already challenging enough.

I’ve always felt that as an angler we should become worthy stewards of the water ways we fish. If you are out there taking advantage of the new Trespass Laws be overly grateful to those who grant you access without resistance. For those who are agitated with your presence, be respectful enough to take their angst into consideration. And Let’s work on mending fences, not building bigger barriers, it will go along way towards keeping our waters open in the future and to ensure we have miles of available water for the public to fish.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Game:

At the tip of the island, I paused to scan reflective waters before moving; a habit ingrained from decades of stalking trout on this river. Scanning the stream, morning’s clouds cast illusions before me. Gently stepping from the lush grasses I tentatively entered the river. Fine gravel afforded easy wading permitting some degree of vigilance, still I almost failed to notice the imperceptibly break of the surface meniscus, the residual bulge nearly blending with the waters disheveled surface. In that brief instant “The Game” had begun.

Understanding the consequences of haphazard wading, I froze. The trout arbitrarily rose taking in mornings profusion of dying mayflies. Looking to the current for clues, PMD, Drake and Flav spinners floated haplessly upon the waters calm current adding to the complexity of the situation. The frequency of the trout’s rises lent some insight into the rainbows partiality causing a change in flies.

Cautiously wading into position I knelt in ankle deep water waiting for the trout to again show before making the first of what would be numerous casts. Visibility hindered by morning’s reflective glare added to the challenge. Another fly change lent renewed optimism. The trout rose near the artificial, bouncing the fly in the undulating residual ring.

For what seemed to be a long moment the large rainbow failed to rise. Dejection from an opportunity concluded crept in. Motionless, I waited sometime. Downstream the rainbow rose again. Either a lack of stealth, the presentation or the trout’s own indecisiveness had it invisibly slide out of casting range. Such antics occur with some frequency on these waters, “dog on a lease”.

Chris, who I’d joined that morning, had settled among the tall grasses to watch the antics. He too had been playing a similar game. I turned to acknowledge his presence. He smiled knowing all to well my predicament, offering some encouragement before I returned my attention to the task at hand.

Eventually the trout settled near a grassy bank, pinning it in some regards. On a rare drift, I could see my fly. The rainbow rose, the imitation disappearing below the residual ring. As the line came tight, the trout cart wheeled across the shattered waters. As it settled the fly came free, my line went slack, my heart raced. It was a trout worthy of such an effort and emotion, but how worthy I’ll never truly know.

Its unfinished endings that drives foolish passions, this “Game” we play on rivers between man and fish with wisps of feather and fur. I derived some contentment knowing that I’d fooled the trout into taking an impostor, yet under the circumstances the results felt incomplete. Had I landed that fish or stayed connected just long enough to affirm its size and power, “The Game” would have been over and with that a certain satisfaction.

A week later I returned in hopes of finishing “The Game”. I found the crushed blades of grass where I stood before entering the water and sat among the lush vegetation and waited. An eagle cried, shattering the early morning silence somewhere off in the forest. The sound of the river lent a soothing quality as I sat in anxious vigilance. Like clockwork spinners gathered overhead, sunlight shimmering from their translucent wings.

I walked out that morning having not made a cast. Other trout rose to morning’s offerings, but the trout I sought never rose. “The Game” was over. There will be another, but for now it had come to an end.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Stocking Fish

I’ve fished the Henry’s Fork for over thirty years. It’s a long time, yet I know of many who have fished it longer and with more frequency. Over that time I’ve been witness to its many mood swings. They run the gamut. But, never has it disappointed, even in the most meager of times. I remember several years back where I failed to land a trout and if truth be told only momentarily hooked one. Sitting on the banks among the tall grasses surrounded by a cornucopia of wildflowers in anticipation of what this river reluctantly yields reaches out to a hundred emotions. One should ask nothing more of a river and especially this one.

Upon leaving the famous Ranch section of the North Fork, a Henry’s Fork Foundation intern conducted a survey regarding whether these waters lived up to anglers expectations. Numbers of fish are down and have been for some time. For a growing number of anglers, they’d like to see something done about that. I told the intern that I felt there were just as many trout per angler now as in the glory days given that numbers of both had declined. Due the current state of the fishery, which is a matter of opinion, there are rumors regarding the possibilities of supplementing the existing wild population of rainbows. I ponder this recent impetus uncomfortably.

The Henry’s Fork, in particular the Ranch section, has such unique qualities that separates it from many of the other western waters. For one, they’re the rainbows: big, powerful, scarce and mostly hyper-selective. Laid before them is a daily profusion of insects, which only complicates the complexity of the game one must play to fool them. Then there’s the water; deceptively placid in appearance, but wrought with disorder and misdirection. The fact that there is solace in its beauty and the surrounding scenery only adds to its qualities.

For those not familiar with this river, being successful takes on a whole new meaning. On some occasions, just hooking a fish can be considered a favorable outcome, on others a fish or two. It’s not a game of numbers here; the challenge this river presents is more personal than that. However, a short distance from these waters there are plenty of other rivers where you can get your fix should your time on the Henry’s Fork not live up to your expectation.

Man has a history of being impatient with Mother Nature. After almost a decade of drought, there’s little wonder the Henry’s Fork is struggling. Tons of silt that found its way into the river when work was being done on Island Park Dam has added to the rivers struggles during this time. I know of few waters in the west that have not fallen victim to Mother Nature’s recent wrath.The Henry’s Fork Foundation and others have invested a significant amount of resources over the years addressing the issues that face this complex river system. Simply, there are no easy answers. But, given the opportunity Mother Nature has shown throughout history to rebound under favorable conditions to a state of healthy balance. Sometimes this takes time and patience, qualities as two leggeds we struggle and eventually succumb to far too often. Although stocking the Henry’s Fork may put a few more trout on the end of ones line, it doesn’t solve the problem.

That which eludes us only adds to its addictiveness. Changing that simple fact simply diminishes the desire. That’s a significant part of what makes the Henry’s Fork rainbows and this river so enthralling. That fact that it’s difficult to catch a trout on these waters only adds to its mystic. Looking at short term solutions with long term consequences that are not known historically has gotten us into trouble. I’d hate to see that happen here at this juncture.

I once heard someone state that the “Henry’s Fork is a magical place” in describing his affection for this river. Those comments sum up mine and others feelings for these waters. Since then the river has been through some challenging years. Through it all the Henry’s Fork has shown resilience. It may not be were we want it, but it’s better than what it was a decade ago and given the health of the fishery this year, it appears to be continuing to improve.

I hope when all is said and done that we have the patience to let Mother Nature run its course and we exude the same level of fortitude that it takes to be successful on the Henry's Fork. At the very least the river deserves that consideration.