fishing

Fishing: A Tale of Two Sides

Fishing with Dad

I remember moments throughout my childhood where I had the opportunity to fish with my father.  We went shore fishing for trout alongside the swift currents of the Rocky Mountain rivers where my dad taught me not to get too close or risk falling in and being swept away.  Another time, we fished from a small fishing boat on a Minnesota lake when a storm came up with white cap tops that made it into the boat. That trip made for a very wet and frightening ride back to the cabin.  Later in life, we would fish from his pontoon boat off the St. John’s river in Florida as 9-10 foot alligators dotted the shoreline. We pulled in Brim, stingrays and other random pan fish.

Respect

Fishing was a catch and release prospect in our family.  We always took great care to properly and responsibly return the fish to it’s habitat after a proper “reviving”.  If the fish was caught in the lip, we carefully removed the hook as gracefully and painlessly as possible. We studied up on the regulations, had the proper gear and learned what the fish types were before trying to catch them.

Enter Scuba Diving

The ability to breathe underwater has given a new life to my interest in fish and fishing.  Now, I am able to see the fish habitat as a fish would see it.  I am able to sit underwater and study the fish as they move around.  Their curiosities are as prevalent as my own as we try to understand any alien being in a foreign environment.  I am able to watch fish eat, nest, protect nests, hunt, spawn, puff up in protective stances and simply just follow along like they were grateful to have a buddy.

Is Fishing Damaging Our Environment?

Until lately, I never saw local fishing as an environmentally unstable practice.  Fishermen have been advocates for the environment, as well as advocates for the fish they caught. They were out teaching responsible fishing practices to others.  Bass clubs sponsor clean ups in the area, other fishermen fight to protect the fish from legislative activity, communities come together for nature and volunteer for environmentally-positive activities. So how could this time long pastime become a detriment to the environment with all of this support?

The Lake is Trashed. Literally.

garbage
One dive. This much garbage.
Diving last weekend I saw quite a bit of fishing line and braided fishing line. Everywhere.  Caught in the trees, underwater weeds, rocks and eventually myself and my dive buddy.  We started to clean up lures, weights, bottom bouncers, beer cans, folded up clothes hangers, broken glass, plastic wrappers from snell hooks, and so much more. Trash was everywhere.

What is Going On?

Fishing line isn’t uncommon to find when diving, but the excess and sheer amount of line was astonishing to me.  We found 50-100 yards of line on the bottom of the lake.  There was no attempt to reel the line back in, it was just cut and left.  The excessive fishing lures show the equivalent of a trout lines set up for some kind of downrigging-walley-eating nightmare.  The odds of catching a walleye and snagging one were even.  This isn’t the type of fishing I was taught. This isn’t the kind of fishing that is responsible.  These aren’t the people who are out doing clean ups, or volunteering at community events. These are people who just don’t care.  What is going on?

Fish: They Get No Respect

This time of year, Small Mouth Bass are everywhere in the shallows, protecting their nests, hunting for food and hanging out in between thermoclines as the lakes warm up.  Diving with them is fantastic in spring and summer. Small Mouth Bass and Bluegill will come up to you, follow you, hang out with you. After a while in the water, a diver has the opportunity to see a lot of fish, up close and personal.  The troubling fact is that many of these fish have a mangled face.  Mouths are ripped apart or have portions missing. The fish have scars from hooks, missing eyes, missing scales and more.  They survive and persevere despite their encounters with hooks and man.  I’ve seen crawfish entangled with line and lures, and others hung up inside line and cloth, destined to die silently among the debris underwater. What is going on?

This isn’t the fishing practice I know.

Torn

I’ve been fairly torn as to my fishing practices after diving with the animals. On one hand, fishing is fun, it’s a legacy, a thing I can share with my dad and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a way to reconnect with nature, learn more about our environment, keep a finger on the pulse of our local waters.  I can be an advocate for safe fishing practices and a role model for proper catch and release.  On the other hand, I see fish with their damaged faces, crawfish weak after fighting to survive through entanglement. I see garbage, fishing line and more lining the bottom of the lake.

I’m torn.

After this weekend, it seems like we can do better with smarter fishing practices, responsible diving practices, and taking a little more concern to our environment.  Dad would approve. Do you?