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Monday, August 13, 2012

Just Say NO to Fly Fishing Snobbery

I suppose the subject of this particular blog post was what finally pushed me to start my blog last month.  You see, back on July 3, I read a post by Kirk Deeter on the Trout Unlimited (TU) blog that was titled:  Debate: Is fly fishing the most “noble” way to catch trout?

A little bit of background first.  Kirk Deeter is the editor of TU’s quarterly magazine, TROUT.  He is also an editor at large for Field & Stream magazine, is a frequent contributor to various outdoors websites and blogs, and has authored or co-authored a number of books about fishing.  So if anyone can ask the question, “Why is there an 800-pound gorilla on the bank of that stream using a spinning rod and live bait to catch trout?” … well, I think Kirk Deeter has the credibility as an outdoor journalist to ask that question.

Obviously, I have an opinion on the question that Kirk posed in his July 3 TU blog post.  So, naturally, I added my two cents to the comments that were beginning to accumulate at the bottom of Kirk’s post.  Of the 17 individuals (including myself) who posted comments on Kirk’s post, the comments unanimously favored not judging an individual’s preferred method of angling for trout. Great, that question is resolved.  Next item on the agenda?

Anyway, when I saw that the other 16 folks who commented on Kirk’s post felt similarly to me, I realized that my comment was nothing more than preaching to the choir.  The point that others and I were trying to make in our responses should give Kirk, the TU editor, important info that I hope he will share with the TU board of directors (because TU is often viewed by outsiders strictly as a fly fishing organization).  But other than that, it seemed to me that I had just wasted my time in adding my comment to the comments of the other 16 folks with like minds.  That’s when I realized that I needed to start my own blog that would, hopefully, reach a more diverse audience than the TU blog so that my thoughts about fishing and conservation and intelligent land use would be shared with a more heterogeneous audience, many of whom might not have otherwise thought about some of the stuff that I may write.  And thus, the Stream Hugger blog was conceived.

OK, back to my response to Kirk’s question.  In a nutshell, no.  Fly fishing is not the most noble means of angling for trout, nor is it anything more than a personal preference.  Frankly, sometimes when I’m trying to make a trout think that little bits of fur wrapped around a very small hook is a real bug, and the fish are not the least bit fooled, I feel like fly fishing may be the most masochistic means of angling for trout.  The following two paragraphs are what I posted in response to Kirk’s question.

There's a time and a place for any method of fishing.  My dad didn't fish, but my interest in learning how to fish was helped along by a neighbor who taught me spin casting live bait for channel catfish and the occasional smallmouth bass in the Schuylkill River near Valley Forge, PA.  By the time I was old enough to need a fishing license, I had graduated to tossing Panther Martins and Rooster Tails with a spinning rod.  Fly fishing always seemed too esoteric without an adult role model to watch and teach it to me.  Besides, the gear was a lot more expensive.  But I always knew that my maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was a fly fisherman.  So I guess I was always a little curious about how in the world someone could toss a feather on a hook exactly where they wanted it 40 feet away.

Fast forward 30 or so years, and I'm now trying to teach my 9-year-old daughter how to fish.  She has no patience (not the kind needed for tying a tiny fly to a tippet and standing in one spot for 15 minutes or more), so, by necessity, I'm teaching her how to fish live bait (or Powerbait) with a spinning rod.  It doesn't seem like there will be any way she'll be ready to try to fly fish anytime in the next several years.  But I am very proud to say that she has always had a natural knack for casting a spinning rod.  The only problem with me taking her fishing is that she needs me nearby to guide her, which makes it nearly impossible for me to fly fish if she is on the stream with me.  But the most important thing to me is that she is interested in fishing and in coldwater conservation, and it's my hope that one day she'll become curious enough to ask to try to cast my fly rod and follow in the steps of her dad and her great-grandpop.  Whatever kind of gear that is necessary to keep a kid from getting discouraged while learning how to fish is the right kind of gear.

Trout Unlimited’s motto is, “Conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”  There is no mandate within TU that says the organization must cater to fly anglers or that it must necessarily exclude live-bait or gear anglers.  The goal of TU is coldwater conservation.

My grandfather, Eli Hendricks, with a bait-casting rod & reel, sometime in the 1940s or early 1950s.

The reality is that the more anglers there are with an interest in coldwater conservation, the better chance we all have of convincing regulators and elected officials of the need to protect and restore our favorite coldwater fisheries.  Fishing a coldwater trout stream can be a meditative and restorative experience for an angler, whether it’s with mealworms, Powerbait, a Mepps Black Fury spinner, or a Sulfur Dun dry fly.  It doesn’t matter what kind of gear we use when we get out on the water to try to match wits with the local trout.  What matters is that all anglers stick together and ally ourselves with other outdoor enthusiasts to protect and restore our waterways for future generations so that our kids will have the opportunity to follow in our rippling footsteps in the same coldwater streams that we currently call our home waters.
My daughter using a spinning rod & reel with Powerbait to fish for trout in 2012.

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