Bridge over troubled water

The 2016 fishing season is all but over. The huge issue facing America has not yet been fully settled or resolved. I am speaking, of course of whether fly fishing trumps all other fishing methods. Now that’s power and influence. 

Sure, we know some of the facts. We know there are 325 million Americans (let’s not squabble over this item). All together there are 99.2 million of us participating in outdoor activities. This sounds like a huge number, but it is “only” 30.5% of our total population. Imagine what power this group would have with even more participation. For example, look at the huge number of those eligible to vote, who actually find time to get to the polls. Wow, it’s all the way up to 49%! 

Of those who engage in outdoors activities, 33.9 million individuals fish. This is second only to the giant, catch-all group of people (71.8 million) who participate in at least one type of “wildlife watching activity” such as observing, feeding and photographing wildlife (speaking of “feeding,” 13.7 million of us hunt). 

With so many who fish in America, it is not surprising that there is no consensus yet on the best way. Historically, the debate has been civil without nearly the rancor we experienced this year. Things seem to be heating up more than ever. It appears that this “heating up” is now in its 11th straight year. As things heat up, so does the rhetoric. 

Today it is difficult to find consensus on any major issue, and there are all the related sub-arguments: catch and release vs. fish on the table; artificial lures only vs. bait fishing (is one form barbaric?); there are even dry fly vs. wet fly debates, and bamboo rods vs. graphite/boron/fiberglass. Each subject is potentially acrimonious. It doesn’t have to descend down to taunts of “Barbarian!” “Effete snob!”

Many fishery advocates observe that mortality rates are the absolute lowest with fly-fishing and that dry fly-fishing clearly has the highest survival rate. Survival rates, it must be added, are dependent upon careful handling of fish during the release process. Bass fishers almost entirely ignore the fly-rod, but also encourage careful handling of caught fish and catch and release.

Ethical bass fishers and fly rodders alike have little regard for bait fishers and others who kill fish. River advocates observe that our remarkable fishery is an amazing economic engine. Many millions in spending are generated annually through guides, lodging, sport shops, restaurants and related businesses associated with fishing in our area. The idea of killing the very resource (fish) that brings so much wealth and value to our region makes no sense at all.

It is these things and more that we all might ponder anew. We have a great fishery and it is up to each of us to protect it and improve it. It’s time to think much more seriously about the common good. The “off-season” is the perfect opportunity to consider, what can I do to improve our fishery? Have I done my fair share? How can I be more effectively involved? How can I help find innovative solutions for the good of our fishery?

So it is with malice toward none, with charity toward all, that we renew our efforts to keep, protect and enhance our waters, its fishery and the natural beauty we are so very fortunate to have.

Now is a fine time to re-think, reflect and recommit to the blessings of America. I wish everyone peace and happiness this Thanksgiving.


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