Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Evolution of an Angler

To commemorate my very first steelhead on January 17, 1975 I am bringing back this "blast from the past" blog entry from three years ago.
Yes I still remember that Sandy river steelhead. She was a hen and was spitting single eggs but it did not matter to me because I was hooked for life.
I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane.

You've no doubt heard the old saying about the different stages of a fisherman. First stage is to catch A FISH. Second stage is to catch A LOT OF FISH. Third stage is TO CATCH A BIG FISH and so on. I feel that progression is pretty accurate if the end result of your angling life is to put a bunch of fish on your stringer, in your creel and in your freezer. If you feel you've arrived at the hallowed halls of the fishing luminaries of days gone and you're at the pinnacle of your sport! Well if that is all you you wanted to accomplish then you might as well read no farther and get back to inventing the next breakthrough in egg cures because the rest of this epic story on this historical piece of literature I call "The Quiet Pool" will not apply to you.
I would hope that my life as an angler has consisted of a lot more than a bunch of snap shots of me holding dead fish with their vacate fixed staring eyes of death. Oh sure I have plenty of those from those bygone days when I had a full head of hair and could actually see what shoes I was wearing that day. Those pictures do bring back a flood of memories of a time when it seemed that there were plenty of fish to kill and let get freezer burned in the process.
So don't think that I not sentimental that way because I am. I think about the days when there was never a need, or so we thought, to fin-clip steelhead because there were plenty to go around. The hatchery fish were plentiful and who the heck cared about wild fish...what were they anyway?
As I progressed through my angling life I began to see things that troubled me. I would see an utter disregard for not only the wild fish that were suffering more than I could begin to imagine, but also the rivers and the habitat that sustained these wild fish. Don't think for a minute though, that this was some sort of moment of clarity like an alcoholic might have. It was a long tough journey! I mistakenly followed a few of those that I would call "false prophets" of fishery management and conservation. I supported and advocated programs that were harmful to wild fish....I was in a word, naive.
In 1975 I met Bill McMillan and heard him speak at The Anglers Club of Portland. He talked about his beloved Washougal river and the troubling way the state of Washington was managing it. He talked about the importance of wild steelhead to the over all well being of the river.
When the Washougal did finally yield a beautiful thirteen pound summer steelhead on a brown stone fly pattern one July day so many years ago I marvelled at the beauty of this fish. The fins stood straight and full an I thought this must be what McMillan is talking about. This must be a wild steelhead! Remember though, I said this journey was a long tough one and so even though something deep inside of me told me to release this fish I did not. I killed it and still have all the glory pictures from that day.
I cherished the memories of that fish and do to this day but with just a bit of regret that I should have released that fish.
Back then the idea of catch and release was completely foreign to my thinking but the first inkling that there was something bigger than just killing a limit of fish was creeping into my subconscious.
I took a sabbatical from fly fishing for a few years as I pursued other things but the fly fishing "bug" never really left. I saw that the salmon and steelhead runs took a nose dive and the big numbers of my early years of northwest fishing were no longer there.
A few trips here and there with friends kept my interest up and I returned to fishing full force. I plunged head long into what I thought were worthwhile organizations that I also thought did the resource some good. Well they didn't! They amounted to what were pretty much just glorified fishing clubs. I learned that when it came right down to actually standing up for wild fish and their habitat they were conspicously absent. Yes they put on a good show but it all came down to supporting hatcheries and wrong headed programs that did more harm than good.
So fast forward to where I am at today. I believe I've made some good progress to finally being what I would call a good steward.
Am I there yet? No! There are a lot of things I need to learn but I think I am still evolving and instead of beating my self up for the opportunities I've missed or squandered I can look forward to making a difference and hopefully some of you will too!

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