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The 'Big Picture' of Why We Fish

The following is my response to a recent Amazon review of my new book, Why We Fish.

Mr. Jakubowski doesn’t like competitive fishing and the fact that all --- instead of just most — of the essays aren’t about the idyllic aspects of fishing. I understand and respect that point of view.

But I would like to clarify a few points.

1. He says, “Too many essays extol the virtues of B.A.S.S. and the reputed contribution of competitive fishing to angling.” In fact, one essay is about B.A.S.S. and how we all have benefitted from its founding. Another is about that organization’s leadership in dealing with the largemouth bass virus more than a decade ago.

But if you don’t like competitive fishing, I guess that even two essays are two too many. As a matter of fact, though, I never have fished competitively and wouldn’t ever want too.  My appreciation for fishing probably is more in line with Mr. Jakubowski’s. But tournament anglers have just as much right to the water as the rest of us, and we owe much in the way of innovation and conservation to B.A.S.S.

2. Mr. Jakubowski seems critical of my mention of a report in an essay about the anti-fishing movement and he says that I have provided “no reference.” I’m not sure what he is talking about here.  I include the complete name of the report, which would enable a reader to further research it if he so desires.

3. Nor am I sure what this means: “Name calling and defining the opposition are not helpful when you need to have your ideas understood by the opposition.”  If he is suggesting that I might offend those who oppose fishing, instead of persuading them to come over to our side, then possibly he is correct. But my essays are not written for them. They are written for anglers.

It is quite possible, as Mr. Jakubowski suggests, that non-anglers and casual observers see bass boats and tow vehicles and think “This is what I need to fish?” But I did not write this book to correct this misconception.

I wrote this book to celebrate with my fellow anglers the joy of fishing and, on a much smaller scale, provide perspective on how we came to be where we are and what the future might hold for recreational fishing.

As Mr. Jakubowski points out, most books of fishing essays are written by devotees of fly fishing. I fly fish too, but I’m not a devotee, just as I am not a competitive fisherman. Thus, I did not write this book in the way that a fly fisherman would, focusing solely on the idyllic.

Rather, I am someone who loves fishing in all of its forms and has been fortunate enough to combine that passion with a small ability to write.  And during my years of writing about all aspects of fishing, I have learned to appreciate the “big picture” of why we fish. That is what I have tried to convey in this book.



Divide-and-Conquer Strategy Used Against Fishing 


As I have been documenting for awhile at Activist Angler, the anti-fishing movement now is focusing on building public sentiment against catch-and-release in its non-ending battle to keep us from fishing. The tactic already has worked in parts of Europe, as I revealed in Fishing for Sport Viewed as Cruel by Growing Number of People.

It is part of a divide-and-conquer strategy. First, go after catch-and-release anglers, who make up the majority of those who fish. Then go after the few remaining who fish for food; they will be much easier to eliminate.

In general, Americans overwhelmingly approve of fishing. But sadly, when people are asked whether they approve of recreational fishing for sport, answers change dramatically. Twenty-five to 30 percent view angling for sport as cruel in more urbanized states such as Colorado and Arizona, while about 20 percent feel the same way in more rural states, including Alaska and the Dakotas.

And that brings me to the latest development, a book entitled The Quest for the Golden Trout: Environmental Loss and America’s Iconic Fish by Douglas Thompson.

According to an article in The Courant, Thompson, who gave up fly fishing for trout in 1996 because he could no longer justify it on ethical or environmental grounds, sees catch-and-release, where anglers return a caught fish to a river to be caught another day, as unjustifiable.

"I understand the pragmatic decision to leave the fish in the river, but how respectful is it to torment an animal just for fun?" he asks. Fishing "is not in any way fun for fish."

What would a ban on catch-and-release in the United States mean?

It would mean that a majority of the nation’s more than licensed 30 million anglers would stop fishing.

It would mean an end to family outings and buddy tournaments, and depressurizing for a few hours after work at a local lake or pond.

It would mean the collapse of economies for coastal communities and cities along the Great Lakes, as well as hundreds of towns near popular inland lakes and reservoirs.

In the United States, more people fish than play golf and tennis combined, and, in doing so, they support more than one million jobs.

Through license fees and excise taxes, recreational anglers contribute $1.2 billion annually “to preserve, protect, and enhance not just their sport, but also the environment that makes such sportfishing possible,” the American Sportfishing Association says. “Across much of the country, angler dollars are the primary source for improving fish habitat, public access, and environmental education.”

All that could be gone if we allow a minority who believe fishing is cruel to dominate the conversation and dictate policy.


Bass Bite the Jig on Big O

I won’t show you my injuries. But trust me. They are there--- a scraped thumb and a raw, red arc about a half inch from the base--- the “hurts so good” reminders of a great fishing trip. (For those who don’t know, these “wounds” are sustained by sticking one’s thumb in a bass’ mouth to land it.)

And a great trip is what I had yesterday on Lake Okeechobee with Sam Griffin, the luremaker legend, and Dave Burkhardt, owner of Trik Fish (formerly Triple Fish) fishing lines. We caught 40-plus bass, including a 5-pounder, and several 3s and 4s.

But the day started depressingly slow. During the first three hours, Dave and Sam managed two or three small bass on the wood baits that Sam makes, a Lil’ Richard topwater and a Lil’ Katy crankbait. But I didn’t land my first until nearly 10 a.m.

When we paused for lunch, Dan the creel checker guy stopped by. We told him that action been slow so far, just 16 fish, including a 4-pounder. He surprised us by saying that we had done better than anyone else he had talked to.

For us, at least, the action picked up considerably in our shorter afternoon session, despite light winds that didn’t help the fishing and encouraged hydrilla gnats to be even more irritating than they normally are. Just before 3 p.m., I picked up the big fish of the day, about 5 pounds, on a white swimming jig with a Horny Toad trailer. (Dan Brovarney of Brovarney Baits had told me that was the hot bait, and he was right.)

The swimming jig consistently produced the biggest fish, and I caught nearly all of mine on it. But we also found that the bass would hit Skinny Dippers (soft-body swimbait) in a variety of colors.

Most of our action came in a “pad field” with lots of open water about 4 to 4 ½ feet deep, and our fish were a combination of “resident” fish and “lake” fish. The former are darker, with a yellowish belly, while the latter, usually the bigger bass, have a white underside. Sam said that the lake fish start moving into these backwater areas to spawn in early December.

We stayed within three miles of Harney Pond Canal, and water throughout the area showed good clarity. Mostly we fished places that will be spawning sites later on in the winter, with surrounding hydrilla beds providing protection from wind and wave action.

As is typical of the Big O this time of year, bird life is abundant, another reason that I enjoy going there. Herons, egrets, kites, osprey, pelicans, ibis, and coots--- thousands and thousands of coots--- shared the water with us.

(See more photos from this trip in Escape! Gallery).


Looking for Another Big One on the Big O

This afternoon, I’ll drive down to Lake Okeechobee to fish with friends, Sam Griffin and Dave Burkhardt. Sam is a legend on the Big O, and a long-time creator of some of the best wood topwater baits. He also knows as much about the art of cajoling bass to bite a topwater as anyone I’ve ever met.

You can read more about Sam and learn some of his tactics by reading this article that I wrote for The Online Fisherman.

A couple of years ago, I caught the 8-5 pictured above while fishing with Sam on Lake Okeechobee.

The Big O is not only a world-class bass fishery, but a national treasure because of its natural beauty, its abundant wildlife, and its popularity as a tourism attraction. One of its inhabitants is the rare Everglades snail kite, which I photographed while fishing with Sam.

Sadly, Lake Okeechobee also is a paradise under siege from pollution. Check out this article to learn more.


'Conservation Gate Keeper Robert Montgomery Weighs In'


Check out my conversation with Terry Brown about threats to fishing and my new book, Why We Fish.