Okay. I've had it. This post may seem reactionary, what with the latest firestorm kicked of by Lefty Kreh with his comments about tenkara, but I've been planning this post since I started this blog. Personally, I am sick of all the sanctimony and acrimony in the outdoor world. I had to hear about the latest public fly fishing spat via Troutrageous. As always, Mike Agneta was the hilariously intelligent voice of reason. So I am going to go waaaaaaaaay out on a limb here.
NO MATTER HOW WE CHOOSE TO FISH, WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAW, WE ARE ALL JUST BOTHERING FISH.
There, that wasn't so hard.
I know. I just don't get it. I don't "get" tenkara, or bamboo, or glass, or swinging to steelhead, or the dry-flies-only aesthetic.
I fly fish by choice. I started out like 100% of you- with a worm on a hook. Whatever minor percentage of you never did that, I feel sorry for you. It is a fisherman's right of passage, like starting off as an apprentice in the union shop, or whatever your path to stardom was. If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and started off fly fishing, you have my pity. Making the full progression from bait fishing to fishing spinners and hardware to fly fishing has made me who I am. I've sold all of my conventional gear, and except for a couple of spinning rods for perch fishing, I only have fly gear. This is my choice.
I spent years here spinner fishing. I caught thousands of fish. I averaged 20-50+ fish per outing. I regret this to some degree now, as I feel that spinners are particularly damaging to fish. But it was fun, exciting, and I learned everything I know of stream-craft from doing it. It is only because of my years spent spinner fishing that I am comfortable fly fishing at night alone- I learned how the sand and gravel flow in a river bottom and always know where I can safely wade just by reading the surface currents and the bend and flow of the river. I transitioned into fly fishing full time over the last five years, but I have fly fished since I was 14, and it has always had a special place in my heart, it has always been the goal.
I've reached that goal now, and I'm happy with it. I'm still striving. I have further goals. But many times I am just happy that I fly fish. I want to better my tying. I want to improve my cast. I someday wish to buy a spey rig and learn spey casting. It has such gorgeous rhythm and flow. I even have half an interest in tenkara and glass. Honestly, I love it all- fly fishing is this endlessly fascinating spiral of techniques, gear, species, flies and waters, and I'm circling the bowl. Fly fishing is my aesthetic, it is what I love. I've recognized that I'm still just bothering fish, but in the style that I love. I recognize that bait fishermen and hardware casters and fly anglers have equal rights to their pursuits- we are all just bothering fish, in the way that appeals to us.
What damages the outdoors and angling is the entry of sanctimony- the idea that some form of bothering fish is superior, pure, sacrosanct. Tenkara is an easy target, as some have actively promoted it as a "pure" form of bothering fish, so let me address another angle- last year I listened to a podcast of April Vokey in which she referred to egg flies as "bait". To paraphrase, she suggested that if you want to use egg patterns you may just as well use bait. Really? Now, I love April (yes, she is aware of that) but I find this viewpoint a little difficult. Having made my progression from bait to hardware to flies, I understand the aesthetics. Swinging flies to steelhead on a big western river via spey gear is on my life list, but aren't all flies doing the same basic thing- either eliciting a feeding response or reaction/aggression strike? Some of the eggs I tie and fish don't even remotely match a natural. How exactly do we attach a value to one over the other? Difficulty is always a measure of skill and value, but should we develop a method so esoteric that we never catch fish? After all, at some point, regardless of what we say, catching fish is the point. If you want to spend a day with nothing to show for your efforts, take up golf.
What I'm trying to encourage my fellow anglers to do is embrace each other. That includes bait fishermen. Welcome and embrace anyone with a rod and licence legally and ethically engaged in enjoying the outdoors. I don't like running into a bait fisherman while I'm on the river, but now that I think about it, I don't really like running into anyone while I'm fishing. I'm just that way. If you run into someone who is obviously breaking the law or behaving unethically, say something or report them to the proper authorities. But don't discriminate because you enjoy a different style, or you release all your fish (eating fish is still an appropriate activity), or you feel that bamboo is the bomb. Pursue your own aesthetic, truly be yourself- and don't begrudge that right of others. Recognize that all the money spent for all the gear, bait, licences etc. all contributes to outdoor conservation and restoration via the Pittman-Robertson act. I don't care to ever handle worms again, but I bet the money from their purchase has done more to conserve and preserve rivers and fish than all the dollars spent on fly fishing ever. You've got to respect that.
But I'll take this to a deeper level. The bait angler who fishes to feed his family has a nobler claim than you to his fishing. He's feeding his family, you are bothering fish. His angling feeds his kids; your angling entertains you, and worse, kills fish that you never intended to keep. Trust me, I know the counter arguments, so spare me. If you really love fish, then don't go fishing. Be strong enough to admit that you love fishing more than the fish; if you loved the fish for their own sake you wouldn't fish. We all like holding fish, we love their beauty, but if it was the fish that we loved, we would take up river snorkeling. ("I love cats, which is why I love kitten snaring.") And I don't care how gorgeous, intricate or traditional your flies are, I don't care how old or expensive your bamboo rod is, I don't give a crap how long the Japanese have been cane-pole fishing with flies, I don't care how cool glass is, I don't care how beautiful spey casting is- I don't care how you personally choose to bother fish.
I only care that you get out there and enjoy it. Now go, bother some fish.