Opinion

All about the fish

Peaceful setting. - CONTRIBUTED
Peaceful setting.
— image credit: CONTRIBUTED

By JIM BENSON

Attention Region Six Resident Anglers! There now exists an ongoing effort to restrict and, on some rivers, completely rescind your fishing rights.

Because they say, “it’s all about the fish,” gear anglers will be the first to go.

As a fly fisherman, I know my position is a lonely road. Every single time I get into a discussion with many of my fellow fly-fishing anglers, biologists, Steelhead Society or other similar type organization members, they preface their position with, “it’s all about the fish.” I hear it echoed time and time again. This is how they segregate by what methods their habitat is fished.

Though fly-fishing methods greatly vary, without coincidence fly anglers’ personal methods are so deemed best by them. They proclaim their specific method to be, “best for the fishery.”

This is yet another common proclamation that echoes deep within the recesses of my brain. Though when offered rebuttal, their tortured explanation always ends high upon the same, “It’s all about the fish” pedestal.

It is not my intent to demonize, rather to save us from ourselves. I am not trying to take anything away. Instead, I am trying to prevent the taking.

Regardless how you fish, please maintain an open mind. Please read this through, because it really should be “all about the fish.” Did you hear that? Move over elites, because I am climbing up on that pedestal with you!

From up here, I am sounding an alarm. Gear and fly anglers alike, stand guarded! Why...Because the most elite of my fellow fly-fishing anglers have you in their crosshairs. If you think it cannot happen in B.C., you are wrong.

As example, I will point you south toward the North Umpqua River in Oregon. The most desirable section of this steelhead river, which is made famous by author Zane Grey, has been segregated to fly-fishing only for years.

At some juncture even that was not good enough and this is why I say fly-fishing anglers too should stand guarded.

Now, during certain periods, even a weighted fly is outlawed. San Francisco and Portland fly-fishing elite now discuss yet new limitation on Skagit line, weighted tips, two handed fly rods and even anything other than a dry fly. Know there too is similar discussion taking place right here, right now in your very own Region 6 backyard.

You ask, How does this happen? You beat your chest and proclaim, “That can’t happen here!”

Well, it not only can but most certainly is happening, and this is how. It is a slow creep. Gradually they demonize and segregate under the guise that, “It’s all about the fish.”

For instance, with incremental revision, the final stage of their efforts may limit future anglers to single hand split cane fly rods with linen line. Perhaps only a dry fly tied with organic natural materials on a specific sized barbless hook will be allowed. At this end, they will have succeeded in gently bringing us frogs up to a comfortable, but all the same deadly, boil.

You ask, how do only a few bring this about? The answer is because those who spearhead these efforts are the most articulate. They predominately reside within the populated seats of political power.

They are the grey beards among us who also frequent the same country clubs as the politicians who hold power over you. They are the folks that form the committees and call the meetings where they assure their narrow focused method of fishing declared best for the fishery from up high on their, “it’s all about the fish” pedestal.

They have stacked their deck so that we cannot win their game. However, I predict either they or more likely a future generation, will see their well-choreographed effort backfire.

Eventually, angler opposition numbers will be whittled to such a fine point that in the final analysis, animal rights type organizations will in turn join hands with their hand picked biologists to legislate complete closure. This is what happens when two wolves and one sheep are left to discuss what to have for dinner.

This is only one of three reasons they too should embrace solidarity with their fellow sport anglers.

Two additional reasons of greater importance remain.

First, commercial fishing and freshwater netting must be brought into balance. In order to meet this challenge from the top down this battle must be fought in the arena of public opinion. This immense international undertaking cannot simply be legislated. When people understand the impact of wild seafood consumption, then and only then will the marketplace diminish its negative effect on our marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems.

I could go on in volumes but for now let’s just recognize the magnitude of the problem. Let’s recognize that a huge public relations effort is required. Let’s recognize the opposing commercial industry enjoys nothing more than to observe sport anglers divided.

Commercial fishing has money and political clout, but we have a more effective weapon. Acting together, we have votes! Yes, politicians can be bought, but if we all grab them by their votes, their hearts and minds will follow. The grey beards among us must be persuaded to redirect their efforts to this greater cause. Together we have that ability. Separated? Well, that is clearly NOT, “all about the fish!”

Okay, so this is the final and perhaps most important reason we must come together. Now I am going to really climb way, way up high on a new pedestal, and tell you emphatically that, “it’s all about our children!”

When we segregate, talk down other methods, make jokes about ethnicity and do not extend common sense decency toward our fellow sport anglers, what example do we set for future generations?

When I went to the river with my father, he always extended a hand of friendship to others. He saw to it that I personally greeted not only those who were there before us, but also those who later arrived.

We made friends while fishing. He explained their methods and I watched, learned and tried each of them. If others got up earlier and were occupying our spot, we waited and used the time to have a father and son discussion.

He asked me what I wanted to talk about and he listened. Maybe even more than the fishing, this is what I remember. How do you want to be remembered by your children and by your grandchildren?

We have all heard the well-worn cliche that, “We don’t go fishing to catch fish.” Okay, so then do we go fishing to hate, belittle and segregate?

Not one among you can deny this does not consistently take place in full view of our children and grandchildren. There is nothing benevolent about these actions and that is most certainly not about the fish!

Terrace is a friendly place, but there is an adverse transition that takes place at the river’s edge. If we sport anglers were in grade school, we would simply be sent home with a note telling our parents that we don’t play well with others. We are not children and should start acting like it. We participate in a natural sport that should exemplify positive human nature, instead we perpetuate the problem.

The best thing to do for the fishery is to all get along. An undivided block of voters setting a good example for future generations can accomplish great things for the ecosystem(s).

With commercial fishing brought into balance, our rivers cannot be diminished by rod and reel sport angling. Intermittent high water and poor clarity guarantee sufficient escapement to spawning tributaries along with terrestrial nitrogen and phosphorus enrichment. If certain habitat is deemed too biologically sensitive to be fished, then it should NOT be set aside for only a few elites but instead from all.

I have no illusion that fly-fishing elites will do anything other than cling to their mantra and self-centered belief that they are somehow justified with their segregation effort.

To them I say, while now you may have the tenacity and intellectual capacity to win your river exclusivity, tomorrow you have yet a higher hurdle. The PETA billboards are going up everywhere down here in the lower 48.

You will be challenged to justify catch and release as a humane sport again and again until one future day your argument will fall upon their hand picked committee of all knowing ears to the contrary. Eventually you, or your descendents, will be mandated to a final hearing, not called by your faction, but by theirs.

You will be called upon to justify exactly why reeling in a hooked cold-blooded fish is different than doing the same with a warm-blooded creature. Then your self-segregated numbers will be too few to defend. Then you will be on the other side of your very own exclusionary tactics.

At that crossroad, you will become defenseless against their final thrust and so the exclusive access that you wrench now from others, will too be lost.

As final food for thought, allow me to say that I am of the belief that sport fishing interest has peaked. There are many reasons demographically supportive of my theory. The primary reason that I would like to leave you thinking about is simple, and that is because there are no electrical outlets on the river.

Like all things, time will tell. How about it? Let’s all have fun and start rowing in the same direction.

Jim Benson is from California and when he comes here to visit friends and go fishing, he’s considered a “Non Resident Alien Angler.”

 

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