Recently, a reader in Europe asked if she could contribute a post on conservation, about which she is passionate. Since, in my mind, there are few more important topics, I am happy to share her post. US readers should know her views are informed by fishing in Europe, where the dearth of public lands often results in an even greater need for angling ethics. Of course, practicing those ethics (and not only ethics), is important no matter where you are, and I surely agree with her suggestions here. Thanks for sharing your thought in this post, Sara.
Fly Fishing and Conservation
It’s no secret, fly fishing gained a lot more popularity over the last decades. Once only practiced by the wealthy, you will find people of every social class enjoying this recreational activity today. With more and more fly fishing enthusiasts going after trout all over the US, the eco-systems those trout inhabit are facing new challenges. While it’s great that outdoor sports gain popularity, everyone should realize that the conservation of the environments they take place in, is more important than it ever was.
The Rise of Fly Fishing and its Consequences
As stated earlier, fly fishing developed from an almost exclusive privilege for wealthier people in the 20th century, to a sport practiced by the masses. Similar to many other outdoor activities, it provides rest and relaxation as compensation to the stressful everyday life most of us have. Although we see a steady rise in equipment prices, in today’s age people seem generally more willing to spend money for things they are passionate about. The industry, which evolved around this whole sport, grew consistently and recently saw revenues of up to 850 million in 2015, alone in the US. (http://flyfishing-blog.com/flyfishing-blog.com/2016/07/18/us-fly-fishing-equipment-market-worth-over-850-million-dollars-in-2015/)
All that being said, there are participants that struggle to keep up with the monetary demands. Businesses spend top dollar marketing their new products, driving sales to all time highs, fish hatcheries and wildlife management lack those resources. As a result they struggle to maintain healthy fish populations, have to eliminate jobs and face budget cuts for often essential projects.
The solution for those problems? Since wildlife management, can’t exactly grow like companies do, they are forced to raise fees. This might include taxes but usually, over half their budget comes from hunting and fishing licenses (http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/27/colorado-parks-wildlife-hunting-fishing-licenses-cost/) and that’s why states like Colorado consider to double up their license fees. At the same time the number of fish you are allowed to take home might decrease and in general more and more regulations might be necessary to maintain healthy rivers. Have a look at northern Europe, if you are interested in what that looks like. Although we saw a drop in 2013, the number of active anglers recovered and takemefishing.org(https://www.takemefishing.org/getmedia/827c415a-a372-497f-a86c-8ec90d3fc0e3/2015SpecialReportOnFishing_FV.aspx) predicts them to remain like that for a while.
What Can You Do?
Besides contributing with your license fees there are also a few other things you can do, to indirectly support wildlife management and hatcheries in your area. Conservation starts with every one of us and regulations become less important, if more people stick to a few basic guidelines while fly fishing.
Practice Catch & Release
If you want to keep your impact as low as possible, catch and release is the way to go. With a survival rate of up to 90% there is a good chance that the fish you just caught sees another day and maybe another fly.
Noticed how I said UP to 90%? This rate can be drastically reduced, depending on how stressful the whole process is to your catch. To keep the survival rate high, you should bring fish in as quickly as possible and keep them wet. If you touch them, wet your hands and avoid using landing nets, since those can damage their scales resulting in infections.
Go Easy On Fish During Spawning Periods
Learn how to spot redds, the areas where trout place their eggs, and avoid them. Trout usually protect those places and catching them in that situation is ridiculously easy. They want to protect their eggs and even casting in those areas, although not illegal, shouldn’t even be considered. Just don’t!
Wade With Care
Besides those nesting areas you might damage there are also plenty of other aquatic organisms, which don’t survive a wading boot trampling walking over them. Since those organisms provide a main food resource for trout, it’s in your interest that they are present and considering you aren’t the only one wading in that area, your overall impact might be bigger than you think. Wade only as much as necessary and if you are interested about what exactly lives below your boots, check out this article about the impact of wading fly fishers (http://www.wadinglab.com/impact-of-wading-fly-fishers/).
Don’t Leave Anything Behind
If someone would pay me a dollar, every time I had to pick up trash left behind by other anglers, I could probably quit my job. Both, you and trout, enjoy a clean river. Trash in form of plastic, hooks, bait/flies or line can be dangerous to wildlife. Just leave it as you found it and maybe even pick up some trash others failed to take home with them.
Doesn’t Sound That Hard, Right?
I don’t get tired of preaching those five rules. Why? Because it would be so easy to maintain a healthy ecosystem with plenty of fish, if everyone would stick to them. Trust me, you don’t want regulations like those common in most parts of Europe. It’s only fair to conserve what we all enjoy, so it’s still there if one day your grandchildren decide to go fishing.
Based in Oregon, I picked up fly fishing pretty early in my life. Since then I am pretty much hooked, always looking for the next pool to fish. I am currently travelling Europe and when time allows, I enjoy writing about topics like conservation or fly fishing gear. Occasionally I get some work published on different fly fishing blogs and might start my own in the future