Monday, October 31, 2011

On Ethics.

It was the last day I was in the high country this year, spent at a brook trout stream -- and that was a few weeks ago now. The wind was blowing hard and there was already a lacing of ice on the stream’s hem. I spent hours walking and casting into pools and runs that looked promising. And they were (or I should say, would have been). Trout were there, I could see them even without the polarized glasses I had forgotten back at the car. Not even a nibble though, and I couldn't make sense of it until I came to a large, deep pool, casting my fly at the head of it and stripped it in, creating a wake of avoidance.  A Female hovered her redd as males hovered behind her, soon aggressively moving beside…not taking the genealogical chance of waiting their turn. It was a microcosmic dramatic ballet going on in that pool, and my fly had disrupted it – like an audience member rushing the stage -- and I sat and watched for hours. I watched the ageless dance of hormones on the small creek’s bed. They all knew their place, their white-taped X marking their spot on the floor of their world, and they danced upon it until a partner came. I watched the creation of small breaths I would perhaps someday hold in my hand. I watched the dichotomous beauty of love-making with its power and submission, beauty and violence.

Fly fishing has a heritage of a fairly caught fish, and I want to be a bearer of this – even, if sometimes it is a burden and even, if it sometimes means long stretches of fishless days. I suppose my Midwestern Protestant upbringing understands and feels right at home with this, with the weight of expectation in action upon my shoulders -- that there are things you just don’t do, out of principle and also, tradition. Sometimes the answer, “it’s just not right,” needs no explanation.  

Fishing to a female on a redd, angering her to the extent that she eventually eats your fly just to get it out of her face, doesn’t fall into the category of fully fair – at least, that is, to me. John Gierach once wrote, “Casting to spawning trout is a little different than what most of us are used to. The idea isn’t to fool the fish into eating something that looks like food because he’s not too hungry at the moment. You’re trying to make him mad.” And even if the fish “eats” it of of anger, there is still a smell of un-fairness in the air. I see a difference between presenting a convincible midge pattern to a fish who then decides it’s food, and essentially force feeding through annoyance. The former, the trout has the decision to make; the latter, you leave the trout no other. 

When anything in life is forced, there inevitably comes a sense of guilt. Forcing love, forcing loyalty, forcing a fish to feed, any of these things takes away the free will of the individual and also, the satisfaction in knowing that it is true. As Ted Leeson writes, “I released the fish with no sense of achievement, but only the same mixture of shame and profound regret one sometimes feels after “winning” a protracted and particularly bitter domestic argument.” When you forcibly bend another’s will to yours-- be it of husband, wife, or trout – ruefulness comes shortly after. There is no achievement in wearing a spirit down. Absolutely none

This is one of those subjects that I’m learning fishermen (at least in the U.S.) just don’t talk about. (It’s much like – and also related to -- the pegged bead issue, which Jay Zimmerman philosophizes about much better than can I, in “Pegged Beads (And My Turmoil About Them)"). Perhaps this subject is left lay because people just don’t know it is an issue, don’t want to have to think about it because it might ruin their fun, don’t know what their stance is, or secretly they feel a little guilty. In any case, it’s hushed to bed, lulling the issue to rest with alluring songs of big fish. But here now, remember what the sirens' sweet song did to Odysseus. Beautiful women, and big fish -- are not always worth the catching.

I got started thinking about this issue when I read that a blogger friend from Scotland was rearranging his plans to go fishing for browns, and instead went fishing for grayling because he saw that the browns were starting to spawn. While at the same time, I was surrounded by hoards of fishermen planning trips towards them. While many European countries have spawning restrictions and laws, precious few American states have spawning date regulations.  Wherefore comes this schism in ethics? And since it is there, shouldn’t it be seriously thought about, debated, and considered? To date, I have only heard this whispered about. And yet I think that whenever there exists such a disagreement, one should seriously consider one's stance, making sure one is in rights according to one’s own conscience.  

I’ve done much reading and research to assure mine it is so, and in doing came across an older editorial by Karl Licis in the Denver Post. He writes specifically about the Dream Stream and the South Platte and I’d encourage you all to go read his well written piece, "Ethics: Don't Fish Spawning Areas." As Licis states, many of the areas fished hard during spawns still have a decent population (of browns, and the rainbows are stocked anyway), combating the belief that catching spawning fish hurts their numbers and success rate. However, I cannot help but think of the principle about stress on an organism – that, stress on a body disrupts its function, causing ruptures in mental ability, digestion, reproduction, etc. And who is to tell what their numbers would be like were they not stressed during their spawn.  

In fact, there are several scholarly articles relating to stress and its impact on spawning trout. One, in the in the journal Biology of Reproduction, “Stress Reduces the Quality of Gametes Produced by Rainbow Trout” (Campbell, Pottinger, and Sumpter), states that such stress “resulted in a significant delay in ovulation and reduced egg size in females, significantly lower sperm counts in males, and, perhaps most importantly, significantly lower survival rates for progeny from stressed fish compared to progeny from unstressed control fish.” Now, are trout stressed when under normal conditions they are caught? Of course they are, but when done carefully and correctly, no harm is done to them nor their eventual offspring. Catching large spawning females comes at cost to them, their offspring, and thus in the long run, yourself. Abstaining from fishing spawning areas for a period of time, may indeed make for healthier fisheries. 

All of this writing (and perhaps rambling) of mine is not to convince you, reader, of anything -- the area is grey, not gospel; but rather to urge you to, if not done so already, figure out exactly what the issue is, where your stance on it is, and even moreso, if it has legs strong enough with which to carry you.  And I will consider this well written if only we can all just step aside our programmed instant gratification selves even if but for a moment, to assess the reaches of our decisions, whatever they end up being.

So after much thinking, reading, and research, I sat on that high country stream bank a few weeks ago and I made my decision: I will not cast to spawning fish.

And then I went home, glad for once to have not brought a single fish to my hand.


133 comments:

  1. An interesting and thought provoking read Erin.
    I must say I agree with your sentiment regarding this and must commend you on your final decision,to not cast for spawning fish.

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  2. New life is born. Not only in the U.S.A. In Poland, too. Only that in Poland by human stupidity is harder fish to live! Greetings from Polish, Erin!

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  3. Cool to see a little biology squeezed into the story. In Arkansas, the Brown Trout spawning areas are pretty well regulated on the White River system, but people still fish them aggressively. I'm with you, let them be and we'll have better fishing year round (and in perpetuity)... not just for three weeks (and nevermore).

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  4. Mark - Thanks for stopping by, and for the commendation...means a lot! (And seems I'm in good company!)

    Tomek - Many thanks from Colorado! And yes, we humans get in the way of a lot, sadly...

    Jay - That is really heartening to know about the Arkansas browns...and encouraging to hear your opinion as a biologist. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Interesting to read this, it had never ocurred to me that restrictions on fishing for spawning fish isnt universal. I strongly beleive its to everyones benefit if they are left alone....

    Only recently started to read your blog. Your writing is excellent whens the first book?.

    Andy

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  6. Very thought provoking piece Erin. Over here in the UK we have close seasons for game and coarse fish but these have been relaxed on stillwaters for coarse fish for several years now. The close season debate is an annual feature in our calendar and is frequently discussed at boiling point.

    I do fish lakes in what was the old close season but do not chase spawning fish as to do so would to me be abhorrent. Likewise, the close season on our rivers is frequently out of sync with the spawning of our chosen species. I have fished in the first week or two of the new season, found either the fish spawning or occasionally caught one that spilled milt and promptly packed up. I am alas one of the minority.

    It is a personal decision, unfortunately many choose to fish without a conscience and until legislation dictates otherwise we can only advise or leave them to it.

    I enjoyed Jay's piece about the pegged bead. I'm a firm believer in cross over techniques between angling disciplines and have to admit to having no real issues with what makes a fly a fly, a lure a lure or a bead a bait. We fish plastic baits on a hair (with a bare hook below) and outwit carp, tench, barbel etc, its just another method. I do however, see how it can rankle with a purist fly angler but again, your boundaries and morals are self imposed.

    I have a feeling that you are on the way to another high count on the comments ;-)

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  7. Andy - Thanks for popping in, and I'm glad you're enjoying what you find. And you know, it was just the opposite for me...I assumed regulations were sparse, everywhere. Very few waters here have spawning regulations, and to find the opposite was true in other places, was eye-opening to me! Thanks again!

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  8. Dave - Thanks as always for your thoughts and writing, and I agree with yours on this matter completely. I was surprised (and heartened) to find closed seasons in the UK...but made me feel like I was born in the wrong country. ;) I was "egged" by a stocker rainbow in the spring, and had the same reaction as did you. This is just not right. Now, your comment on the pegged-beads (that wrangled a lot of comments too!)...I agree, that there is a large grey area on what constitutes a "fly"...I think I'm still in in! But like you said, boundaries on this are self-imposed and probably each angler has their own definition and thoughts on the matter. Thanks so much, Dave, as always...and yes, I think the comments might get out of hand. Darn my opinionated self. ;)

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  9. For me, I don't fish to a spawner. There's no satisfaction in doing that and, like you, would rather take a skunking than do something that I know is not sporting.

    Which is also why I have not, nor will I ever, fish with two (or three) flies. Again, there's no satisfaction in stacking the odds in my favor.

    But also, it reduces the chances of foul hooking, while lowering the amount of flies I lose when snapping off, or snagging a bush.

    Can't tell you how many times I've pulled fish from a river and found them wound with someone's line and several hooks. Perfect your drift and there's no need for multiple flies and excess line in the water.

    My apologies about the tangent...

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  10. I'm glad you asked this question, because I think you're right, not many people will talk about this openly. I think if someone blindly tells you that fishing to spawning fish doesn't have an impact,they have chosen to turn the other cheek. Only hoping they catch a fish, and ignoring the damage they may be doing. I can only hope more fisherman take the time to think of such things.

    Cheers.

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  11. Colorado Angler - Well actually, your "tangent" is perfectly "on." I've also been thinking about 2 fly rigs because of a comment on Jay's Pegged Beads article. There's a good case to be made there, and fishing 2-nymph or dry/dropper rigs are definitely worth the thought. Thanks for your input on it all...

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  12. Sanders - Thanks for reading, and for your thoughts on the matter too...I only hope to make people think. That, is our responsibility as fishermen. Cheers.

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  13. Erin , I see you had me down as a Englishman? I'm Scottish through and through! easy done the "Och aye the noo" doesnt come out in writing. A very nice post as usual, and no offence taken! LOL

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  14. " I watched the creation of small breaths I would perhaps someday hold in my hand." I doubt many look at it like that. That's a cool thought Erin.

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  15. Col - Ooh boy! Many apologies! I searched my blogroll and email and everything and for the life of me couldn't remember where that thread and our chat had been! Thanks for setting the record straight. :)

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  16. Oh, and Col, I've set things to rights in the post! Thanks again!

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  17. Kev - Many thanks, as always...

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  18. Easy done Erin and the English ain't that bad once you get used to them , i have 2 English sisters in law, i might be going down there this Saturday to cheer on that American owned team Manchester united.

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  19. Col, ah, such a confusingly intertwined and related world, this one... :)

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  20. Quite thought provoking, because I've been sitting home unable to fish thinking I've been missing the spawn.

    Does this mean catching sunfish is unethical? Those crazed maniacs seem to have one thing on their mind all the time.

    I do think this is a great post and discussion. It's gonna be tough for me cast to spawning fish now. Thanks for the thoughts.

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  21. Rhythm Rider - Well, maybe at least this year you'll feel better about being home-locked. ;) Catching sunfish unethical? Here's my thought: If there's an actively spawning trout, bass, or sunfish, for that matter, I will not cast to it, and I also don't fish eggs. I think there's a big difference with fishing eggs. An actively spawning fish won't go after a normal fly (for the most part), and so it's hard to catch one unless you really tick it off. I fished to those Brookies for a long time before everything in my head clicked. I never even had a nibble. Now had I been using an egg, that would have been quite to the contrary. So I guess my views on it isn't exclusive to trout -- bass on beds and sunfish included. I've also been told from a reputable source that Gierach has said he'd catch a spawner if it wanted to eat a dry fly...I suppose that's a happy middle ground of sorts. Thanks as always, RR.

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  22. Great post Erin. Not to pimp my blog, but I asked a somewhat similar question last year (although not as eloquently or thought out as you). Just thought I'd add a few more comments to the conversation via that post's comments.

    Troutrageous!: Fall Fishing Questions

    Personally, I still don't know where I land on this. I'm still going to go fishing in the fall. Then again, I barely catch fish as-is, so I don't think I'll be making too many spawners angry.

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  23. T! - Thanks for that link to your blog...very interesting and well-thought comments, and it's always good to get more voices in the dialog. Here in Colorado it is nice because there's a diversity of species...and they don't all spawn at the same time so there's always trout to be found...somewhere.

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  24. Funny coincidence that I ran across this today:

    http://www.coloradofisherman.com/forum/index.php?topic=65148.0

    Seems to support the argument against catching spawning fish.

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  25. Rhythm Rider - Wow. Yeah...it does. Thanks for that link...

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  26. I always feel bad for the spawning salmon that make it up the river from the ocean navigating rapids, waterfalls, bears and other predators only to be snagged by a fisherman who wants a trophy. Doesn't really seem fair.

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  27. Kev2380 - No, it doesn't at all...I've always thought the same.

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  28. The only time I can ever remember stopping fishing before it even started was one fall on the Arkansas about five years ago. Watching two 30 inch. browns preparing to spawn was much more interesting than interrupting them for a few glorious moments for me.

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  29. "...a smell of un-fairness in the air." I can tell you that smell lingers a long time. When I was a kid I found a large bass guarding her bed. I cast a plastic worm into the bed and she picked it up to defend her nest. I set the hook. I immediately knew I was playing dirty pool with that fish and a wave of guilt washed over me. Never have forgotten that feeling. Good lesson to be learned early.

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  30. “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton

    Whether we draw, write, or cast a fly line we must have standards by which we enjoy our craft. You my friend understand this so well ...

    Jim
    Two Guys ~ Wet Waders & Flies

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  31. Ty - It kind of permeates your soul, eh? I know exactly what you mean...

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  32. Jim - Chesterton has always been a favorite author of mine, and specifically that quote. Thanks for bringing it freshly to my mind.

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  33. Opinions on this subject vary greatly in my part of the country. The White River system attracts people from all over the country this time of year to fish for browns which may or may not be in some stage of spawning. I enjoy fishing for pre and post spawn fish but like you have no desire to annoy fish that are sitting on redds. As always a very enjoyable read.

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  34. Wonderfull stuff as usual EMB. I am with you on skipping the spawn for most species. The ethics are a personal question but there is no doubt that it is not as sporting. It doesnt take virtually any skill at all to catch bedded smallmouth for example. I don't see the distinction between triggering a strike out of hunger or aggression though. In either case you are taking advantage of very primitive instincts to sucker a fish onto a hook.

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  35. High Plains - Thanks much, and it the subject definitely seems to have as many opinions as there are fishermen.

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  36. McTage - Ah, thanks! And I do see your point in the distinction of hunger/agression strikes. And both, can ultimately harm the fish -- however I do see a difference, but that may be where it comes down to personal interpretation and lines drawn.

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  37. Great read Erin. It helped me with my internal debate on this. My favorite river usually closes for trouting on September 31st instead of October 31st like most of the rivers in Washington. Well they messed up this year it was open through the 31st of October. I fished hard for the first part of October but started having issues when I started getting more and more fish in spawn colors, fat with eggs, etc. This river is very close and I am broke as hell so no traveling. I just stopped going altogether around the 10th and this helped me understand why that was a good thing.
    Steelies are moving up the other river in my zone now. Time to freeze my ass off and dredge oversized nymphes and glo bugs...

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  38. Interesting stuff, Erin. And Colorado Angler and McTage make some interesting points that only go to emphasize further that this is gray area stuff.

    I've been working up an "ethics" post myself, on some other fishing-related questions, and it's hard work!

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  39. RiverDragon - I am so glad my ramblings of internal struggled helped you think through things...your travel budget sounds like mine, and that simplifies things, often in a good way. :)

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  40. T.J. - It really is, isn't it...and all the points raised have been very valid. I'm really looking forward to your ethics post, and yeah...these kinds of posts are liable to give one a headache!

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  41. Morals and Ethics, two heavyweights of the modern dictionary.

    Over the years you will find your own, some you will keep, some you will adopt and some you will discard. Some will be changed and some will be refined, what was right then may not be right next time............ you will have to rely on what your moral compass tells you at the time.

    Fishing is to be enjoyed, if you are not comfortable with what you are doing then you will not enjoy it and there is precious little time to fish.

    A very thought provoking post Erin, one which will make people think and hopefully respond.

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  42. Tom - Thanks as always for your thoughts...and I really like the metaphor you bring of having a "moral compass." I too just hope this all will get people to think. Thanks again!

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  43. Erin, I'm glad you're writing this since it's so often swept under the rug. To me, as you say, "it's just wrong."

    It's seen in all animals that they are the most vulnerable when spawning/mating because their self-preservation instincts take a back seat to their reproductive drive (just like teenagers). It's this switch in behavior that makes fishing for spawners wrong. No matter how fun it may seem to those doing it, it takes advantage of an exceptional vulnerability, and I'm sure it also lowers reproductive success.

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  44. Matt, thanks for stopping by, and for leaving your thoughts. "It's this switch in behavior that makes fishing for spawners wrong." Well put, and I agree whole-heartedly. Thanks again!

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  45. First of all, great post, Erin! You seem to have a knack for hitting the thought-provoking topics while walking the tightrope between zealot and diplomat, a rare trait among writers. :)

    On to the issue...for me, it boils down to knowing my quarry. I have both extremes of this polarizing argument in my yearly fishing.

    On one hand, I look forward to fishing for Lake Erie steelhead when they make their spawning runs each year, and don't feel the least bit bad about throwing eggs to them. These fish are a genetic potpourri of stirred up petri dishes, raised in a raceway, and born and bred to be caught by anglers. Further, the PA streams are lousy spawning habitat, and fewer than 1% of the fish manage to spawn successfully. For these fish, I have no qualms about anyone fishing for them, and even keeping them, at any time.

    On the other hand, wild brookies haunt the tiny mountain streams near my home, and when I start to see them taking on color, I don't even go out to pursue them, not wanting to spook them while they're trying to spawn. These are natural-born fish that were spawned, just like their ancestors, in these small streams, and for me to mess that up just seems wrong. When the frost hits, the brookies can have their streams to themselves.

    That being said, I guess I feel it's most important that anglers not only think about where they stand on these issues, but WHY as well.

    Above, Colorado Angler gave two reasons for avoiding fishing with multiple flies. His second reason (avoiding snags and foul hooks) is perfectly valid, but his first ("there's no satisfaction in stacking the odds in my favor") I completely and totally reject if his rod is graphite, his reel has a drag, his hooks be chemically sharpened, his line be made of a synthetic, he wears any kind of waders, he uses any synthetics in his flies, or mono or fluoro in his leaders or tippet. All of that is stacking odds in one's favor, and to say that using any of those is ethical while using two flies is not...well...in my opinion, it doesn't hold water. Again, that's subjective...but since we've gone into that realm, we might as well go the whole way, yes? :)

    CA, I hope you don't take offense to my position, I don't mean to pass judgement on you, or any other angler, but I see my point stated above as a perfectly logical counterpoint to the whole 'using this gear/tactic isn't fair to the fish' argument. If you don't use it because it isn't for you, that's one thing...but to eschew using two flies because its an unfair advantage while casting your single fly with a space age carbon fiber rod and precision-tapered line...well there's a disconnect there, to me.

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  46. Mark – I think you make excellent arguments and points here. I think there is certainly a difference between wild fish and ones that are “genetic potpourri of stirred up petri dishes.” Totally agree. And should they be treated differently? As you state it, yes – and I can agree with that. However, there aren’t so many petri dishes in my area, so my fishing is most all to wild fish, and admittedly that greatly shapes my viewpoint. Your urge to know not only where but why is a great one, and really is necessary to being a responsible angler. Now, your points about gear…right on. This can be taken to so many levels and it really does boil down to personal ethics and boundaries. Any time we fish, the favor is with us (as I see it). Even if we’re purist with a cane rod, or a little kid with a stick and line tied on…we’re the predator, we’re bigger, stronger, the alpha species. I’m glad you went the “whole way”….they’re great points you make. Thanks so much for stopping by…

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  47. I think Mark expresses my thoughts on this pretty effectively. I'm chasing Ontario Steelies this weekend and don't give it a second thought. On a local wild trout stream, it's a whole different story.

    The one place I get in trouble is my recent trip to Alaska. The whole point was to fish for large Rainbows who were taking eggs behind spawning Salmon. And, we caught plenty of spawners. I guess I justify it by thinking there's a couple million of them and only a couple thousand anglers. But good food for thought.

    At least we weren't pegging eggs.

    Let the games begin.

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  48. Steve - Indeed in this as any, context is key. I think you've got a pretty darn good perspective on it....and I see you read the Pegged Bead article, eh? Your comment over there was awesome. Right on. I really respect your views on this. And, I really hope you get your power back on soon!

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  49. Erin
    The section of the Deschutes River above Wickiup Res. was closed starting the end of Sept. back in the early '70s to protect spawning browns. Ethics on fishing for them aside, I predict one of these days you're going to break 100 comments, and perhaps achieve cult status. You should have some fun with it; perhaps post a pic of a twig and a leaf, with no explanatory message. I bet you get at least 30 comments on it.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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  50. As many other comments have said – good to give this debate another airing. It is one that frustrates me some though. For example I find your choice of study a curious one and wanted to mention something about it. It is a fairly sound study though how they get away with a three page discussion off the back of one experiment…wish I could.
    Anyway the methodology of the study is the key. It puts a different emphasis on what has been discussed above and may be worth highlighting. The point is that the stressor (draining the holding tank, letting the fish flap around for 3 mins and then refilling the tank) was applied for 9 months prior to spawning. No stress was applied during spawning. So, if the analogy between the paper’s stressor and catching fish on rod and line is valid the study actually implies that the stress of catch and release during the time prior to spawning (and especially the 4 or 5 months before hand) is what is causing the lower fecundity and higher mortality of offspring in the stressed fish. It is quite reasonable to then suggest that catching a fish that has already matured eggs/sperm (ie is on the redds) is not as stressful – they return to spawning behaviour in a day or less in the same way as has been noted for stressors on feeding behaviour. To follow that to its logical conclusion we should be fishing during spawning and not before - your thought that no harm is done during normal fishing might not hold water.
    On the other hand the more we fish, catch fish and release them the less effect there will be. The authors of the study were at pains to avoid acclimation. Fish, as with most animals, get used to stress and adapt accordingly. A fish will be very stressed the first time it is caught but if capture occurs frequently the stress response will likely diminish as will the costs of the response on fecundity and offspring fitness.
    Generally I agree with what you say – angling for spawners is somehow distasteful. Yet this may be simply another example of anthropomorphic thinking – we don’t like angling for spawners because it makes us squeamish. The fish, well they would rather we don’t do it at all but perhaps particularly when they are making energetic commitments to spawning well before the event actually happens.
    I find the ethics more broadly a profoundly interesting topic dealing as it does, I think, with how we view and interact with the environment and the non-human organisms in the environment. Couching the debate in a fish welfare bed misses the mark perhaps.

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  51. Mark - wow. Ok, for starters, you may have misinterpreted my comment - it's simply my preference, and I stated the reasons why. If that one touched a nerve with you and you took that as a personal insult...

    I could care less how many flies it takes someone to stick a fish - as long as it's clean. But that still doesn't change the fact that one fly can be just as effective as two or three, and in the process, reduce the chance of foul hooks and/or wrapping a fish in a yard or two of line and multiple hooks.

    As to your perspective on fly fishing, I think you're off base. At it's most basic, the sport requires a rod, a line and a hook. Anything less than that, and it would be noodling.

    Sure, I use a reel - mainly because the fish I'm hooking on 7x and a single tiny fly aren't brookies. But also, because utilizing the drag system is a hell of a lot better than burning my palms or fingers when a hog decides to run. Ultimately, it's easier on the fish, and me.

    I don't do it to advance an agenda - or so that I can look down on others who do throw dries, streamers or use a multi-rig set-up. I do it because I prefer the challenge when the playing field is leveled as much as it can be, under the label of fly fishing.

    It's a personal choice, just like it is for you to toss to stocked spawners.

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  52. Mike - I've heard quite a few of these instances where there were regulations in the 70s and 80s and then recently they were lifted. I suppose that can be an indication of healthy fisheries...but I fear over-exuberance...perhaps? Ah well...but I think I'll pass on the twig and leaf thing for now. ;)

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  53. Eccles - You make very valid points regarding that study. And I am certainly not saying we shouldn't fish the 9 months before spawning. However, there has been some evidence this year in a highly pressured stretch of a the S. Platte this year (targeted specifically for spawners) that repetitive catches (often 5-6 times a day) have literally killed some. So your point on repetitive stress and adaption, while true, seems to be stretched to its extent during this time. And I cannot agree with you that it would be better for the trout to be caught many times and for them to just adapt to the stress. That's not in line with my personal beliefs and ethics on the matter - -like you said, mine rest largely on my larger view and conviction of what's best for the ecosystem as a whole (and while this does and should include fish welfare, in my opinion, granted it isn't the only thing to be considered, and I think I did outline that...). Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts.

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  54. Colorado Angler - "I do it because I prefer the challenge when the playing field is leveled as much as it can be." That is probably the best summation of all these words and my ramblings. Period. Thanks...

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  55. I think some of what is going on here is what goes on in many (most?) debates about fishing and ethics, particularly when we get to discussing catch-and-release. This thing is that we sometimes argue (even with ourselves) at cross purposes because we're dealing with "right" behavior directed at different targets and for different purposes. Is the ethical issue you're most concerned with that which is directed towards your fellow fisherman? Is it directed towards the fish, as a population and part of an ecosystem? Or is it directed toward the fish as an organism capable, perhaps, of some suffering? Much of the time, fortunately, these all overlap in that general place we call "good sportsmanship", "proper fish handling", etc.

    But that's not always true. It's always important, I think, to first identify (to oneself) precisely which issue it is one is addressing, and then also make it clear to those others with whom you're debating.

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  56. T.J. - "Much of the time, fortunately, these all overlap in that general place we call "good sportsmanship", "proper fish handling", etc." Very well said, sir. The thing of it is, these subjects, hard and complicated as they may be, need to be talked about. Lines have to be drawn. And while it is a grey area, it can't be all completely "relative" to personal mores/preferences/beliefs. There has to be some standard of conduct -- as you said, "good sportsmanship." The trouble being, figuring out exactly what that is. And I think "sportsmanship" is as much good conduct towards fellow fishermen as it is to the fish. I'm eagerly awaiting your upcoming post...

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  57. Eccles - I have been thinking a lot about your comment about stress and that "the more we fish, catch fish and release them the less effect there will be" on spawners. That is a valid and perhaps very true point, evolutionarily. However, that is much like saying we should abuse all toddlers and then the ones that survive that, will develop a tolerance to abuse and stress and make the species stronger. Or, that we should let the fish "adapt" to pollution or such. Perhaps they would adapt, and perhaps those children would survive -- but, as this "higher" of species at least regarding mental capacity and development, we have responsibility (I think) to avoid such behavior. So....would repetitively catching spawners make them adapt to the stress? Indeed, very likely. But does that make it right? Or rather, an excuse to appease a conscience?

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  58. I've fished beads in Alaska for rainbows and char. Here's the thing: those fish are not spawning. They're sitting behind sockeye eating the eggs the sockeye are dropping. When the sockeye are spawning, the "hatch" is sockeye eggs and you'd be hard pressed to catch a rainbow on anything other than a bead during that time.

    Fishing to spawning fish = Bad.

    Fishing to fish feeding on eggs with beads = no problem in my book.

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  59. Anonymous - While I still will probably never fish eggs...good points you make. Thanks for stopping by and tracking your thoughts.

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  60. Great read! I agree with all of your points and think you did a great job in writing it.

    I have fished all over and am sometimes shocked with the regional differences when it comes to spawning fish.

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  61. Master of Kung Fu and Jelly Making - Thanks so much! I haven't fished much regionally, but this blog world gives one a very interesting view into what it's like, and internationally too. And I'm also surprised by the differences. Thanks again!

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  62. "On the other hand the more we fish, catch fish and release them the less effect there will be. The authors of the study were at pains to avoid acclimation. Fish, as with most animals, get used to stress and adapt accordingly. A fish will be very stressed the first time it is caught but if capture occurs frequently the stress response will likely diminish as will the costs of the response on fecundity and offspring fitness."

    Great point. Here is an idea: Let us take this same thinking and apply it to child rearing. We should abuse ALL of our children. Then, if later in life they get mugged or raped they won't be so emotionally effected.

    Mmmmmm....naw. I don't like the idea.

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  63. Y'all are being unfair to Eccles and his point. He's a biologist. He might have some perspective on this.

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  64. T.J. - Oh, I think Eccles indeed has great points, and like you said, a perspective from the field. However, I believe that philosophies/mores/ethics should not be based entirely upon biology. Survival of the fittest, genetic purity, etc., just to name a few...can be taken to ugly levels.

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  65. Brown trout are the most rugged and durable trout in this country. They got this way as a species because they grew up (evolved) alongside us humans...taking in every imaginable stresser. You can observe this same species adaptation with whitetail deer and coyotes in larger cities in the East. You can imagine over enough time this could be said about catch & release rivers, too. I get the point. But to use this as part of an argument in defence of fishing to spawning fish is a bit of a stretch. Brown trout do have a bit of a raw deal, being that they spawn in the fall in often clear, shallow water (easier for predators, like us) and they are then forced to enter the brutal winter on lower than normal body reserves. Thus sometimes high mortality rates on the larger fish. And that is without the added stress of us anglers harassing the shit out of them during their most vulnerable and stressed months.

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  66. I agree with your article here. I have even shared it on my twitter, Facebook, Google+ and my blog.

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  67. "But to use this as part of an argument in defence of fishing to spawning fish is a bit of a stretch."

    I don't see that as his real point. I think his main point is that (if our ultimate goal is to avoid negative affects on the fish) while it might be intuitive to think the worst damage occurs when the fishing is done during spawning, this intuition might be wrong.

    "However, I believe that philosophies/mores/ethics should not be based entirely upon biology."

    I agree, but in this particular case, isn't the entire point to avoid unnecessary long-term harm on the fish? That's a biological question, pure and simple. If it makes no difference, or if it's actually worse to target them before they spawn, then we either have to change our fishing practices, or change our arguments for why fishing for spawning fish is wrong!

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  68. In general regards to the study not being tested on actively spawning fish, here are some that were:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1095-8649.1994.tb01069.x/abstract?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+5+Nov+from+10-12+GMT+for+monthly+maintenance

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165783607000549

    http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?requester=gs&collection=ENV&recid=3699739&q=spawning+%2B+stress+%2B+catching&uid=&setcookie=yes

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8675%281997%29017%3C0557%3ATIOCAR%3E2.3.CO%3B2

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  69. Erin - thanks for the links. First, I'm not advocating FOR fishing for spawning fish. And second, it's not really my intention here to argue, at least not for the simple sake of arguing. My primary response was my own gut reaction to the replies to Eccles' post; replies that, in my opinion, focused on his one particular analogy, at the expense of missing his main point.

    My own gut feeling, based on what I know of biology in general, is that messin' with fish close to spawning time will have a greater effect on them than doing so at some point farther removed. But, I don't know that we actually have data on that. I think Eccles and I, given our professions, are always going to say "But show me the data!" This might sometimes make us unbearable, but it's the right response.

    The studies you pointed out all addressed whether stress during spawning has an effect...but they did not address whether the effect of being captured during spawning is actually greater that the effect of being captured at other times. This was, as I understand, the thrust of Eccles' point. You provided some biological references for the idea that capture during spawning has effects but you didn't provide the equivalent references for this part: "are trout stressed when under normal conditions they are caught? Of course they are, but when done carefully and correctly, no harm is done to them nor their eventual offspring."

    As I said in my initial post, I'm glad you wrote it. I agreed with a lot of your points, and mainly with the one that we, as fishermen, shouldn't shy away from discussing these things.

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  70. Erin
    Well, I'm impressed. Some of the comments have been excellent; and the authors clearly remembered the tenets of critical thinking. I like the discussion of examining the issue from a scientific standpoint, looking for evidence-based data, vs. the counterpoint of it being an emotional issue. We can't live our lives with an entirely emotionally-based view, nor can we reasonably live by deciding all things on a 'what works' base.
    Good job of bringing an issue out to the light, and letting people kick it around.
    Mike

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  71. I had no idea there was controversy on this subject. Considering that these fall spawning trout are introduced, I could care less either way. (throwing eggs is another story [just buy a spinning rod]) In no way am I saying that I try to catch spawners, but people do what people do and we can't stop that. Colorado does have some amazing rules on spawning fish though. A lot of Wild Trout fisheries have rules about not fishing the spawn for a certain time of year (in all honesty, I've seen lots of people break this rule). Besides, the post-spawn has better payoff.

    To the Colorado Angler: I guess you'd better start using cat gut for line. I mean, if that is ethical. ;)

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  72. Erin,
    First and foremost I want to thank you for the thought provoking dialogue. This blog post came to me via a friend who has been following you for a little awhile and most certainly knew I would respond openly to your thoughts on the matter. First let me give a little background on myself. I am an aquatic neurobiologist specializing in quantitative genetics and diversity. I specifically manage trout, pike and many other rough fish. I have spent nearly 20 years studying this exact idiom and I have definitely formed a strong opinion about fishing eggs and redds. First and foremost, I must say that trout in particular consume food sources for two reasons. First they eat out of hunger, secondly they eat because they are territorial. One would think that the hunger response is the most innate neuro-trigger out there. Quite contrary, it is actually the territorial use of lateral line movements that trigger most fish to consume aquatic substrates of any kind. Believe it or not, this idea of territory is more profound every day of the year when a trout is not spawning then when it is. With this said, and without boring everyone about why you shouldn't fish redds during the spawning, I am here to tell you that there is always a balance. If you live in a Western State chances are that at least 60% of your trout population is sterile do to the environmental factors in our streams and the hybridization that has occurred during the stocking process. Simply stated most trout don't spawn successfully! With all this in mind, fishing for spawning trout has both good and bad attributes. In our studies, one can generalize and say it is a good thing to not fish wild trout during the spawn, unless you happen to be fishing a stream or lake that has lots of competing fish. One will then say, how do you know if there is lots of fish in a body of water or not? A good rule of thumb is the size of the fish based on the size of a given body of water. If you fish a large stream and catch many small brook trout, chances are the herd needs to be culled a bit. Especially smaller, easy to catch, what I call "Ratt trout" that are tiny little spawner's that ultimately end up messing up the entire population of fish in any given body of water. This constitutes another 10-25% (dependent on locale)of the population of western trout that have no place in your genetic stream pool.

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  73. If you follow where I am from here, I'm now going to take it a step further. The larger fish in this same environment are more than likely going to be harder to take on a fly. For good reason these fish are more selective and less prone to utilizing the innate neuro-triggers that usually find them on the end of a fly line. In taking a conservative approach to these statistics, say that 70% of the trout in western states are now exempt from following under the category of "off limits during the spawn" in your dissertation. That leaves 30% of the trout to propagate their young in a manner that is consistent with flourishing genetics. Here in lies the kicker, we have done extensive post spawn creel and electro-shocking surveys and have found that nearly 24% of that pure genetic strain of fish (we so desperately need in the gene pool to survive and propagate effectively in Western waters) make it just fine or die of natural cause at life end. These results have been interpolated on many of the western state's streams, lakes, and tail waters. In summary, the purest genetics occur in only the top 12% of this population which is a population that is never caught by the common fly fisher. So that is my scientific reasoning behind why there is no real reason why one should not fly fish during spawning season. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but most of these exceptions are governed through regulation.
    Now here is my philosophical belief as an avid Fly Angler. We fly fish because we enjoy the competition, the scenery and the camaraderie, but most of all because we simply love catching fish. Taking eggs, pinned eggs, egg flies, or any other inciting fly out of the equation during the spawning season appears to be much like taking away stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, and terrestrials during the seasonal hatches. If you feel ethically challenged to fish them during that time, and they are legal in the body of water, why not just stay at home. Furthermore, why fly fish at all for 6 months out of the year, as that is the time in which spawning occurs each year (September to late November and March thru May for most waters). If you're a purist and you don't want to be caught up in this so called ethical battle then don't even bother fly fishing, because you're bound to be tempted. Hemingway and some of the people you quote wrote of a time where wild trout flourished, today s waters are much different.

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  74. Moreover, some of best guides out there are my close friends. If you take the pinned bead away, and the ability to swing a fly before, during , and after the spawn they simply would not have a livelihood. Many of these guides are some of the most ethical preservationists around, but they have grown to the understanding that fishing during the spawn has responsibilities in itself and they may not be what society has deemed "unethical." In fact, many of them understand that their clients quarry are the fish that are right there in the open, willing and able to take a fly in order to make a living. They also know that the other 20% of the trout (alpha broods) are unseen during the day, and are busy hiding in places where they cannot be bothered during the time they decide to get their groove on. So all I ask in this response is that everyone think about a paradigm shift in which the spawn and the egg are not vilified in a manner that is consistent with bad science. If you want to learn more about what really happens during the spawn ask your area fisheries biologist about volunteering for an electro shocking experiment on your local waters. I'm certain that you will be baffled at what you see. One final thought I want to leave you with. There was a comment made about a local body of water having too much pressure. This body of water, is most likely one I personally travel good distance to each year in search of big fish. In fact I did so this year, and did not do very well mostly because of the crowds. That said, I am very close to the area biologist who manages these waters and I can tell you that he is not worried at all about the living population of browns in this drainage. His own netting station of Kokanee salmon two years ago revealed 7 fish ( 4 females and 3 males) that were upward of 35 inches in length (including one that was close to 42"). I can assure you that these fish did not travel the river during the day and were not caught, or they would have been the talk of the town. These same 7 fish were tagged and released at dusk. They were later found (four days later) in the upper section of the river that is off limits to fishing. These are the genetic broods that are needed to sustain a fishery, and they are thriving with heavy pressure, during the spawn. So Erin, I'm not sure if you're new to Fly Fishing or not, but please consider that there truly is a balance to approaching fisheries. A balance that most good biologists understand and recognize.
    Please keep the hate mail at a minimum. I get paid very little stomach many of the theories about proper management of trout, and I have my own successful stories that are continually being proven each day!
    Thanks for your post I feel better now!
    Dr. Hook

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  75. What fun, Erin! What's next?
    Some suggestions:
    1. Keeping the occasional fish (an old chestnut, I know, but now that you've got the attention of some science-based readers..)
    2. Do spin anglers who release have a greater mortality (the fish...)than fly anglers?
    3. Did Shakespeare really write Hamlet
    Cheers,
    Mike

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  76. Here's another thing worth thinking about (I think): many people I know (and I think I fall into this category) would not or might not fish to spawning trout or bass, for example, but would think very little of catching bluegills off the nest. From a strictly "resource management" perspective, this might make sense since bluegills are often so numerous.

    But if what we're concerned with is whether it is ethical from other perspectives ("fair", "sporting", etc), does this behavior make sense?

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  77. Just to address your first response to my comment I would have to say yes, well it is always possible to choose an exception. A spawning fish caught 5 or 6 times in a day simply represents an extreme but does little to inform the rule of the stress created by fishing to spawning fish. To clear up another issue. You mention , ‘evolutionary’, and also ‘natural selection’ in none to enthusiastic terms. Highlighting what the paper actually had to say and what I said subsequently has nothing to do with either. When talking about a stress response in this context there is no Lamarckian inheritance in any offspring. The decline in offspring survival is due to resource limitation on the part of the parents caused by stress not some heritable genetic high jinks.
    More broadly ethics discussions in this context often devolve down to the issue of fish welfare. If I have it right you were implying that ethically it is inappropriate to fish for spawning fish because they are at their most vulnerable. This case is not proven (as T. J. Brayshaw says - “show me the data.”) as the paper you cite actually implies that the period 4-5 months before spawning is critical. And they only imply it so it still leaves all sorts of other questions about vulnerability open. For example, what about spawned out fish? Having used a huge whack of their reserves do we tip their survival chances over the edge if we catch them in winter (thinking about brown trout here) when they are in a negative growth stage? Or what about upsetting territorial establishment, disrupting size assortative hierarchies, increasing vulnerability to predation through compensatory feeding or….. I am not sure it is well enough established when the most stressful time for having a hook stuck in your gob actually is particularly as not all the detrimental effects are immediately apparent. This being the case, that stress is equally felt across time by the fish we hook, what argument then for fish welfare? Does that not imply that the focus on one time point (spawning) is irrelevant and we should be questioning the ethics year round – any capture is stressful therefore any capture is unethical? Academically those who have debated the ethics of catch and release fishing would have no truck with attempting such fine-grained distinctions. Modern catch and release fishing is damned as torture of one animal by a different animal (a sentient animal no less who has full knowledge of what they are doing) purely for the latter’s enjoyment. What to fishermen are conservation based approaches, barbless hooks, close seasons, knotless mesh, are simply obfuscations to allow us to torture the same fish more than once and to make sure we can torture their offspring too.

    And I can’t leave both your and Jay Zimmerman’s analogy with child abuse without comment. Of course as you both depict it the idea is abhorrent. But it is telling perhaps that this is what sprung to both of you as an analogy to use. Why not, for example, use fitness training? Jogging and weight training are simply ways of stressing muscles and the cardio vascular system so that they perform better – are fitter. We regard it as ultimately benign, as a means to an end, but it does nevertheless involve a physiological, hormonal stress response. Yet you both seemed to think that my suggestion that we catch fish a lot to acclimate them, so they are “trained” better to cope with being caught during spawning, is akin to abusing children. How is it that catching fish with a directed end intention is abusive but just catching fish is not? The actual stress involved is the same. Ergo catching fish is abusive?

    I very much enjoyed the post Erin. I wish that more bloggers would tackle subjects with similar weight.

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  78. Catching fish any time IS abusive and we all know it. We rationalize and justify our actions in many ways, including citing scientific studies, but to use science to say 'Go ahead, it doesn't matter' seems wrong to me.

    Putting aside for a moment the fact that some people (I) get all weepy and poetic watching the brookies in the fall, without the spawn there is no angling for wild fish. If someone wants to say 'It's okay, they'll get used to it' that's their thing, but it seems to me it is just adding more height to the pedestal we put ourselves on as humans. The one we use to look down upon the rest of creation. No study will ever convince me it's okay to fish the redds. (That said, how I justify the rest of my fishing is still beyond me)

    In my opinion, using territorial response and "anger" to get a fish on a redd to strike is too easy. "Watch me really piss off this fish" doesn't sit well with me at all. It is enough to mimic a food source in an attempt to show how stupid they (the fish) are, all the while wondering what I would do if a giant hoagie suddenly appeared from the sky. Interrupt me while I am spawning and of course I'm going to punch you in the nose.

    Good conversation you got going, Erin. Each of us must do what we believe to be right and, personally, I find no justification for fishing to spawning fish. Of course, I also live in Vermont, where it is legal to sit in a tree by the shallows and shoot spawning pickerel and pike. With a gun. Not quite like shooting fish in a barrel, but ...

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  79. T.J. - I like what you said, that you "go with your gut." And I think we all have to. I really appreciate all your input and thought into this...and, I'm very much looking forward to your ethics post.

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  80. ShouldFishMore - I'm glad you are enjoying the fun ;) I do keep fish now and again...and do, in fact, believe Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. But that's probably just the old Luddite in me coming out!

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  81. Erin - my post is up. I had plans to tackle other issues that had been rattling around in my head, but it was clear it would result in a post that was so long, nobody would read it. As it stands, it probably already is!

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  82. Dr. Hook - Wow! Lots to digest in there...and I am still trying to. Good points, valid points, and obviously more scientific than are mine. I can't help but agree with you on many issues, and on those I don't (eggs/caddisflies, "matching the hatch", for example), I still think you make a valid argument and do see your point. The only thing I'd like to say in response is to "If you're a purist and you don't want to be caught up in this so called ethical battle then don't even bother fly fishing." While I don't consider myself a "purist," I do respect the fact that were it not for them, we would not have fly fishing as we know it today. Fly fishing's heritage is steeped in "ethics" and so I think inherently, we're all caught up in them...

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  83. T.J. - You have a great point...and you're right, if we're concerned about ethics, that doesn't make sense. I'm concerned about it, and even in regards to bluegills, I wouldn't target them off the nest.

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  84. Eccles - "What to fishermen are conservation based approaches, barbless hooks, close seasons, knotless mesh, are simply obfuscations to allow us to torture the same fish more than once and to make sure we can torture their offspring too." I must say, you have a point. And like Quill Gordon stated, that is something each fisherman has to work out in their own mind. However, I do see it as conservation because without anglers and hunters, who adore the animals and fish for which they seek...few others would care about habitat and stream restoration, for example. Out of sight, out of mind. We protect what we love; even, if we in effect torture those we do. Some of the greatest conservationists and naturalists in history have also been avid hunters. It's ironic, isn't it.

    I do see a difference in the stress acclimation of fish and children. There's a difference in species, understanding, and so on. However the relation to weight training is even less. In that, it's self imposed. One has the choice whether one wants to tear and grow one's muscles or not. In the other examples cited, it's inflicted on another.

    I really do appreciate your thoughts on this all, and for continuing this conversation. I have so many questions in my head, and that's a wonderfully alive feeling to have. Thanks, Eccles.

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  85. "You have a great point...and you're right, if we're concerned about ethics, that doesn't make sense."

    Well, actually, that's not exactly what I said. It depends on what part of "ethics" we're concerned with (this was the point I was making in my much earlier post). Different perspectives consider different things, e.g. what we owe to our fellow anglers, to the fish populations, to the potential suffering of the fish, etc.

    From the perspective of maintaining healthy populations of fish, keeping enough around for other people to enjoy catching, etc., it might make ethical sense to avoid fishing for nesting bass, but not to avoid fishing for nesting bluegill (it might even be the "right" thing to catch and kill them). But from other perspectives, that distinction doesn't matter. Again, we have to be careful, if we can, about which (among the many) ethical issues we are addressing.

    Consider "catch & release". To some, this is the pinnacle of ethical fishing. To many others, it's the most base form of animal cruelty.

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  86. Quill Gordon - “but to use science to say 'Go ahead, it doesn't matter' seems wrong to me.”-- it seems wrong to me too, and like you say, it puts us even more on a pedestal and I think that is the last thing we humans need. How I justify my fishing is also, like you said, somewhat, beyond me. However, I have been borderline animal rights, a vegan for years, and now I’m a fisherman. I certainly find that ironic. I also see that there has to be hunting, fishing, etc., in many cases for preservation and conservation. And so I look at fishing in many ways as respect, and in fly fishing’s history of literature this issue has been severely judged…and I always think that’s a good indication that something needs to be seriously considered before it’s shrugged off. Thanks for your thoughts, Quill…I think your comment reads better than the entirety of my post.

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  87. I am so busy and will read all of this again. I will say that it is very nicely written. Also that I lost my way when you talked of "forcibly bending another’s will to yours-- be it of husband, wife, or trout – ruefulness comes shortly after. There is no achievement in wearing a spirit down. Absolutely none."

    You see, I take a great deal of pleasure fishing for Atlantic Salmon, and indeed see them as the very best fish to pursue, and of course they are known not to feed on their return to freshwater. I do not think twice that I am the aggravator in this scene. But this probably speaks more to the individual tastes and preferences in angling (one man's bluegill redd is another's River Tweed). Recognizing our own hypocrisies is a firm step to understanding those who challenge our right to fish, and hopefully to helping them understand the broader landscape. It is in this landscape, or quite literally the role of anglers and hunters in conserving it, that I take confidence to hunt fish, whether they chose to eat, or not.

    Oh, and I completely support close seasons. They're something terribly civil - even ceremonious - about forced restraint. But less about my dungeon.

    More on this for sure. As Brawshaw has said in Another Place, it is responsible and enjoyable for anglers to talk about this. Not to mention a blessed relief.

    Jonny

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  88. English Jonny - Ah, perhaps that part did get a tad muddled. It was going off the Ted Leeson quote about his feelings after catching a spawner, “I released the fish with no sense of achievement, but only the same mixture of shame and profound regret one sometimes feels after “winning” a protracted and particularly bitter domestic argument.”

    Your comment is so eloquent, I'm apt to quote it's entirety back to you in agreement. I hang on this philosophy too, "It is in this landscape, or quite literally the role of anglers and hunters in conserving it, that I take confidence to hunt fish, whether they chose to eat, or not." Indeed.

    "They're something terribly civil - even ceremonious - about forced restraint." I cannot agree more with you here...and I think it's a philosophy that is intertwined forever with fly fishing's cultural heritage, and must be in its culture moving forward.

    Thanks so much for stopping by to talk about this, like you said, it's a blessed relief to me to get this all out.

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  89. backcountryfishnerd - Oh, indeed the controversy is there. ;) See!? hehe. "but people do what people do and we can't stop that."...that's a terribly dangerous statement. I understand your point, but letting people do what they "think" is ethical is dangerous. There have to been lines and laws. Or, we'd very likely live in an anarchist, fishless, world...

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  90. Eccles...You make great points. And, yeah, the bit about child abuse was a stretch.

    Dr. Hook...I very much enjoyed reading your take. It was educational. We have many fisheries biologists to thank for the continued great fishing here in Colorado.

    I am glad the brown trout populations are healthy in "this particular stretch of river" that some of us are referring to. And I trust there will be seasonal closures as soon as there are noticeable negative changes...?

    I also have many, many friends who openly admit that catching big browns or rainbows off the redds on the Dream Stream is the highlight of their season. For some it is the highlight of their guide season...and they need some more photos of themselves for their next book on how to be a better fly fisherman. (Nothing sells like sex and big trout on the cover!) I pat them on the back and buy them a beer...they are close friends, after all. I do laugh at them, though. And I do it openly. Same as when they admit to me they frequent prostitutes...I buy these friends another round and keep laughing...

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  91. Yup...I just likened redd raiding to picking up hookers. There are great arguments for the continued legalization of both. And for the most part I agree. However, I have far too much respect for myself as a fisherman and as a man to partake in either. But I will still have a beer with ya...brothers, anytime. After all...as Red Green used to say, "we are all in this together"!

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  92. What a thought provoking article that brings focus to issues that people are grossly ignorant of, but in many cases, don't care or are a combination of both. I've been pondering how I was going to comment on this issue and RiverDragon (way back up the list) brought some thoughts into focus. He talked about fishing for browns into Oct. and started catching fish in spawning colors and spewing eggs and subsequently stopped fishing until the steelhead run. If we carry the definition of spawning too far, then that would eliminate fishing for steelhead and salmon, except in the ocean, as that is the purpose of their journey up the rivers. I think I will stand on the principle of continuing to fish during the spawn, but avoiding the redds. And as far as the Dream Stream is concerned, I like fishing for the Kokanee that time of year, as it is my understanding, they do not successfully spawn, in that stretch, anyway. If I catch some nice browns and rainbows while drifting a nymph through a deep hole, that's a bonus.
    I guess my line in the sand, so to speak, is not as deep as others and am certainly open to someone convincing me otherwise.
    But definitely agree with not fishing over redds.

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  93. FlyFishingCrazy - I can respect that...

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  94. 2. Do spin anglers who release have a greater mortality (the fish...)than fly anglers?

    I should borrow that one. I actually have it all written in my head, been sitting in there for a few years. The angle is smallmouth bass, not trout and the answer is no. Just the opposite.

    If you fish during the spawn, you're catching fish in some stage of the spawn, whether they're on a bed or not. I tell the smallie anglers all the time, if that bothers you, don't fish then. It doesn't bother me. But then, I don't knowingly pick them off their beds.

    But then, again, these are smallies. There is no shortage of them around me no matter what you may hear to the contrary.

    I have a tendency to change my ethical stance based on the health of the river or pond or lake I'm fishing. Some require that I tread lightly. Others, it just doesn't matter.

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  95. Ken G. - Thanks for answering Mike's Q#2. :) And I respect your opinion very much, Ken...that last paragraph is probably the most balanced statement on here yet. Thanks much, as always.

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  96. Ethics? You put hooks in mouths of fish and yank them out of their environment. Ethics? PETA

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  97. I wasn't suggesting that we shouldn't stop people from raping the water. Just that we can't stop them. Limit laws, barbless laws, bait laws, and spawning laws are broken everyday. I play the game fair, just wish everyone had my point of view. As far as browns and brookies on my cutthroat and gila trout creeks... Well, you know my feelings.

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  98. And we're over the 100 comments again - I declare Erin an Internet phenomenon ;-)

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  99. agree ! and only one idiot commentator out of a hundred. excellent ! :D

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  100. "Ethics? You put hooks in mouths of fish and yank them out of their environment. Ethics? PETA"

    Yes, that happens. Some will agonize over it, some won't. Some like it, some don't. That's life, get over it.

    And thanks Erin.

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  101. What a great post! i'll definitly be thinking about that moving ahead. my home waters are usually filled with stockers and a few holdovers, we can fish it all year round, so i never thought much about this topic. Thank you! cannot wait to read on.

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  102. Anonymous - Ah, you're always so square. ;)

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  103. Dave - ha! ;-) And an opinionated one at that!

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  104. Ken G. - You're welcome...and thanks.

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  105. Tom - Glad you stopped by, and welcome to the craziness!

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  106. this is the kind of activity 'anonymous' supports:
    http://www.petakillsanimals.com/
    http://www.petakillsanimals.com/article_detail.cfm?article=134

    let's all shed some light on these 'ethics'

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  107. To Jay and Erin and the rest of the bloggers barring that PETA post. Thanks again for the discussion I really wish we could all see eye to eye on this topic as it is a very complex issue that most fisherman truly don't understand. To Jay and Erin you make a great couple and I think you need to get married and produce a couple of debate junkies. Your words are eloquent and thoughtful, oh and funny! Jay I think we have some of the same friends. All that said, I want to leave you with a couple of things and then I'll let it all go. First, many of the arguments of why one justifies not fishing these trout during the spawn have to do with pissing them off in order to get them to hit. With this, I want to reitterate; trout hit anything and everything that moves through the water column whether it be a food source or not. It is a neurological response to their environment that is not, let me repeat,not prominently triggered by hunger. This has to do with chemical make up of water, the genetics behind the fish, and most of all their innate territorial behavior. Again it happens more when they are not spawning or eating, then when they are. I have countless hours of underwater footage of browns in the spring (yeah in the spring) and rainbows in the Fall taking in different waterborne substrates (bugs,weeds, bird poop, you name it) in order to check them out or remove them from their environment. In fact these same studies have shown that 65% of the waterborne ingestion is not actually a nutrionally based organism. So what I'm trying to drive home is that if you nymph in any way and think that a trout ate your fly because you fooled him with your great pattern you are only right 35% of the time. Unless you're a dry fly purist, you are mostly a dirty redd pimper year round. And in fact, the number of times in which a trout will respond to these triggers during the spawn is significantly decreased. The only difference is they appear in shallower water so this aggression is displayed more readily. Trust me the average angler misses 80% of what is really happening under the water in a trout's environment. If you understand this concept along with the idea of natural selection within a watershed you will become a better fisherman/woman and the whole redd thing becomes an irrelevant issue! and if you ever see a guy with a monster trout that he got during what some of you deem the spawning season (you know that window when that trout, steelhead, salmon, char shows up in a smaller body of water) and he's grinning from ear to ear with a giant fish smile and say hello it might just be me. I either caught it because I was drifting an egg to a thieving trout or I triggered a response of aggression which is present everyday of a salmonids life.
    Dr. Hook signing off!

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  108. HA! Good one, Dr. Hook...I would take your advice, but blast it, I keep getting yanked off my redd!

    Seriously, though...more great insight. As a fly designer by trade--and a realist--I love and appreciate the continued education on trout psychology (as it pertains to feeding triggers). There is a ton of great information crammed into your comments. It has not gotten past me.

    But I am still going to avoid fish on their redds...however, on that note, check out this brown taken on the Dream by my good buddy, Randy
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150437797193832&set=a.318013358831.182523.266283058831&type=1&theater

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  109. Dr. Hook - Perhaps it's the 'mothering instinct' I didn't think I had kicking in after all. ;) Like Jay said, all of the information you presented is factual and intriguing, and is currently being digested...with many cups of coffee. I maintain my position on spawning fish, especially those on redds, but I appreciate and respect yours at the same time. So, while you won't find any photos of me with a giant spawning brown with an egg hanging out of her mouth, when I see you with one, I'll be happy for you. And yeah, maybe dry fly purist is in my future...

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  110. It would be refreshing to see fishermen drop the pretense and just admit they get pleasure and make sport of abusing fish.


    Any more is simply a self-deluded rhetorical dance brought on by what must be the discomfort of doing so.

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  111. Erin,

    Your comments are dead on.
    I've enjoyed watching brook trout starting the life cycle for many years, it's incredible.

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  112. Anonymous...rhetorical dances can be so fun though!

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  113. Brk Trt - It certainly is incredible...and I very much enjoy watching. Very simply, it's just a beautiful thing. Many thanks, as always, sir.

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  114. I'm sorry. It was the listeria talking. You people are the best.

    PETA

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  115. Good Grief! What is going on over here?? I got in late, I see... sorry...kind of a busy week. So, I will just say this. Leave em' now...Love em' later...Patience in all things, brings better results later, most of the time.

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  116. River Damsel - I'm not really sure what's going on over here either! Thanks for stopping by into the mad-mad world though! Patience. Yes. Isn't that a virtue? :)

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  117. Fish hate getting sore-lipped. We sore-lip them in many ways, and they hate all of them.

    I have never, NOT ONCE, hooked a fish and had it go bananas only to become docile at the realization that it was fooled on an Adams and not a peg egg.

    All of this is academic, it is more to do with our excessive population than with our morals or lack thereof. I got a vasectomy as soon as I was allowed, at 21. I wanted to get one at 18, but no doctor would provide me the service. I could fish worms on treble hooks to spawners for the rest of my life and do less environmental damage than a father of three kids fishing single barbless dry flies, only upstream, and only to an actively rising fish after receiving the permission of the ghillie to cast (as on the River Test)

    Why do we in America not have the same regulations as the ones in place on that famous river? The answer is simple and obvious, we have too many damned fish. In England, where there is no land that is not owned by someone, there are not enough fish to go around if strict rules are not only on the books, but actively enforced. We are both blessed and cursed by our great bounty. It is a wonderful thing that we have so many options for water, but it leads to sloppy methods and a casual disregard for propriety.

    At the end of the day, the thoughtful angler is not the problem.

    SS

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  118. SS - "It is a wonderful thing that we have so many options for water, but it leads to sloppy methods and a casual disregard for propriety." Perfectly said and my hope (and concern) is that our impropriety not get us to a place where staunch regulations are required.

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  119. Good lord, was that bloke just bragging because he had a vasectomy?

    TMI

    Sorry folks, class is canceled because of unforeseen righteousness.

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  120. I'd hate SS to give the wrong impression about trout fishing in the UK. There's hundred upon hundreds of miles of available trout water for the eager angler, the Test however, is a hallowed place due to the size that the fish grow. This situation has made it the chosen venue of the gentry and the affluent and, as fish stocks are finite, rules and regulations hidden beneath a veil of etiquette have been introduced.

    I am privileged to have a friend that owns a section of the Test and I fish it for the coarse fish with bread, corn and maggots. The trout are a positive nuisance (pause for sharp intake of breath from Erin) and a wild brownie of up to 8lbs can mess up your swim whilst it thrashes about once hooked :-) (They've been caught on his bit at 14lb+)

    To reiterate, where we fish and how we do it is all about personal choice. If you want wild brownies of up to a pound or two you can fish for days and barely see another soul on some of our rivers, the methods you choose are governed by the same motives that lead a 21 year old to have a vasectomy - conscience and desire and that is where we came in.


    Time for a new thread Erin ;-)

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  121. Dave - Thanks for the information on the Test and also fishing in the UK....and I heartily 2nd that last statement. ;)

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  122. ^ That did not work.

    What I said was...

    Dave, I stand corrected.

    But, for good or ill, I still bet we have loads more fish than you lot.

    Cheers!

    SS

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  123. So I suppose in your minds these guys should be chucking may flies and stone flies instead. http://community.adn.com/adn/node/158162
    It's really time for the Fly fishing community to find a balance. We're not better than everyone else and at the end of the day catching fish is why we are there. If it's something different for you than I'd take up a new sport, perhaps photography. I do not go to a body of water to sit back and watch fish spawn. I go there to find willing fish who will take a fly. I take care of them and release them back into nature. I also help restore their habitat and create new. This contemplative rhetoric about righteousness you spew is why humans are becoming so inept at so many things. Seriously leave the fly rod at home and go hug a tree for god's sake.

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  124. Anonymous - Oh indeed, I beg to differ. A lack of "Contemplative rhetoric about righteousness" is why we have become inept.

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  125. So...about 98% of the literary fly fishermen of the past 200 years should of--instead--never taken up the long rod and just been content with a sketch pad or camera? Really?

    "This contemplative rhetoric about righteousness you spew is why humans are becoming so inept at so many things."

    Dude. The contemplative man (or woman)is the exact reason we are not still terrified of the dark and being eaten by cats, you dumb ass. Hell, burn all of Shakespeare. No more Hamlet gazing at the grave digger's scull. Oh, and "one of the fathers of modern fishing" I believe co-authored a book entitled "The Compleat Angler: Or, Contemplative Man's Recreation." So, regardless of whether or not you fish using live frogs or to spawning fish...contemplation is part of the sport, numb nut. And, my don't we all have big balls when flying under the "Anonymous" flag. Coward. If you have something to add, then have the stones to say it under your own name. You are lame, dude...lame. My name is Jay Zimmerman, I work at the fly shop at 1904 Arapahoe Ave, in Boulder, Colorado...come run your ignorant mouth in person tomorrow morning...I'll have Pridemark standing by.

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  126. Well Jay Zimmerman I would have to travel and see you, but there are way too many miles to meet up with you. Really it would be a waste of time. I remain anonymous because you know me very well! I also know your elitism is as shiny today as it ever has been. You are so much better than everyone else because you do certain things. Like walk up Boulder canyon with your fly rod during spawning season only to say you did it without fishing! Geezus lizard!

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  127. Anonymous,
    Carrying the guidon at the front of the formation is not as fun as it may look. You have to run faster and stand taller. And in this case Have An Opinion. People do not seek me out to have a bunch of rehashed, regurgitated, safely pureed baby food spoon fed them in a fly shop, book or blog. And, sure, there is some ego required to believe one’s self is qualified to have a job like that—but there is inherent risk in that…saying things that are not party line, or not universally excepted…or just new. I run my mouth everyday. I have to. And I can’t speak anonymously, so when I say stupid shit…I can’t hide from it. So there will always be my peers back in the ranks muthafukin me for running too fast or going the wrong way. But I “grew up” with 380 older brothers who all loved to fight…so my skin is thick enough to take it and remain cocky even with the occasional black eye. I trust yours is too, my anonymous brother.

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  128. Wow Erin!

    Great subject and dear to my heart. A river near me is well known for NZ size, and many more of them, brown trout. Please excuse me for not naming it even if it's easy to locate and wildly known. During the spawn the river's flow is at its least, only water from dam leakage and springs gives it dampness. I don't wade, but many do, and absolutely over redds recently dug. I know this damages the eggs below, it must, despite the continuing numbers of trout. Non spawning fish are feeding, on midges and olives, some, kelts that are lean and tired. Several local fly fishing groups have attempted to convince those that manage the water for a 2 month restriction but since this river is out of my state the efforts are seen by locals as an elitist foreign conspiracy, as though browns are catch and release the rainbows are kept and there is no gear restriction. So I am on your page with this. As well, the "ethics" of many of the tail water crowd made my almost complete diversion to fly fishing for carp not at all painful.

    Keep it up! Gregg

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  129. Gregg - Thanks so much! I really appreciate your thoughts on this, and heartily agree. And I had to chuckle at your last line there...I know exactly what you mean. Carp are so...refreshing. :)

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  130. Everyone must catch their own fish... and the heart always picks the right fly-

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