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Food for Thought

Eating what we catch is but one of the pleasures that we derive from fishing. Photo by Robert Montgomery

The following is the beginning of the essay "Food for Thought" in my new book, Why We Fish. It is available at Amazon, NorLights Press, and other booksellers.

Something basic draws us to fishing when we’re young, I believe. It is the “hunter/gatherer” imperative, passed on from generation to generation as instinct or maybe through our DNA.

I’m a fisherman, not a scientist, so to delve deeper into what I’m talking about would be pseudo-intellectual at best.

But you know what I mean: Our species survived eons ago by hunting and gathering food. To not have done so would have meant death by starvation. Despite the passage of years, we have retained at least a semblance of that need, no matter how comfortable our existence is today.

And when a rod is placed in a child’s hands, a spark ignites desire, especially upon catching that first fish. If you’ve ever taken a youngster fishing, you know what I’m talking about. Inevitably, his first words as he admires his catch are, “Can we keep it?”


Angler Campaigns to Make Scottish Fisheries More Accessible

Anglers in the Unites States aren’t the only ones dealing with access issues. In Australia, fishermen face much the same type of threat that we do: Environmentalists/preservationists want to use the power of government to turn vast expanses of public waters into marine preserves, where no fishing is allowed.

By contrast, in Scotland anglers are restricted by an antiquated class system, in which only the wealthiest have access to many of the country’s fisheries.

In hopes of opening up his country’s waters to more anglers, Daibhidh Rothach has started “Scottish Anglers for Change.”

The campaign aims “to bring Scottish angling into the 21st century, and rid the country of the Victorian legacy of land and fishing rights ownership, which denies many taxpaying Scotts access to miles of their own rivers.

“By looking abroad, Scottish Anglers for Change aims to highlight the vast disparity between Scotland and her former colonies in the way recreational angling is governed.

“By campaigning and spreading the message that change is possible, we aim to put pressure on the Scottish government into taking steps toward reforming a quite scandalous situation of exploitation and class division.”

Check out the website here.

Rothach asked me how fisheries are managed in this country and I provided this summary for him.

Fishing for salmon on Loch Ness. Photo from Virtual Tourist

And here’s what he said about his country’s water resources:

“Regarding your point about the amount of water you have, we probably are in a similar situation in Scotland in relation to our population--- 5.5 million.

“Loch Ness, for example, has more water than every lake and river in England and Wales combined. Then we have lochs Lomond, Awe, Tay, Rannoch, Shin, etc., and thousands and thousands (over 30,000) of smaller lochs, as well as the great salmon rivers of the east and smaller ones of the west. More than enough for all.”


'Why We Fish' Reveals What Fishing Is Really Worth

Page 194. The value of fishing cannot be measured in terms of dollars. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Here's an excerpt from the essay "What It's Really Worth" in my new book, Why We Fish:

Did you know, though, that fishing is also magic? that probably doesn't mean much to thpoliticians who control the purse strings, but parents and volunteers will tell you fishing works in ways we can't quantify to enrich the lives of millions who endure illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. As much as we might think angling means to us, both economically and inherently, it can mean even more to people who are hurting."


Everyday Hero

Steve Honeycutt wore this shirt during the final celebration of his life.

(This is the introduction for an essay in my new book, Why We Fish. It is about an angler named Steve Honeycutt and his indomitable spirit, which was an inspiration to all who knew him.)

To say that fishing helped Steve Honeycutt to live longer would be presumptuous.

But it certainly made him happy and, more importantly, helped him endure, as his body failed but his spirit never bowed to the fatal cancer that took his life too soon.

Steve fished until the end of this life --- and then some. Instead of a suit, the long-time tournament angler chose a tee shirt with an angler on the front and the message “Afterlife is Great! Simple as That” to wear at the final celebration of his life in Lexington, N.C.

Wife Kay, who agreed to bass fishing at Lake Norman on their honeymoon years before, remembered that he made the decision to wear that shirt following a biopsy at the hospital.

“I looked at him like he was maybe still under the effects of medication,” she recalled, but knew that he was serious. After all, she had made him a hat to wear and throw in the air for his “graduation” from radiation treatment. When chemotherapy took his hair, she saw him pose for goofy photos with his sons, who shaved their heads in loving solidarity.


Anglers Forsake Angling to Support N.H. Lead Ban

In New Hampshire, passage of a bill to ban lead jigs and sinkers of one ounce or less is disappointing, but not surprising. The loonies did a bang up job of making lead synonymous with “toxic” and loons synonymous with “threatened.” Facts and common sense were irrelevant to the debate, as was opposition to the bill by New Hampshire Fish and Game.

The legislation is largely toothless, meaning anglers will just buy more of their jigs and sinkers online and most violators will not be ticketed.

Still, this triumph of emotion over science in the management of fish and wildlife is an ominous sign for anglers and hunters. It’s one more victory for the feel-good, animal rights, preservationist crowd. And one more defeat for conservation and the North American model of fish and wildlife management based on science, which has served us so well.

Even more troubling, though, is the fact that an angler organization--- New Hampshire Trout Unlimited--- supported the ban. The decision did not sit well with Brian Emerson, a licensed guide in the state. In a blistering letter to the organization he said, among other things:

I am ashamed, as a trout fisherman, to think that anglers placed their trust in you to oversee their interests only to be sold down the river. I will do everything in my power to let as many sportsmen as possible know what you have done and urge them to no longer support your organization.”

And B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Noreen Clough noted a disturbing parallel. “Clearly all of the angling ‘elitists’ are no longer in the Pacific Northwest, but demonstrated that they are alive and well and willing to split freshwater anglers into factions in New Hampshire,” she said.

“They do so at their own peril.”

In the Northwest, preservationists and native-species advocates have waged war against non-native bass for decades, blaming the popular sport fish for the demise of salmon and trout. Of course, the reality is that dams damaged native species, while creating prime conditions for bass. Likewise, lakeshore development in New England has caused the most harm to loon populations, not lead fishing tackle.

But anglers are easy targets. While loonies and other preservationists organize, raise funds, and storm state capitals, we’ve shown a remarkable resistance to uniting on behalf of the sport we profess to love. Instead, we make excuses for not getting involved, and, even worse, fragment, making it even easier for anti-fishing zealots to roll over us.

For example, trout anglers in New Hampshire now have alienated bass anglers. What’s going to happen when the loonies decide that they also want to ban lead-weighted flies, flies with lead eyes and lead-core line? Who will stand with the trout fishermen?

The need for angler unity and activism is not just in the Northwest and New England either. In Minnesota, fisheries managers decided to sacrifice the Mille Lacs smallmouth fishery through liberal harvest as a way to rebuild the walleye population. In doing so, they largely ignored investigation into how netting by Native Tribes is impacting the latter.

Writing for the Star-Tribune newspaper, Dennis Anderson said, “When the bizarre becomes routine, people accept it as normal. Which might explain the quiet acquiescence among Mille Lacs anglers since the Department of Natural Resources recently announced its two-fish walleye limits for the lake beginning May 11.”

And he closed with this: “Fundamentally, what bedevils the lake and its walleyes hides in plain sight every spring, and will reveal itself again soon--- routine now as ice-out, but nonetheless bizarre.  It’s the nets.”

But the 500-pound gorilla in the room for anglers everywhere is the threat to access. Right now, the focus mainly is on salt water, as typified by the National Park Service’s recent proposal to set up non-combustion zones in 1/3 of Florida Bay, a part of Everglades National Park. In effect, many popular fishing areas would become virtually inaccessible.

Previously, the NPS went far beyond what was necessary to protect threatened bird species, denying access to massive areas of shoreline for surf anglers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

And the National Ocean Council will prove to be just as fervently anti-fishing, as it “zones” how our waters will be used. Yes, it will start with blue water and coastal areas. But it won’t stop there.

“It’s only a matter of time before they restrict access to fishing in freshwater,” said Clough.

It doesn’t have to happen. But if freshwater anglers follow the example of trout fishermen in New Hampshire, it surely will.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)