Bait ban a slippery slope

Must we take this simple pleasure away from youths whom more than any prior generation are disconnected from the wilderness?

By Jim Benson

Okay, so I gave the draft bait ban (Provincial Framework for Steelhead Management in BC) a read. Like other well-meaning regulation, it appears justified because the authors say, “It’s All About The Fish.” Like many of you, because I don’t fish with bait, this new regulation meets little opposition from me. After all, as an elite fly fisherman of superior intellect, why should I care if bait is banned?

I’ll tell you why, but first know the prior sentence was made tongue-in-cheek to get your attention. While I most certainly do not feel this way, unfortunately many of my fellow well-intentioned fly fishermen possess an inherent need to advance their method at the expense of others.

This is why I care and why you should, too. While I am in agreement with provisions relating to release procedures, the bait ban is yet another slip down their slippery slope. They skillfully articulate a cause to ban one method at a time by enlisting the support of remaining anglers. Each method is demonized then banned until their habitat is exclusive to fly-fishing only.

While you spey anglers may think you belong to their club, I am warning you. Two-handed rods with sink tips that deliver half a chicken while hugging the bottom is not fly-fishing in the eyes of these elites. Think this fact through before you join hands with them. Next they will ban flossing, bouncers, floats, spin casters, sink tips, weighted flies and finally maybe even spey rods. They float this red-herring every time to support each step of their exclusive agenda.

Sport angling harm to steelhead stocks is negligible when compared to commercial seiners and gill nets. If elite concern for the fish were genuine, they would unite rather than divide sport anglers to take on this greater threat. Additionally, we need remind elites the Skeena had a record steelhead return just five years ago. Each time they declare a problem, there is an un-forecasted record return of each species. This year it is sockeye.

This latest red-herring they put forward to support this ban claims bait catches too many steelhead. First, I would argue that the practice of “flossing” has a much higher incidental steelhead catch rate. Also, many heavily tipped lower Skeena fly anglers think they are fly-fishing when in fact they too are often flossing fish. While bait is now easier to demonize what does tomorrow bring?

Whatever their cause defacto, it is also true that regardless the method, some skilled anglers catch an inordinately high number of fish. Some of the elite fly anglers behind this ban are very skilled. By their own measure maybe these self-appointed guardians should voluntarily remove themselves from the river.

Maybe riverside enforcement should be tasked with assessment of individual abilities and revoke the licence or limit river access of highly skilled anglers. Again, the last sentences are for effect but the message here is that maybe, just maybe, those promoting this latest ban should have an honest look within.

I do not believe there is a problem. However, if the numbers of released steelhead is in fact an issue, then maybe a more equitable approach should be enacted. If anything, maybe a limit should be placed on the number of releases at which time, regardless the method, an angler must vacate the river. My opinion is one released steelhead per day is enough in tributaries as steelhead near their wintering and spawning waters. This would also help mitigate crowding and encourage smaller groups. I would propose this rule only be in effect on years that returns are under a certain established threshold. Maybe if elites are faced with equitable giving, rather than taking, they will not be so quick to the charge.

The other thing that bothers me – as a youngster, I caught my first fish with a simple bobber and bait. That has always been coveted as a memorable life experience. Must we take this simple pleasure away from youths whom more than any prior generation are disconnected from the wilderness?

If anything should be banned from the Skeena watershed, maybe it should be the discriminate use of red-herring.

Angler Jim Benson lives in California and visits the area each year.