While the vast majority of anglers are responsible sportsmen and women, it takes only a few slobs to ruin the public perception of all fishermen. Styrofoam worm containers are responsible for ruining the image of all anglers.
The adventure of outdoor travel is no longer considered a normal part of life for a majority of the country’s population. Yet buried deep inside all of us there remains a desire to tackle the challenges that such adventures once provided.
Recreation, which comes from the Latin ‘recraere,’ means to regenerate or refresh. In some way, water-based recreation causes us to revert to a slower pace and it returns us to a gentler place. Aristotle considered contemplation to be the greatest form of recreation. He believed contemplation was a luxury achieved only during the leisure hours.
In some inexplicable manner, water sooths the human soul, it relaxes us and engenders camaraderie. Naturally, water makes us refreshingly civil, as it should, since nearly two thirds of the human body consists of water.
For some odd reason, water makes us friendly. On the lakes, boaters always wave to each other in passing, even if they don’t know each other. It is a happy medium. Oddly, the folks who regularly wave to each other on the lake all summer would never dare to make eye contact while in the intimate confines of an elevator.
On the water, we naturally look after each other. If someone appears stranded, and the cover is removed from their motor, boaters will flock to their aid like ants to a picnic.
On the water we are all equal, sharing a precious natural resource and enjoying good times. Yet the same folks who were willing to help others on the lake will be ready to duke it out back at the dock as they jockey for position in the parking lot. It’s difficult to understand how friendly waves can change so quickly into a one-finger salute, but I’ve watched it happen time and again as soon as our feet meet pavement. It is difficult to understand why a return to civilization causes people to become instantly uncivil and toss common courtesy out the window.
Water is a unique medium. It carries with it power and pain, wonder and awe, grace and glory. It has unusual effects on our psyche. In the Adirondacks, water continues to bind our towns and villages with a never-ending flow. Rare is a local community that doesn’t have a lake or pond, river or stream located within close proximity to town. We often fail to recognize water’s ability to bring people together, to connect folks that may never get together under any other circumstances. Although I’ve witnessed it over and over again, I’ve never been able to understand why water so effects our collective mentality.
Unfortunately, there is only one sure method available for anglers to acquire the most valuable information for success on the waters. Such skills cannot be found in any book, they are instilled only through experience, and absorbed over the course of long hours of patient observation. They are not hard skills such as double-hauling a long cast with a fly rod, or working a sucker on a wire line to thump bottom for lake trout on a slow back troll.
Possibly, the most valuable skill an angler can acquire is an ability to get along with others, which begins with an unerring ethic to do the right thing, even when there’s nobody else around to notice. Ethics can’t be studied in a book or a video. They are instilled, and absorbed through a process of careful observation and constant study.
Currently, there are an estimated 50 million active anglers in the United States. According to a recent Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation study, 99 percent of them say they learned to fish because ‘someone’ once took the time to introduce them to the sport.
They had a mentor who took the time to show them how it was done. Mentors are an unselfish breed who work to insure all anglers acquire the same ethics they’ve learned. Students learn to fish through practice and a good deal of trial and error. However, students absorb ethics through observation, and there is no room for error. They learn that things are done differently on the river. Fishing is a sport that requires no referees, and no defined playing field. The rules are all natural, and there is no time clock, no cheerleaders, and no one keeps score. The most important skill they learn is the ability to be as quiet as possible, to remain observant at all times, and to extend the proper respect for all river users, whether finned or not. A key to successful angling adventures is the ability to recognize and avoid any behaviors or actions that would spoil the enjoyment of others.
Of utmost importance is an unwavering personal commitment and concern for the natural resources that will continue to provide us with future angling opportunities. Believe it or not, we all live downstream. It was the jet stream that brought us acid rain, mercury and a host of other toxins that nearly destroyed the region’s fisheries. These threats are certain to continue in the future and without constant vigilance, we may not always be as fortunate as we have been to date.
Today, public use of trails and rivers is growing steadily. For every person hiking on a trail in 1960, there are more than three people now putting down tracks.
It is a well-known fact that travelers distribute themselves unevenly across wild places. Most of the use is concentrated in a few specific places located in a few popular wilderness areas. The Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area offers a prime example of such concentrated use patterns.
In fact, over half of all wilderness use occurs in a mere 10 percent of State-designated wilderness land, and the vast majority of that use occurs on only about 10 percent of the total trail miles.
Similar patterns of use play out on most of the region’s lakes, rivers, ponds and streams, where an estimated 90 percent of all anglers concentrate their efforts on less than 10 percent of the available waters. We all want to feel like we’re the first to find a special place, to experience something ‘beyond remote.’ Many believe that this lust for wandering is in our blood, and it spawns an undeniable curiosity to find out what lies beyond the far horizon. We are all born with an innate drive toward discovery, an inexplicable need to explore our environment. However, there are only a fortunate few who still seek an opportunity to scratch this inborn itch. Most others are simply satisfied with roadside adventures.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from those who still seek native fish in wild and desolate locations.
• Go where the people aren’t! This is the single most important thing you can do to regularly catch decent fish.
• Obey all state and local fishing laws, seasons and rules and always respect private property rights, even if no one’s around.
• Do not litter. If you carry it in, take it out and leave the location cleaner than you found it.
• Ask politely before approaching anyone on the water. If they don’t answer, move on. There’s no need to go where you’re not welcome. Alert fellow anglers if you have a fish on and need to intrude on their beat, and, of course, get out of the way if someone has a fish on in your area. Practice proper catch-and-release, and take only what you intend to eat. Freezing fish ruins the meat and wastes the taste.
• Loosen up and relax! Angling should never become a chore. Fish upstream, and be aware of the sun, and avoid casting shadows over fish.
• Never wear a watch while fishing. There is no need to know the time. A glint of sun from a watch crystal reflecting on a pool will put fish down. If they spook, rest the pool and return in 15 minutes. Fish have short memories.
• Fish a likely looking hole from much further away than you deem necessary, and stay as low to the water as possible. Fish fear shadows!
• When fishing from a boat, maintain a respectful distance from other anglers and resist the temptation to encroach on their territory unless invited to do so. Avoid banging around in a boat/canoe and always speak in a low voice. Respect the waters, the fish and your fellow anglers.
• Just because a person is sitting down or standing on the bank without a rod, don’t assume it’s all right to fish. They may just be surveying the water or resting the pool. It’s their beat, just move along.
• Don’t curse out loud. If you’ve got trout-rage, keep it inside. Use common sense and respect others and if you think they have a problem with you, just ask.
• Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous. Let nature's sounds prevail, and avoid loud voices and noises.
• Keep cell phones well away from the water. Most anglers come to the streams to escape such intrusions.
• If you must, build a small fire and stay close. The larger the fire, the bigger the fool.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.