Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sore Mouths.

My Grandmother's conscience is bothered by my fishing. She writes to me, weekly, and over the years her words have made me a foundation of paper, surer than stone. Her present concern, however, is me "giving all those trout in Colorado sore mouths…don’t you feel guilty?" Yes Grandma, sometimes I do.

Sometimes I feel guilty when I find torn jaws or missing eyes, or leftovers from another fisherman in my fish's mouth. Or, when the one that got away gets away with my flies too. They'll rust out, Jay reassures me. Which is all well and good and fine, but yes Grandma, I bet their mouths are still sore. Sometimes, I feel the need to confess this -- for the sake of her conscience, and mine.

I make the fish of Colorado have sore mouths.

There, I said it out-loud (I spoke as I typed. I promise). Yet soon, I will make trout mouths sore again. I know I will. Like a bad habit, an addiction -- I can't help myself.

Last weekend, as I reeled in one of the last big cutthroats of the day, my stomach sunk. Besides my fly, there's something else in her mouth -- a treble hook lure, weighting the left side of her jaw. This wasn't going to rust out anytime soon. It must have been hard for her to eat, and I doubt if she'd been able to. She looked tired, and beat up, and mad at herself for having fallen.....again. Perhaps many a female has thought this about a fisherman...

Sometimes the guilt we carry is not our own, and as I looked at that cutthroat, at that moment, I felt guilty -- sick -- for the fisherman who walked away from this high lake, perhaps without a second thought as to where his lure had ended up. What you don't see, can't hurt you. Right? No one will know.  

Except, me.

Kneeling, I whispered -- just like I used to do for sick and injured farm animals -- It'll be alright, girl....hold still.....there. Tones and timbres transcend language and species, and I'd like to think she knew I was helping her. Yes...yes, I think she knew...

As she held deep and then slowly swam away, I held my breath hoping she would make it -- hoping that I had helped and had done my duty. And I was reminded about the respect I have for these creatures and for the lakes in which they live. Reminded, of what an honor it is to be acknowledged by waters. Reminded, of that honor's weight, and what it asks of me in return...


  1. Whew! I used to be able to read your stories, Erin...then re-read them...digest them a bit and still be the first one to comment on them. Not no more. Now that you are gettin' so popular and what not (at least you still talk to me on the playground!) I have to read and type fast just to be in the first 20...

    So, after all that. I loved the story, Erin. As always.

  2. As always, you cut straight to the heart of things. I could no more have articulated these feelings for the focus of our fishing intentions than I could have flown to the moon. Thankfully, I need not. You reached inside me, and I expect many others here, and laid it bare for everyone to see.


  3. I'll offer another view, Erin. I've heard it argued that fish don't have pain receptors, and don't feel the stab of the hook. I doubt that, witness their reactions to setting that #14 adams. I read years ago a piece by a PETA writer, urging fishermen to "put down your rods". I remember in the '90's a fairly well-known magazine writer saying he had converted to pointless (rounded)hooks, saying the satisfaction was in getting the fish to rise to his fly.
    There may be a larger question to answer here: what place do we as humans play in this world? Are we 'protectors' of all around us, as arguably the most sentient of the sentient? Are we an interactive species, like the bear, fish, monkey?
    Fishing, like hunting, is a blood sport. Whether or not one kills and keeps the catch is largely separate from the issue of it being painful for the fish. In both, the fisher causes pain and the fish usually recovers, and in the other, it does not recover.
    You have a quote from James Duncan (I went to PSU with him), in his River Why book he has a passage about killing a couple sea-run cutts, saying something to the effect: "we sent them on to be butterflys, birds..." etc.
    I make no statements like that; it seems to easy. The idea of an afterlife, where we go on to be something else is beyond me. I have no idea what's next, if anything. I'll know soon, but for now I don't.

    No easy answers, but we have a myriad of choices. Mine is to honor the few fish a year I kill to eat, the deer and elk I hunted years ago, and the pig roast I got at the local butcher. I try, somewhat, to live sustain-ably, and in an eco-friendly. I am an omnivore, and make no apologies. I hope those who are vegetarians or vegans do the same.
    So yeah, I know that my hook causes pain. Do I think that fish are like us, the PETA argument (a rat is a child)? No. I think I'm in the world with them, both as a guardian and a predator.

  4. Jay - Ah, I'll always talk to you on the playground...

    Mike - Once upon a time, I did want to be an astronaut. Thank you so much, as always for your thought filled words. They mean a lot. Glad you're back from The West!

    Mike - I must say, I can't buy the argument that fish don't feel pain either. I knew vegetarian once, who convinced himself of it so he could eat them. Never respected him after that. I do think we are (and have historically been) an interactive part of the ecosystem -- which is why I interact respectfully. We were not meant to be simply protectors or observers. Conservators? Yes. And you put it perfectly: " I think I'm in the world with them, both as a guardian and a predator." I think so too...

  5. I think that if we respect and treat humanely those creatures that share our world, whether prey or pets that we are in good stead with our maker. Thanks Erin for another provocative piece of writing.

  6. Ryby ja wszystkie żywe istoty odczuwają ból. Czy jednak wyrzekniemy się łowienia ? Jak na razie nie wymyślono gumowych haczyków. Jedno co można zrobić to jak najbardziej delikatnie obchodzić się ze złowioną rybą. Po za tym należy stosować haki bez zadziorów. Niestety kaleczenie ryb będzie zawsze tam gdzie do połowu będą używane haczyki. Jedynie to, że zauważamy problem pokazuje, że jesteśmy myślący i mamy trochę sumienia. Więc nie smuć się Erin, życie jest właśnie takie. Pozdrowienia z Polski.

  7. She swam away better off than you had found her, for that she thanks you. We may never have a truly clear conscience about how we leave things on the water.

    And like you said,"And I was reminded about the respect I have for these creatures and for the lakes in which they live. Reminded, of what an honor it is to be acknowledged by waters. Reminded, of that honor's weight, and what it asks of me in return..."

    really well said.

  8. i have used that kind whisper before. I think we all have. It is an odd moment.

    as the saying goes, leave nature better than how you found it. I think it is safe to say that was done and she certainly appreciates your help.

  9. Well done Erin,I have no doubt that she has every chance of doing well with that lure now removed.

    We should all take care of the wonderful habitats that surround us,so that there is a legacy to hand down to future generations. There is a lot to be said for being at one with nature,inhaling and exhaling to its ebb and flow.

  10. I feel guilty at times too. I've often wondered if fishing is like finding a random oreo in your house taking a bite then all of a sudden your yanked around your house. Then dunked under water so you can barely breathe. Someone takes the hook out throws you back and expects that experience to be forgetful and painless. I pray a lot of times for forgiveness.

  11. This post brought a few tears of tenderness as I read it. It is like the story of the little mouse who takes the thorn out of the lions paw. But instead you were the fierce lion taking the pain away from a helpless fish and setting her free. I am sure she swam with a renewed wiggle in her
    Mama <3

  12. I'd recently struggled with the ethics of catch and release, viewing it much like a cat toying with a mouse. Earlier this year a friend hooked into a large, well fed bass that immediately broke off. He had another rod pre rigged and in less than a minute later landed that same fish, removed both hooks and released it! That first hooking was not so traumatic as to deter a second attempt, and so my conscience is not as burdened.
    Always a pleasant read Erin.

  13. Cofisher - I can say Amen to that...

    Troutrageous - :-) thanks...

    Tomek - " that we see the problem shows that we are thinking and we have some conscience." Thank you, as always, for your thoughts. I'm getting fairly adept at translating! :)

    Sanders - Thank you..."We may never have a truly clear conscience about how we leave things on the water" and like Tomek said, that we think about it, shows we still have one...a conscience. And like Norman Maclean said, " The hardest thing usually to leave behind can loosely be called the conscience."

    Ivan - Leave it better off. All we can try to do, eh? Thanks as always for the thoughts!

    Mark - "There is a lot to be said for being at one with nature,inhaling and exhaling to its ebb and flow." Indeed there is. Beautifully said, and thanks!

    penbayman - thanks!

    Kev2380 - It is very reassuring to know that others ask for this forgiveness too. Thank you...

    Mama - The Mouse and The Lion...and I'd like to think she wiggled. :) Would make a good children's storybook, no?

    John - Caught that bass again!? That, is quite the story! Thanks for it!

  14. Well done.

    Just a few weeks ago while camping at the family pond during the family reunion one of the kids caught a bass on a treble hook. No one could unhook the fish. I was able to unhook it with a bit of work. I again thought it was silly to fish with 3 hooks, when 1 will do the trick. When I use to use treble hooks I never liked how you unhook 1 and another one gets caught. It was too much trouble to unhook fish.

  15. "Sometimes the guilt we carry is not our own..."

    I cannot begin to tell you the chord this struck with me. Wow, thank you for the light bulb moment. I have some cobwebs of guilt to clear out this weekend.

  16. I've never seen anything to indicate that fish feel pain and much to show that they don't. Fish on Erin, but retain your compassion (as I know you shall).

  17. Interesting topic, for sure. I often catch fish with scars from past anglers, and on occasion inflict new scars despite my best efforts. I'm certain some of the fish I release have died, simply because that's the way the odds work. Regardless of whether fish feel pain, having critical internal debates over difficult moral issues rather than simply serving one's own self interest at the expense of others is part of being a compassionate and ethical angler/person.

  18. Nice as always, E. C&R may not be a perfect practice, but far better than 1" of butter and garlic in a frying pan. Unless you're in a remote area with water full of fish that need culling. Confess here I have partaken of the flesh of the state fish of California, and delish Goldens they were.

    Do fish feel pain? Of course they do. Here's why, it's simple:

    They would have gone extinct long ago.

  19. GFP - Agreed! One seems more than enough, eh?

    Elegant Mistake - And I, cannot begin to tell you how much comments like yours mean. I hope your "cobweb cleaning" is very, very productive, and cleansing to the core. Thank you again, so much...

    Dave - I shall indeed fish on. Thank you, my friend!

    Austin - Thank you for that comment, and thoughts. Yes, having these conversations and internal dialogs, even, fend off the complacency that results in carelessness. Thanks again...

    DarrellKuni - I suppose, after all, nothing in this world is "perfect" nor even ideal most days. And, we are left for to do the best we can. Also, I confess: I have partaken of the flesh of trout in Colorado. And lastly.....I like your logic on fish and pain....very sound!

  20. It doesn't matter if she, with her pea-sized brain, knew. What matters is that you knew. And she undoubtedly feels a lot better now, whether or not she can articulate as to why...

  21. Kirk - My individual conscience is now at peace. And in the end, that is all that's own conscience...thanks...

  22. Have participated many a'time in go'rounds with fishers who are in fish-feel-nothing camp, you Petafile commernist pinko from California. I figure fish must feel pain and discomfort, they're a living entity, they have to.

    I've used, 'toss fish in lake or river after catching, they fin happily away. Toss live fish into frying pan, not so happy.'

    That's dumb and simple to make point. The answer for me is easy: it's evolutionary, pain is survival.

    Trout have been around for a very long time. They couldn't have made it this far by not feeling they were water too warm or too dirty, or lying in air on a dry bank instead of in water.

  23. Feel or sense?............ it is a huge question and one far beyond my mental capabilities.

  24. Erin, we had a similar experience with a monster bass on our local pond. This 5+ lb beauty probably got this big because he knew how to break off lines of all the anglers who had previously hooked him. When my daughter landed him, he looked like a punk rocker with 4 rubber worms and a spinner treble hook hanging from its mouth. All were removed and the monster swam away happy with our hopes of passing on those monster bass genes on to future generations. I've caught other fish with hooks from previous break-offs, so it is my mission to find these fish, catch them and make them better off ;-)

  25. Darrell - Pain is survival...completely agree with that "simple point."

    Tom - That's an interesting one...not "if" they feel...but what they do. I'm just sure they "do."

    deanwo - May all your future missions be successful. Cheers!

  26. Erin, super cool post. Thought provoking, and that's cool. I think you reinforced a good point that anglers should always keep in mind.

  27. I feel a little worse for the cows that make up my double-cheeseburger. Not enough that I don't order a double-cheeseburger, mind you. The Lion feels no remorse when it wounds a gazelle in the chase, and I feel no remorse when I foul-hook( or any-other-hook) a trout. I understand people who do, though. It doesn't make me a ruthless foul-hooker of trout. :)

  28. Travis - Thanks! It seems to me that if more things were kept in mind, there would be far less tragedy in this world.

    Owl - Ah, sometimes...I think too much...

  29. "tones and timbres...." right on.

  30. In England, it being a crowded little place, most of our trout waters are fly only. Many are now catch and release with debarbed or barbless hooks only. Spinners with barbed treble hooks are usually for fishing for the pot and in England are often the weapon of choice for the poachers. Your fish was lucky you caught her and that you could get those hooks out. If the hooks had been single instead of treble and if they had been barbless, would she have been able to get rid of them on her own?

    I bet you felt good when you watched her swim away. You deserved to. She has a chance now of recovering.

    Regular Rod

  31. Regular Rod - Indeed, it felt very good to see her swim away, minus metal in her mouth. I think had it been a small fly (and barbless), she would have been able to live with it longer, or it would have rusted out. That large lure was actually weighting down her head so much, it looked like it was difficult for her to keep it up and swim. Very, very sad to see....but I keep my fingers crossed she is still out there, swimming. Thank you so much for the thoughts!

  32. Thanks for letting us in on this moment (I find it brave)-- However I want to say that, in my opinion, you've reached the proper reverence needed in order to take a fish and eat it.

    not on a regular basis, mind you, but I think it provides some perspective. :-)

  33. Brian J. - I like your view...that one must reach a certain point of reverence to be able to take and eat, respectfully. Thank you for that!

  34. Re-reading thread I remembered lately there have been a few whales freed from nets and rigging they've swum into, and it's taken hours and some danger but caring dudes risked themselves to free up willies.

    One Youtube lately was a doozie, sure many have seen the freed whale who took off and leaped and breached over and over.

  35. Darrell - Wow, I'll have to look those up....I couldn't have handled a whale! That's awesome!

  36. For there to be life there must be death AND suffering. Animals that we humans raise for meat suffer suffer much worse than a sore mouth. There a few documentaries that illustrate that reality.
    The most horrifying one is a German doc. called "Our Daily Bread".
    Vegetarians should see the suffering we inflict on insects.
    You are becoming expert at a skill that could feed you and you tribe if need be. That is an addictive feeling. PRIMAL!

  37. Hart - Yes, it is addictive...I think my tribe could hole up in the canyon for quite some time, and be sustainable. Good feeling!

  38. E, hope you found it, remarkable video -- they cut and cut, leaning over from panga, whale keeps moving tho not thrashing violently. And guys had only small knife to cut through a lot of nylon.

    At this point I will make point of telling all fine fishers here to never, ever dispose of mono in the out-of-doors. Know you all know this but bears repeating. Like ringed holders on soda or beer cans, synth stuff is a killer.

    Pal never believed me. Calls me up, I believe you now. Was on our fave stream and found songbird hanging in bush, strangled in mono, twisting.

    But whale got lucky, risky guys got job done -- and that freaking whale leaped and leaped like a puppy. Good video, heartbreakin' good.

  39. found it:

  40. Remarkable video, Darrell. I just forwarded it to the Chum and Fish Stchick guys. Thanks for the link!

  41. Darrell....thanks for the link! Amazing!

  42. Welcome, enjoy, send around. World can use good enviro news.

    Tell you this, I would have loved to have snorkeled as guys cut mono, watched whale's eyes and body language, then see him (or her) realize they're free and head to open ocean to leap and leap.

    Woulda been crying in the mask.