WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT
So, yeah…. This.
I choose to live my life with compassion. That means, though I am sick with sadness by this scene, I choose to understand what happened here, this person’s action albeit atrocious to me.
I commonly say, “Fishin’ is Fishin’ “, meaning that the differences between bait fishing and fly fishing is not a schism of class, an elite status from which to judge with condescending opinion to others, but this horrible situation brings home a significant difference between bait fishing and fly fishing, where “fishin’ is not just fishin’ “ -- at all.
When we enter the world of fly fishing, there is an unspoken avenue to follow, a path of conservation that leads to stewardship of our natural resources. I don’t know the mechanics of our human nature to understand why this emersion in the ecological balances of a riparian habitat begin to take hold in our souls when we start fly fishing, but it does. Fly fishing is in itself an enlightenment. We become aware of the fish as an animal, the aquatic plants as a life-sustaining bioherm, the insects as the fuel to the system – especially in their juvenile form.
Recently, Landon Mayer spoke at the Pikes Peak Chapter of Trout Unlimited to promote the Nov. 15 release of his new book, “Mastering the Short Game”, which is a methodology and flies guideline. During this talk, he mentioned the tactics for fly fishing during the spawn – whether it be the spring Rainbow spawn, or the fall Brown spawn. His advice was to avoid targeting or walking on the cobbley shallows. Drop you rig into the deep wells, deep holes upstream or downstream of the shallow riffles.
Back to my devotion to live with compassion…
The first time I saw spawning fish was on the banks of the Missouri River from our drift boat, my future husband at the oars. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My blood was boiling. I was in a fever – Buck Fever. I asked my husband to move the boat closer and he told me, “Michele, those are spawning brown trout. It’s bad form to bother them. Leave them alone.”
I was in disbelief that such an extraordinary opportunity was taken from me by this apparent industry-wide ban. These elitist people - the Trout Unlimited types - how dare they!
He pulled the dory close enough that we could have a good ogle. I was beside myself, like my hunting dogs are when we tell them, ‘No-you-can’t-chase-that-deer.’ Incredulous! (Literally, WHAT?? WHY?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? This can’t possibly be a reasonable rule!) He drifted us on by.
I asked, “So, how are we going to keep from catching spawning fish?” and he said, “There are river facies that spawning fish don’t go to. They spawn in shallow water and avoid fast, turbulent water. Rainbow trout hang out in different places than brown trout. We’ll fish deeper channels in the middle of the stream and look for deep holes where the shallow water drops off. There will be big fish in there feeding on eggs that get loose in the current.”
It was really hard for me to let go of the image in my mind of these huge trout in the shallows but eventually, after a day of floating and catching non-spawning fish, I accepted this condition as an unwritten rule in conservation: DO NOT TARGET SPAWNING FISH – LEAVE THEM ALONE – FISH FOR NON-SPAWNING FISH – GIVE THE SPAWNING FISH A WIDE BERTH. All of that.
There remain arguments to the contrary. I’ve heard them, listened, and speculated. The basic argument is that these big fish in the tailwaters (such as Dream Stream), are put there by CPW to provide sport. These large fish come from breeding stock in hatcheries - especially the salmon. However, the brown trout are wild. The Brown trout found in the Dream Stream and their offspring are thriving wild. Though the origin of the giant rainbows is likely hatchery derived, they are feral and surviving now. The Rainbows do perform a spawn and there are surviving offspring returning to the tailwaters each year. The salmon also spawn. That said, the percent survival rate of fertilized eggs to fingerlings is small. The numbers of spawned rainbows are not replacing their population in the Dream Stream - YET. The Salmon also spawn but the rate of success of that event is much weaker. The browns, however, are successful and the number of their surviving offspring support their resident population.
Point being, we are walking and fishing inside an ongoing, annual feat of natural selection, survival, and health of the local river system. I argue that we are not just here for sport, rather we are part of the riparian habitat – we live in it as well. We are part of the system. As a riparian mammal, am I a detriment or a benign denizen? Am I making a negative impact or a positive one?
Thus, the reasoning behind why fly fishing people don’t target spawning fish and even go so far as to contribute their funds $ or time to support conservation groups. It’s our obligation as riparian habitat mammals to protect the spawning fish.
In this disturbing photo, this person did not know what he was doing. He had not been coached. He wasn’t taught by a conservationist how to handle a trout, nor how to avoid targeting a spawning fish. He may not have even noticed the huge buck was leaking milk. I must admit I’ve been there. I’ve accidentally murdered in innocence, a mighty and grand trout by gilling it for the camera. I haven’t always been enlightened, though I am now.
So, what do you do about this atrocity? Call me a flake, but I cried when I saw this photo (the guy was thrilled and really happy to share it with me). I’m still a bit emotional over it. (I lump this kind of animal cruelty with other horrors such as truckloads of dogs being transported for food in China. What can you do?) Sigh, I choose to write a blog. I choose to make a commitment to reach the uninformed with compassion and enlighten them. I beg this great fish to forgive us and I pray that his offspring are healthy and survive to fill the river again one day in their own time, replacing their ancestors - not so I can hook into him, but so that I can see and appreciate a great animal like this again and again in my own temporary human life. I pray for guidance that I might walk a path aligning with the natural world that graces us with beauty.