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Shimano Key Player in Fisheries Conservation

Just about anyone who fishes knows about Shimano rods and reels. It is one of the industry leaders in innovation for both.

Not nearly so many are familiar with the company’s long-standing devotion to fisheries conservation. But more are learning as Shimano steps into its new role as a supporting sponsor of Bassmaster tournaments and its name appears on live-release boats.

Traditionally, though, the company has worked quietly in the background. But Noreen Clough, recently retired B.A.S.S. Conservation Director, knows about that little publicized history.

“Shimano continues to be a key player in fisheries conservation,” she said. “It continues to sponsor scientific research and identify techniques to improve catch-and-release fishing. B.A.S.S. is fortunate to have Shimano and Phil Morlock as partners.”

Morlock is one of the primary reasons that Shimano is a “key player.” As the long-time director of environmental affairs for Shimano, he knows as much about angler and conservation issues in North America as anyone. And in political circles, he is one of the most outspoken defenders of public access and our right to fish.

Shimano's Phil Morlock

“As threats multiply, from animal rights groups and others, we’re forced to pay more attention,” he said. “Whether by design and intent or by other less nefarious means, I believe the very basis of science-based fish and wildlife management, conservation, and sustainable use is being threatened as never before.”

With animal rights groups, a persistent theme is that fish feel pain, an argument that Morlock loves to debunk.

“If fish did (feel pain), they would be unable to eat many of the spiny/prickly creatures like crawfish and other fish (because of dorsal spines) that they survive on,” he said. “That’s a rather obvious point to those of us who fish or who have a background in science.

“But for those who do not, the media does a poor job of filling in the rather glaring gaps in information deficiency often inherent in animal rights campaigns.”

Some of those who want to push us off the water, meanwhile,  don’t like opposition by Morlock and Shimano, especially in opposing the Marine Life Protection Act, which has needlessly closed many of California’s coastal waters to recreational fishing. In a petulant snit, they initiated a “Shame on Shimano” campaign, accusing the company of lies and caring more about making money than protecting the oceans.

“It’s too bad that Shimano is the only fishing company that has seriously stepped up to the plate to fight some of the threats to angling,” Chris Horton said at the time. Now Midwestern States Director for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Horton is a former National Conservation Director for B.A.S.S.

“This is how they are rewarded,” he continued. “It makes an easy target for the enviros. If more companies would do what Shimano has done, they’d have a lot harder time beating the good guys.”

Doug Olander of Sport Fishing Magazine added, “This is an attack not only on Shimano, but on all businesses that make and sell tackle, and in fact on all men, women, and children in this country who enjoy the chance to spend time on the water hoping to catch a few fish.

“That's why what at first glance seems just plain goofy is no laughing matter.”

Morlock doesn’t think that any threat should be disqualified because it’s “goofy.” That’s why he monitors them all, as one of sport fishing’s most devoted advocates, and looks for the reality behind the curtain. A perfect example, he says, is the anti-lead campaign.

“If you can’t shut down fishing and hunting with one approach, try another, like ‘toxic substances harming wildlife,’ and soft peddle it,” he explains. “Same endpoint by a different means.”

And as Morlock and Shimano defend recreational fishing, they also are working with B.A.S.S. and other partners to make it better.

“There are a series of layers to our involvement with B.A.S.S.,” he said. “And conservation is a cornerstone.

“Right now, you see the live-release boats. But this is going to evolve into other conservation initiatives.”

Some of the possibilities include habitat improvement, fish care, and youth programs, Morlock said, adding that such work likely will involve partnering with B.A.S.S. Nation states and clubs.

“Because of what we do (in conservation), we’re unique in the fishing business,” the director added. “And the history of where we’ve come from is directly related to where we’re going.”

That history includes both fresh and saltwater habitat work, creation of the first live-release boats nearly 30 years ago, and, more recently, development of a water weigh-in system for tournaments.

“We took apart every step of the tournament, from the time a fish is caught until it is released,” Morlock explained. “And that led to development of this system, which is faster than weighing fish out of water and less harmful.”

Without innovations such as the live-release boats and the weigh-in system, tournament fishing would be in big trouble, he said. “We could see a real vulnerability for any event. The anti-use folks will attack anybody. It doesn’t matter what size the tournament.”

The director of environmental affairs added that many improvements have been made since Shimano launched the first live-release boat in the mid 1980s. “Too many fish in warm water with low dissolved oxygen can lead to mortalities,” he said. “We’ve seen lots of changes in ways to reduce that, and B.A.S.S. has done a good job of staying current.”

Morlock pointed out that “virtually all big tournaments use live-release boats now.”

Shimano owned three live-release boats for awhile.  And it sent them, along with crews, all over the country. “Demand was so great that we couldn’t stay current,” Morlock says. “So we donated the boats to different tournament organizations. Today, a lot of organizations have boats based on our designs.”

In those early years, the company also played a critical role in a massive restoration project at Lake Havasu, where shoreline access for such work was minimal. The Bureau of Land Management and its partners constructed the habitat, and then a Shimano boat placed it. Together, they brought the fishery back.

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.)


Legendary Fish

A frayed piece of leader owns a place of honor at my desk. It was left to me by a “legendary fish.”

That’s my own term so I’m not surprised if you haven’t heard it before. For me, “legendary fish” is one rung up the ladder from “big,” “trophy,” and even “fish of a lifetime.”

Of course, pursuit of a trophy is one of our prime motivators. And losing a big one fuels the fire in our belly even more. If we can’t get the one that got away, we want one even larger.

We replay over and over in our heads how and why we lost those fish. We didn’t set the hook hard enough. Our drag was too loose. We didn’t hold the rod low enough. And so on and so on. Truth be known, many of our friends and family probably are long-past tired of hearing us recount our heart-wrenching tales of those big ones that got away.

But for me, a legendary fish is different. Believe it or not, I’m okay with having lost three of those. If I had caught them, would I have been happy? Certainly.  Because they were immense fish, each would hold a place of high honor in my memory bank. And my family and friends would be long-past tired of hearing me recount how I caught them.

So why am I okay with failure? I’m not. I didn’t fail. Those fish beat me, pure and simple. With each one, I can think of nothing that I could have done differently to bring it to the boat. Call that rationalization if you want. I don’t see it that way.

Just having seen and done battle with each for a few seconds is enough for me. In fact, I believe that I am even more pleased with those memories than I would be with “hero” photos of me with those brutes.

The first was a rainbow trout . . .

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


Here's a Whopper of a Fish Tale


This is a big one that didn't get away. Read the article about this world-record catch here.


Safe Launch Saves Boaters Coming and Going

Photo from

If you haven’t forgotten to put in the drain plug before you launch, chances are that you know someone who has.

Consequences can range from aggravating--- fishing is delayed--- to catastrophic--- the boat sinks.

But did you know that pulling that plug when you exit the water also is important? That’s because of the threat posed to our fisheries by exotic mussels and other invasive aquatic species, which can hitchhike in water left in the boat. Once established in a new water body, they crowd out native species, smother fish habitat, and block intakes, endangering public water supplies.

As zebra and quagga mussels have spread into Minnesota, across Texas, and over the Rocky Mountains, the danger has become even more acute, and resource managers are taking action. For example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently approved a rule requiring anyone leaving or approaching public waters in 17 north Texas counties to drain their boats and is proposing that 28 additional north and central counties be added to the mandate.

In some places, forgetting to take out that plug is going to hit anglers and other boat owners in the pocketbook, as they are fined for violating the law. That’s how seriously resource managers are taking this threat.

But for a few bucks you can be pro-active to protect yourself, your boat, and the resource, courtesy of the Safe Launch Drain Plug Reminder System developed by Steve Colsher and Ray Haber.

It’s ingenious, but simple and easy to install. You just place a metal flex hook into the drain hole.  The hook is attached to a lanyard with a split ring carabineer that easily attaches to one of the transom/trailer tie-down straps. When you disconnect the tie-downs, you can’t help but be reminded to remove the hook and insert the plug.

Conversely, when leaving the water, you will see the Safe Launch lanyard, which will remind you to remove the plug and insert the hook, which does not impede water drainage.

Colsher told Activist Angler that he originally came up with the idea as a way to remind himself to put in the plug on his own boat. “But as time went on, and we were looking into things, we began to see this as a safety product that could save people $500 or $600 if they forget to plug out the plug.”

It also can help prevent the spread of invasive species, which is why the Lake Havasu Marine Association is partnering with Safe Launch. It promotes Safe Launch as part of its “clean, drain and dry” program for boats, while the company donates a percentage of sales to the association.

“This is a model that I think will work well with other associations,” Colsher said. “It’s a win-win for both.”


What a Backlash Can Teach You Revealed in Why We Fish

Lulled into carelessness by the lack of action, I thoughtlessly tossed my worm right into the teeth of the wind.  The bait flew out about 10 yards and was stopped abruptly by the breeze. Loose coils of line spilled out of my reel in a large, cascading backlash.

“Oh, man!” I said. “This is going to take awhile.”

I sat down and began picking and pulling. Fortunately, it was not as bad as I had feared. About two minutes later, I was spooling the once-tangled monofilament back onto my reel.

As I tightened the line, I felt weight on the end.

(Excerpt from the essay "Speed Trap . . . Slow Down" in my new book, Why We Fish.)