Numbers: How Additions Could Lead To Divisions

 I'm going to call this the third in the series of what I see as potentially disturbing, divisive and distracting issues.  This one may appear as being straight-forward at a glance;  however, I assure you, it isn't.  In fact, I liken it to an invasive specie.  Once it takes hold we may just be in for a bit of a problem.

My last piece covered some of the concerns about the effects of the increases in angler numbers over the past years and especially during the Covid pandemic.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist or even someone with a high I.Q. to recognize that more anglers means more angling pressure on our trout waters.  Interestingly, an editor of a magazine I'll not mention by name (that is, neither the editor nor the magazine) referred to this issue as "...the real elephant in the room, which nobody really wants to talk about."  But, he certainly will.  This editor goes on to say that the pressure anglers are putting on the rivers and their fish is having a major, detrimental effect on fish populations and the fishing experience and it's getting worse. 

And now we come to the issue of the day:  How does the number of trout an angler brings to hand fit into this grand picture?  I'd say it all depends...

When I first read the title of one of the articles in question (yep, there's more than one) I was momentarily taken aback since it elicited a number of thoughts and possibilities as to what specifically this was referring - and immediately I became suspicious.  Sure enough, as I continued reading my suspicions were validated.

Now, before I go any further I must say that I believe this is being driven primarily by perceptions generated from angling professionals and others in the destination regions out west.  As I've stated previously, it seems that concerns from afar off seem to ring louder than if they'd originated elsewhere (interpreted to mean here in the east).  And that means they receive more attention.  For some issues this can be a good thing;  however, for these issues I think not.  Generalization when it comes to east and west is an erroneous attempt to claim it's all the same:  IT'S NOT!

The crux of  the argument as it's presented is that we've got to get over this notion of catching as many fish as we can in an outing.  I'm not going to use the number referenced by the writers because I know of many anglers who, on a typical outing, don't achieve that number due to a variety of factors.  

The writer makes two good points in his articles.  The first is that nymph fishing is highly effective and it's more than likely contributed to many fly anglers experiencing a higher level of success on the water;  that is, if success is judged primarily by numbers of trout caught.

And that brings me to the other point with which I must agree:  anglers should not judge an outing successful solely based on numbers of trout caught.  There is so much more to contribute to the pleasure and satisfaction of the angling experience than just numbers.  

Over my fifty-seven-plus years of flinging flies for trout I've come to realize that I tend to rate my time on the water with most of the emphasis on how many trout I caught.  It's amazing how quickly I find doubt in my own angling ability creep in when I have a less than productive outing.  One thing that's helped me deal with second-guessing myself is the way I approach slow times on the water:  this is a golden opportunity to work on presentation.  It helps me stay at the top of my game, evaluate what I'm doing to identify weaknesses and work to improve.  It also helps me dismiss any thoughts of self-doubt later.  There's also one other major factor that is essential to consider and that's the fact that we're targeting a live critter which must decide, whatever the motivation, to accept or reject our fly.  I'll admit that I've never accepted rejection well.

The writer (and his corhorts) in question goes on to say that the increase in angling pressure is having a major, detrimental effect on fish populations and the fishing experience right now.  And he says it's getting worse.  Further, he alleges that focusing on numbers isn't guides who take clients who have unrealistic expectations, to do-it-yourself anglers, to state agencies, to organizations who pour big dollars into habitat improvement as well as the multitudes of volunteers who work on various projects.  And, it sure as...heck...isn't fair to the fish.  He goes on to say playing the numbers game is unsustainable.  WOW!!  

My take on all of this is that, while I agree with some of what is presented, I take great exception to how it's viewed.  To say that something is not fair is a subjective statement and it's a personal and, to a very limited extent, a collective perception.  To say that a practice is unsustainable is only justifiable if and when there is more than circumstantial evidence to back it up.  Unfortunately, I believe that this is conjecture.  If there's anything firm to back it up I'd like to see it.

I spend a good bit of time on trout water here in the heartland of Pennsylvania's trout country and it gives me ample opportunity to observe other anglers as well as have conversation with many of them.  As a result I believe that, while we have more angler participation we also have a higher percentage of anglers possessing a higher level of skill in one specific area:  fishing nymphs.  This is, hands down, the most effective fly fishing technique.  And here's where it gets interesting.  I haven't been made aware of any science which would point to an increase in angler participation and  an increase in angler skill level as being a factor contributing to a decline in our trout fisheries.  As I've said before, we've actually seen an increase in trout biomass in some of our most popular (translated:  most heavily fished) streams. . When we consider the contributors to increasing or decreasing trout biomass they are many and varied with anglers being only one.  Imagine engaging in a conversation with a fisheries biologist and being told a trout population will see a decline of 40% or greater - possibly much greater - in a year and anglers may only contribute to the extent that, by causing the demise of a trout, said trout now won't succumb to another contributor.  WHOA, NELL!!!  Yeah, I've been there and have the T-shirt.     

So, I pose some questions.  How many of you out there execute a good cast knowing that your presentation is on the money and then hope and pray that a trout doesn't take you fly?  After all, you've had some great action up to this point but now you're feeling a little guilty of having caught more than your share?  After having a banner day do you feel so guilty that you've caught so many trout that it diminishes the value of the experience?   

How many guides have informed their clients that they've caught so many fish that it's time to change up but the client balks and wants to continue using the same method that's been producing so well.  I guess you could give the clients an ultimatum:  either change up or the day's over.  I'd say this wouldn't be rated a best business practice.

For those who volunteer your services (I'm included here) how often have you lamented the fate of the trout you're working to protect at the hands of anglers who target them?  For so many you'd be counted among that angler group.  

Here's another one.  Let's consider the competitive fly fishing world.  During practice sessions and particularly during competitions there's only one goal:  numbers.

Somehow I've got to believe the writer and his cohorts in question have to be terribly conflicted about all of the efforts undertaken to bring more folks into fly fishing or instruct anglers how to fish more effectively.  After all, greater numbers of more skillful anglers means.........  I'm sure you understand where this is going.   

While I could go on I've said a lot already.  So, what's the point?  Well, as I've stated previously, I believe there are dangers in going down this path. Division just isn't a good thing and I firmly believe that these issues are divisive.  When you have some who would be so bold as to take another angler to task over photographing a fish or, heaven forbid, criticizing an angler for what that angler might feel was an exceptional day on the water...I think you get my drift.

We all have to remind ourselves that there is a significant segment of the angling public who perceive fly fishers as elitists, snobs and a bunch of holier-than-thou's.  Pushing these kinds of positions only gives them more clear support for their feelings about us.          

1 Comentarios

  1. Great article Dave. Thanks for discussing this sensitive issue. I must admit that numbers are important for me. I almost never tell others--except friends with whom I engage in friendly competition--how many fish I've caught. But I tell myself. I do this because it is an objective criterion with which I can evaluate my performance. I can only learn if I know how I've done, and numbers help me do that.