For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind's greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn't have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.
- Stephen Hawking
Every year, my home water sees more fishing pressure, and becomes more and more crowded. I’m not sure why, exactly, but there are a number of reasons that have probably contributed to the growing numbers of steelheaders on the river.
It’s easy to complain. 10 years ago we had our pick of the prime runs, even on weekends. Things have changed. Now, we often share the water with others casting flies or lures or bait. But complaining won’t change things, or turn back the clock.
Confronted with the reality, I have spent a lot of time wandering and wondering what an angler can do in the face of growing fishing pressure? Quit fishing? Become more and more aggressive and territorial when it comes to fishing? Keep fishing and find new ways to appreciate the experience? Start a blog and complain about it?
Personally, I’m not willing to quit fishing my home waters, no matter how crowded they become. I love them too much, and the memories that I often “fish for” are well worth the time spent. I also refuse to become more aggressive and territorial like some anglers have become, resorting to tactics that range from camping in sensitive areas or trails to “claim” a spot, to outright displays of aggression and bullying toward other anglers, to belligerent refusal to share the public water. I’m happy to blog, but I’m not going to become a complainer, an armchair steelheader, or another part of the problem.
So, I ask myself: Faced with increased numbers of anglers concentrated into a finite amount of water during the prime season, how can I/we maintain a river environment where everyone can have a positive experience?
This year, more than ever, I have tried to embrace a river ethic and angling presence that is embodied in the essence of Stephen Hawking’s words.
“It doesn't have to be like this.”
“All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
It seems simple, yet this is difficult sometimes. We steelheaders can be a solitary and socially challenged group. We go to the river to find some solitude and perhaps, some fish. Working through a piece of water, alone, at your own pace is one of the joys in steelheading.
But as more and more anglers share the resource, having an entire run to yourself isn’t always possible anymore. There is a certain anxiety that we have all felt when another angler shows up at a run that you had to yourself for a while. It’s easy to wonder what’s going to happen, and to think the worst. Competitive thoughts sometimes pop up. Is he going to low-hole me? Or crowd me out? We stop thinking about fishing. We stop enjoying the process of fishing and start worrying about the other angler. Some of the joy is lost.
So, what can we do to preserve the quality experience?
I propose that the best thing that we can do is to all let down our guard a little bit, and start communicating with other anglers that we meet on the water. I know some anglers who have always done this, perhaps as a reflection of their personality, but to me, being outgoing towards strangers is not my first thought.
So, what can we do? First, be the one to take the time and put in the effort. If you see another angler, walk up and introduce yourself. Ask how things are going, and ask how that person is approaching the water so that you can consider a way to approach it that does not interfere with that person’s experience. Be friendly (some of us have to fake this). Ask if you can share the run with the other angler(s), and explain how you would be fishing (swinging flies, drift fishing, running bobbers and jigs). If the spot is small, don’t hover or creep without saying hello. Mention to the other angler to take as much time as they like and then patiently wait for your turn in the spot. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Start a conversation! Work it out. Expect occasional negative reactions from people, but don’t be discouraged. The great encounters will outweigh the negative ones.
You might be surprised. If nothing else, you will become a better ambassador for the sport of fly fishing.
And maybe you and everyone else will have a better experience on the river.
Take care and fish on.
PS - This one is also running as the Sexyloops Frontpage for Wednesday, April, 25, 2012. If you dig STEEL, you might also dig Sexyloops.