According to a recent national survey, people who regularly recreate outdoors, and those who had participated in outdoor recreation while growing up, are more likely than all others to be completely satisfied with their lives. Research reveals that those who recreate most often, are more likely to be completely satisfied with their choice of careers, friends and their perceived success in life.
Unfortunately for a majority of the country’s population, the pleasures of outdoor recreation and wilderness travel are no longer considered to be a normal part of everyday life. Despite this reality, there lies buried deep inside nearly everyone an untapped desire to pursue the pleasures and challenges that outdoor adventure provides.
The undisputable reality of enjoying the woods and waters is that the best, and most successful outdoor travelers are the ones who are having the most fun, without infringing on the enjoyment of others.
The vast majority of outdoor travelers take to the woods and waters to enjoy the peace, quite and solitude that such places afford. They seek such simple pleasures as a loon’s mournful tune, or the spectacular silence that is only available in a lonely valley, where the ambient noise is achieved by a rustling of leaves on the nearby trees.
Regrettably, there remain far too many travelers who never learned, or have simply forgotten, most of the important concepts and common courtesies inherent to the pursuit of responsible outdoor recreation. As a result, there are bound to be user conflicts, especially when different types of recreationalists engage in activities that require them to share limited natural resources.
The fun of one group should never be derived at the expense of others. Courtesy, compassion and understanding are key considerations in maintaining good wildwood relations among all user groups.
While regular outdoor travelers often understand the nuances of common sense, courtesy, and treating others as they wish to be treated, a similar understanding cannot always be expected.
There are certain unwritten rules governing the behavior of outdoor travel that every enthusiast should observe. The rules of the trail have been adapted for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits, from ski trails to hiking trails, raging rivers to placid stillwaters, and from the soaring cliffs to the imposing darkness of unexplored caves.
In nearly every case, the proper etiquette is merely to extend the simple politeness to ask about any formal rules of conduct to insure no one is offended.
However, when applied to activities such as hunting, whitewater paddling and rock climbing, the strict adherence to established etiquette and camp procedures is often necessary to protect life and limb.
Most of the usual rules are just common sense guidelines to deal with issues such as travel behavior, minimum impact camping techniques, fire safety, animal encounters and cleanliness or sanitation concerns.
Although it is expected that most travelers know better than to wash dishes, clothes or bathe in the same waters they use for drinking or cooking; it is not always the case.
Similar sanitation concerns regarding the disposal of human waste are often evidenced by the disgusting ‘toilet paper flowers’ that sprout around Adirondack shelters, whether in the mountains or on the lakes.
Most outdoor enthusiasts understand the necessity of protecting our recreational resources and as a result, they are often willing to spend their time restoring, enhancing and conserving natural resources for the benefit of all.
One of the most pressing issues in the process of instilling the concept of outdoor etiquette is the availability of experienced mentors. More than 95 percent of all outdoor travelers surveyed indicate they continue to enjoy the woods and waters because ‘someone’ once took the time to introduce them to the sport.
The pinnacle of a proper outdoor career is considered complete, only after a participant has achieved the accomplishment of mentoring at least one novice to the rank of an experienced sportsmen, or women.
Common sense and common courtesy
A few years back, while enjoying a shore lunch along the banks of the Ausable River with an old friend, we watched a group of fellow anglers surround the same small pool we had been fishing earlier in the morning.
The pool had been quite productive and we took several nice fish before moving on. But as the scene unfolded, it became apparent the new group was intent on sticking around for a while.
My old friend, the late Fran Betters, would have described the group as a “New Jersey Firing Squad,” as they surrounded the pool shoulder to shoulder, and began flinging lines all in the same direction.
They kept at it unabated, and while a few fish were actually taken in the opening minutes of the angling assault; they were soon off feed.
“Look at that,” my buddy commented, “You know the problem with fishermen today?” He didn’t wait for my answer, before declaring, “Nobody smokes anymore!”
I looked at him incredulously, and asked, “What the hell does smoking have to do with trout fishing?”
“Well, in my day,” he replied, “We’d fish a pool like that for a while, maybe catch a few fish, and then we’d take a break to have a cigarette, or smoke a pipe.”
He continued, “It gave us a chance to regroup and recoup, but it also rested the pool and allowed the fish to calm down.”
“If other anglers came along, they would have had the courtesy and respect to understand that we were just ‘resting the pool,’ and he’d likely move on.
“Nowadays, it seems that fishing has become an endurance race, rather than the relaxing pursuit it once was.”
We do it in order to escape, to lose ourselves in the moment and to find a bit of our past in the process. Despite the proliferation of multi-million-dollar bass-fishing tournaments, and the growing popularity of catch and release flyfishing contests, such as our own Ausable Two Fly competition, true angling competition should always remain a contest between an angler and his quarry, rather than angler versus angler.
Angling is an extension of our past existence, when men stalked fish and game for subsistence, rather than for sport. But as practiced in modern times, there are elements of our past that become evident through the thrill of the hunt, the stalk and finally the take.
Although, I find no thrill in the act of actually killing a fish, I do take great pleasure in angling for them. I also enjoy the process of attempting to deceive their predatory instinct with an artificial fly or lure.
Don’t get me wrong, I also love to eat fish, and I often keep a few. But the success of my time on the water is not measured by the quantity of fish in my creel. Rather, it is measured by the pleasures of getting lost in the moment, of enjoying the total scene and being able to forget any lingering cares or concerns of the day.
In a sense, we don’t really angle to catch fish; we head off to the waters or the woods to lose the ordinary, orderliness of our everyday existence, and as a means to escape civilization.
The excitement of bringing a fish to the net lies in the curiosity of what awaits at the end of the line. The fight allows us to discover the beauty of nature and to enjoy the personal satisfaction of deceiving a wild prey with an artificial offering.
Fish catch the angler, as much as we catch them, and as I’ve often said, “It’s not the size of a fish that matters, rather it’s the length of its tale.”
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.