Do anglers amount to a conservation challenge?

It’s a provocative thought, penned by Trout Unlimited’s Kirk Deeter in a recent article over at Angling pressure was voted the #2 conservation concern of respondents to a poll run by Angling Trade magazine.

Deeter’s solution tears at the numbers game- shift techniques, hone different skill sets. From the perspective of conservation, and for the sake of the sport, that makes sense. Diminishing marginal utility- an angler learns less from the fiftieth fish brought to hand in day than they did from the first five.

Deeter’s suggestion ignores the elephant in the room: a fly-fishing Industry that profits from rods and reels and waders and jackets and vests and hip packs and chest packs and cowboy hats and trucker hats and beanies and brook-trout patterned belts and tee shirts and button shirts and tactical hoodies and glare-reducing glasses and sunproof gloves and paisley suspenders and duffels and roof-mounted rod racks and nippers and tippet tees and hip flasks and landing nets and coolers and tumbers and stickers! Lo, the stickers! The companies churning out an unending deluge of fly fishing accessories and apparel have a financial interest in getting as many people to buy stuff as they can. If the access is choked with rigs, or the fishing isn’t as good, these are casualties in the name of accessibility and reducing barriers to entry.

It struck me as sad beyond words that fishermen themselves would let one of the world’s oldest and loveliest contemplative pastimes turn into a competitive rat race much as we have allowed modern basketball to degenerate into sort of a commercialized polka played only by bored pituitary freaks.

Robert Traver, Trout Magic

Those words were written nearly fifty years ago, when the forty hour work week still existed, before the gig economy was a funny tingle in some future MBA’s britches. Those words are truer now than they’ve ever been.

There’s a vein of The Industry’s ad copy which reads Failure is not an option. Crush variables. It only takes one small change to catch more fish- so we added six. What matters is catching fish now- not some point in the future, once skills have been developed and mastered and applied.

That Guy- and it’s always a guy- who truly believes failure isn’t an option lacks the intellectual curiosity to try new techniques, in new places- to do so would risk failure. The Guy who measures success through the number of fish landed isn’t taking time off from fishing to plant trees on the streambank or pull trash from logjams or sit in on public hearings- maybe they’ll cut a check to TU, maybe they’ll slap a sticker on their bumper, but one shouldn’t expect much more.

There’s a segment of The Industry willing to make a buck assuring That Guy he’s a hero. Because he bought a fly rod. Because he caught a fish, or ten, or a hundred- doing the same thing everyone else did, in the same place everyone else did. That message has nothing to do with protecting treasured fisheries, and the demographic it attracts may not know, or may not care, about their impact on the resource.

If The Industry finds that unsettling, may they exercise the creativity to tell a different, more nuanced story.

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