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Tuesday
Dec312013

What Does 2014 and Beyond Hold for Fishing?

Photo by Robert Montgomery

One of my first assignments as a young sports writer was to interview an 85-year-old man who bicycled daily.

I don’t remember much about that interview except what he told me at the end. “People don’t use their legs enough,” he said. “One of these days, they won’t even have them anymore.”

Now, the obesity epidemic that has occurred in recent years does give me pause, but I’m still not ready to buy into the idea that our legs will devolve into worthless stumps.

Rather, I remember what he said because it’s provocative. Over the years, it often has inspired me to look at many aspects of modern life with a new perspective and to wonder what lies ahead.

That brings me to consideration of what lies ahead for recreational fishing.

What began as means of gathering food to survive thousands of years ago has evolved into a pastime enjoyed today by an estimated 60 million people in this country and probably more than 100 million worldwide.

Yes, some of us still fish for food. But many of us also have recognized countless other reasons that keep us returning to the water with rods in our hands. We fish to spend time with family and friends. We fish to relax. We fish to compete. We fish to enjoy nature. We fish to remember. We fish to forget. We fish because --- along with our families, our religions, and our jobs --- it completes us.

But will it always? Or will something replace it?

(Excerpt from the final essay in my new book, Why We Fish.)


Monday
Dec302013

Something Wicked in Why We Fish

Close encounters with bears, wolves, and even mountain lions take a back seat to what I heard coming at us as we relaxed inside the screened porch of a cabin, following a day of fishing on a New Brunswick Lake.

(Excerpt from my new book, Why We Fish. It's a collection of essays by me and others, including Bill Dance, about the many reasons that we keep going back to the water.) 

Monday
Dec302013

'12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth'

Smallmouth bass. Photos from Environmental Graffiti.

Have you ever seen a largemouth bass eat an alligator? Neither have I.

I’m not saying it hasn’t--- or couldn’t--- happen. Predatory fish are opportunistic feeders and will eat any critter that they can catch and swallow.

Or did you know that largemouth bass “eat day and night.”

I didn’t know that either, and I know plenty of anglers who would disagree with that assessment.

I stumbled upon these two portrayals of largemouth behavior on a list of “12 Worst Invasive Fish on Earth” at Environmental Graffiti.”

In general, I agree with the list, including the inclusion of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Because they are popular game fish, and because they are so cooperative and adaptable, they have been spread well beyond their original ranges. And they will eat smaller native species.

Common carp

In our own Northwest, however, they are inaccurately blamed for the demise of salmon populations, which have declined because of altered habitat and degraded water quality. While dams have provided perfect reservoir habitat for bass, they have been devastating to cold-water fisheries.

My belief is that the author of this list is either from the Canada or the United Kingdom. His descriptions certainly suggest to me that he’s not an angler and he has no personal experience with either bass species. Here is what he says about smallmouths:

“Even small mammals and snakes aren’t safe! Once this bass has its prey, there’s little chance of escape, as its mouth is lined with tiny gripping teeth that work like Velcro.”

My biggest criticism: Why aren’t Asian (bighead and silver) carp included?

Sunday
Dec292013

An Angling Miracle

I knew that I couldn’t stop the fish, no matter how skillfully I played it. I waded out into the water as far as I dared, knowing as I did so that it was a pointless gesture.

But then the miraculous occurred, just as I looked down at my reel to see all of the line gone except for the knot.

(Excerpt from my new book, Why We Fish.)

Sunday
Dec292013

Snakes, Bears Make Florida a Dangerous Place to Live

Nationally, the exotic species of most concern are carp, mussels, and plants.

But in Florida, a reptile also is in the mix. It’s an apex predator that gobbling up birds, mammals, and other reptiles in the Everglades.

And as its food supply dwindles and its population increases, the Burmese python will expand its range.  It will go south into the Keys, west toward the Gulf coast, north toward Lake Okeechobee, and east toward the most densely populated portion of Florida.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that the python will migrate too far north. But it’s an exotic species in a new habitat, meaning behavior is unpredictable. Also, winters are moderating. Could it travel all the way up the peninsula and then west along the upper Gulf Coast? It’s possible, although unlikely.

What’s more certain is that the threat to human life will increase, especially in and around Miami. One of the largest snakes in the world, the python can grow to 20 feet in its native Asia, and already has been documented at 16 feet in the Everglades. Such massive reptiles weigh more than 100 pounds

And they can kill and consume human-size meals. Check out this recent report from Indonesia, where a python killed a security guard near a luxury hotel. A few years ago, a “pet” python killed a child in Florida. Earlier this year, two children were strangled by another “pet” in Canada.

Children and pets in Florida are going to be especially at risk in the years to come.

But I no longer believe that the python is the most dangerous species in the Sunshine State. No, it’s not the native alligator either.

I put the black bear at the top of the list. Its population has reached critical mass in the central part of the state, and, sooner rather than later, someone is going to be killed.

Especially in the Longwood area, the bears roam neighborhoods, tear up garbage cans, and try to enter houses. Nevertheless, many lived under the mistaken notion that they could peacefully co-exist with these large omnivores that will gobble up garbage as quickly as they will a pot-belly pig. Some of them still feel that way.

But they are wrong, as evidenced by the attack on a woman out walking her dog earlier this month. More recently, a bear broke into a screened patio, looking for food.

And, yet, the biggest problem is not the black bear. It’s the people. Some continue to feed the animals, despite warnings not to. Others don’t secure their garbage and/or feed their pets outdoors.

Those people who are the most problematic, however, are the bear defenders, those who raised holy hell when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) killed two in the aftermath of the attack on the woman, and those who mistakenly believe that they can live in peace and harmony with the bears if all people will just “follow the rules.”

What we’re talking about now in central Florida is a large, aggressive bear population that has lost its fear of humans and has learned that food is most abundant where people live. That food could be the remains of pizza, a dog, or a child. A wild predator doesn’t differentiate.

Of course, the animal apologists argue that their furry friends should be “relocated” to nearby national forests instead of being killed. The problem with that is that those areas already have the maximum population that they can sustain, which is one of the main reasons that bears are roaming suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, bears accustomed to eating from garbage cans and breaking into patios to eat pet food are not going to stay in wild areas; they will return to more civilized dining.

The most logical solution is a managed hunt, which other states, including New Jersey, already utilize as a way of keeping the bear population under check. That’s also the way that we maintain populations of deer, turkey, and other species. If we are going to co-exist with these animals we must limit their numbers because we also have reduced their habitat. It’s that simple.

But you can bet that if the FWC proposes a hunt, PETA and other animal rights groups will descend on Florida like a horde of locusts, delighting in the reality that they will receive nationwide publicity in such a high-profile state.

I don’t envy the good folks at FWC who want to do the right thing, but must figure out a way to manage both the wildlife and the uneducated people who seek to prevent the agency from doing what’s right.

And I am saddened by realization that the only thing that will prompt a rational response to this problem is for someone to be killed. No such easily implemented solution exists for the Burmese python, but it certainly does for the black bear.