Almost overnight, fly fishing is suddenly the thing to do. Several factors such as social media, population increase, and the cool factor are all contributing to the sport’s popularity. There are more people who fly fishing now than ever. With the participation rate growing every year, the stress level on the fish is at an all-time high. New equipment, fly patterns, nymphing techniques, and at the moment, healthy fish populations are making it easier than ever to catch fish. With catch rate numbers exceeding 20-30 fish per person we must ask ourselves when is enough, enough? Here is why “good fishing is bad” and how we can help our fishery.
I work in a fly shop and part of my job is to help people catch fish, but I also have a responsibility to the fishery to teach people about etiquette, safe handling techniques, and preservation. I write this with some trepidation because who am I to tell you how to fish as I too have been guilty, but I love our waters and the quality fishing and just want to protect it. As of late, and thanks to my steelhead addiction, I have learned to appreciate the whole fishery and not just the catching part. With steelhead, it’s not about the number of fish caught and I fear that this is the direction that our sport is headed, in fact, it’s already there.
I hear every day at work as people shuffle into check-in for their trip “How many fish will we catch?” or “How big are the fish?” and it’s frustrating to me because that seems to overshadow the fishing trip itself. It’s a sad but true reality that has become the norm. A buddy of mine said to me as we were talking about this very topic, “Don’t let the fish ruin a good fishing trip.” That is the best quote I have heard in a long time as it sums up what the sport has become. People are not satisfied anymore with catching a few fish especially if they are small. Let’s not forget these are wild fish.
Another thing I hear too often is “We crushed them” or “We murdered them” or “We must have caught 60-70 fish!” I am glad that you are catching fish, but the reality is, the fishery cannot handle this kind of pressure. Add to that, most people take photos of all 60 fish mishandling them and keeping them out of water for too long, increasing the mortality rate of the fish. If we don’t take the steps to protect our fishery, there will be no more fish to crush.
The need for instant gratification has taken over society and several forms of social media have created this culture. It has bled into the fishing world. I saw a sticker recently that said “Facebook ruined fly fishing” not only referring to the popularity of the sport but the photos of fish out of the water and the once hidden location with great fishing. The world is getting smaller and your once favorite fishing hole is now the favorite of everyone. I am ok with the growth of the sport but I am not ok with the number of participants that “crush” fish or mishandle fish for the sake of a photo. We need to take a step back and rethink how we fish.
There are several ways for everyone to exist on the water and satisfy their fish-catching quotas, social media needs, and desire to fish. Hire a guide, it’s a good start! The right outfitter will teach their guides etiquette, safe handling techniques, and conservation that they can then pass onto you. Practice the “Keep Em Wet” (https://www.keepemwet.org/) philosophy and leave the fish in the water at all times when releasing fish and taking photos.
Take someone fishing and show a new fisherman the right techniques that you practice. Try a new way to fish like fishing dries, you won’t catch as many fish (maybe you will) but the satisfaction of catching a fish on a dry will far outweigh the 10 plus fish you caught nymphing. Trout Spey fishing requires a lot more effort with potentially fewer results but the reward is greater. And finally, take a break occasionally and let the river breath.
Here at Vail Valley Anglers, we strive to give you up to date knowledge, information, and the equipment you need to catch fish with the hope that you are successful. We are not immune to the impacts and growth rate of the sport and it is our hope to continue to educate ourselves and our customers on the practices of etiquette, safe fish handling, and treading lightly. Stop by the shop and share with us how you are making a positive impact on our sport.