What is fishing to you?
Is it a means by which you are just trying to put meat in the freezer?
Is it a sport to you, a hobby?
Is it a true passion of yours?
Or is there nothing more important to you, other than health and family?I do believe that all anglers should be able to peruse fishing as THEY see fit, so long as it does not negatively impact others on the water.The other day I got to thinking, what is fishing, really?
What started this was seeing a 4-wheeler flying over the frozen water here on Fort Peck. He was driving at top speed from tip up to tip up chasing flags, checking bait, and catching fish. I thought to myself, “to me that has little to do with fishing and more to do with harvesting”. Where is the challenge, what is the reward? This is how tip up fishing goes. Drill a hole miles from shore, lowering a minnow down, and then travel to the next remote point, drill a hole and lower a minnow down, and repeat for a total of 6 lines. Now you wait for a flag. Haul ass over there and hand line in a fish, throw it in your bucket, lower a new minnow down. Repeat. Now, that is NOT my idea of fishing. Most ice anglers agree that it is much more fun to fight a fish on a rod rather than hand lining a tip up. BUT it may be someone else’s idea of fun. SO, as I said at the start of this whole thing. If it does not hurt anyone, to each his own!A lot of how we look at fishing comes from how we are raised. Some people had good role models and others not so much.
This is why some folks find it ok to litter and others are compelled to clean up the messes of others.I have been around. Having grown up in Kansas and Long Island, New York and having lived over 20 years in Germany working with the Army. I have traveled all over Europe and fished in tournaments in countries such as Holland, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic.I know that attitudes vary greatly between the places. For instance, in Germany it is illegal to practice catch and release fishing. Some left wing tree-huggers convinced the legislature that fish feel pain as they are caught. Thus, the only legal “reason” for fishing is to put food on one’s plate. That is not to say that all fish caught are killed. If they are under size, or out of season they must be released unharmed. There are also MANY folks who just ignore that law and release big fish on principle. Others, such as carp and catfish anglers release all their fish after a photo. BUT they cannot say that they are doing so, and if caught they face a stiff fine. In France, you MUST catch and release all carp. They have lakes over there with fish over 80 pounds because of this. They realize that these fish are a source of money which flow into the local economy. Anglers from all across Europe go to France to chase these fish. If you didn’t know already, carp fishing is big business in Europe. You can take a look at my Facebook page and see some of these massive fish. Hook into a 40 plus pound carp and fight it on the right tackle and you too may just be “hooked”. Holland has mandatory catch and release for Pike, the reasons are the same as France with their carp. Holland is a destination fishery for large pike and fish over 45 inches are not uncommon.Having spent the past 2 years in northeast Montana I have come to get an idea how most anglers here view fishing. There is very little catch and release going on. The most common reason I hear for this is that most believe that Fort Peck is just so big that anglers can have little effect on the health of the fishery. Saying that, they are placing a lot of faith in FWP! Two anglers taking 5 breeder walleyes each over many days cannot have zero effect. I don’t thing most people realize how long it takes the fish to get to their best reproductive age, and how much a role these larger, older fish have in maintaining a productive body of water. As an example, a 20 inch smallmouth bass is most likely well over 15 years old. The 21.5 inch fish I caught last season was probably pushing 18! I understand that catch and release attitudes vary greatly in other parts of the state and amongst anglers themselves, depending on the fish they target. Just think of the fly fisherman and his attitude about the fish he catches. I cannot imagine that he is out there to put all he catches in the frying pan. And oh, the distain each group has for the other. The “worm anglers” V “stuffy, holier-than-thou fly anglers”.
Russell Johnson with a nice smallmouth bass
I myself am a catch and release guy for the most part. I just don’t love eating fish, but I will take a walleye here and there assuming it is not too small or too big. I would not consider taking a fish over 20 inches to eat, and have release several “trophy” eyes over 30 inches. If I am out with my buddy Russell in his boat and we are chasing northern I feel compelled to keep the fish I catch because he is out there for two reasons. One, to have fun, and two so that he can have fish to eat. Russell has been an inspiration to me, at over 80 he is JUST as passionate about angling as I am. Not unlike soldiers who have gone through battle together or alcoholics who have come together and found sobriety, there is a real bond between “true anglers”. We have something in our blood, or something wrong in our heads which drives us to the water. I am not sure if the addiction is genetic, or purely psychological but there is a true bond there and fishing buddies are often lifetime friends, and so it is with me and Russell. I will miss our days on the water!
For me, as an everyday fishing fanatic (I seriously fish about every day year round here at Fort Peck) I love the sport and the challenge of fishing. I love the thought that the 20 pound salmon, the 40 inch northern, the 20 inch bass, or the 30 inch walleye I caught and took a picture of can be caught by another angler later. Releasing these big old fish with their impressive gene stock enables others to be born. I am one of those who prefers a good picture to a mount. I always said if there was a special fish with a special story behind it that I might have a replica made. But, to me the size of the fish is only one part of the story. If I am trolling along all day and eventually hook into a 32 inch walleye which I land after a 2 minute fight, this fish only makes half the grade. It is a big fish, but where is the story? Was it in a far-away destination, was it on a trip with a high-school buddy I never see, did the battle last 15 minutes on light tackle after making 1000 casts. Do you see my point? To me, a big fish is great- if there was a challenge to it, or a story behind it.By the way, I hope Montanans realize just how good they have it. In Germany, I must pay for a license which costs about 100 bucks a year. In order to be able to purchase this license the first time you must take a weekend class, and pass a tough exam which also includes a practical piece in which fish are dispatched in an ethical manner. While the time and the cost of the class are a bit of a pain, I think that such a thing has real value. In the class all anglers learn about the different species, their genetics, diseases, and each species reproductive characteristics. They learn about laws, and customs. Ethical pursuit is discussed as is conservation. The problem with having anglers out on the water without any education, or training is that you are hoping that folks know what the right thing to do is, and how to conduct themselves. Once the German license is obtained you then need a permit to fish any body of water. These permits range from 10 dollars to 30 dollars a day! Each body of water is owned by a different person, club, or government agency. It is so bad, that one river local to my house in Germany had 4 owners over 10 miles. If you wanted to fish that stretch you had to go see those 4 guys and buy a permit from each of them. AND there is little to no automation. You cannot go online and buy a permit for the most part. You need to plan days out where you want to fish and go pay cash for a paper permit! Alternatively, you can join a club which manages several lakes and river systems. It will cost you 300 to join, 100 a year, and you will need to “volunteer” 10 hours labor to the club OR be charged 15 dollars and hour for each hour not worked. Crazy, you are thinking? Right! I calculated that in 2015 for licenses and permits to fish in Germany and other countries that I spent well over $2500 in fees. And that is without ever even getting a line wet. So, be grateful that you live in the USA, and Montana especially, it truly is a great place for a sportsman to live!
It is with a heavy heart that I am now returning to Germany where I will continue working with the Army Corps of Engineers over there. I will serve 3 to 5 years overseas and work on a new Army hospital construction project which will be serving our injured troops. I am making this move to re-join my wife and son, who are German and had remained there alone these past two and a half years. It is my intent to serve 5 years over there and then return to Fort Peck to work and eventually retire there. I WILL have my home on the water eventually. It is all I have ever wanted, to be near the thing I love so much and see it out my window as I wake each morning.
I wish you all a great upcoming season, and perhaps we shall meet again as we trudge the road to happy destiny.