Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guides, numbers and the ethics of chasing wild fish

Well the rumor mill is busy again. I've been pretty checked out of the online banter this winter. Too busy with having a life and trying to manage some fishing time to worry about it. Still news of a 30 fish day for a somewhat notorious fly guide have me scratching my head. In my few limited interactions with this individual he has always professed to be a true lover of wild fish, an advocate with every intention of doing right by the resource. Othertimes however, actions speak louder than our words. Hooking 30 fish in a day is unethical period, and I do not say this out of jealousy. Regardless of our chosen method of angling, the greed and blantant disregard for our personal impact on the resource that is implicit in hooking 30 fish in a single day of fishing is an abomination. Pressure has skyrocketed on the few remaining rivers in WA and if we are serious about protecting these precious fish we all need to take a hard look at our own actions.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record I will ask, when does a good day turn into a ludicrous act of egotism? Why the need to measure dicks by catching so many fish? Certainly a 3 fish day is worth celebrating? A 5 fish day the day of a lifetime. These fish are too precious not to value every single one as though it was the last of its kind, and the hypocrisy of pointing fingers at tribal gillnet fisheries while simulateously fishing under the blind illusion that more is better, bragging rights supercede all and a man is measured by the number of fish in the net is a falacy.

This soulless, pseudo flyfishing culture caters to beginning "flyfishers" who lack the knowledge about the resource to know any better, and these guides selling their "expertise" and the promise of huge numbers rake in money. Meanwhile they do nothing to protect the resource which puts money in their pocket and fuels their egos. Since when was the method which presented the least challenge the most desirable? A real guide is a teacher, a steward, a man who lives for the observation of the river and its fish. Sadly it seems that these types are too often drowned out in the chorus of self promoting, boat racers who have marketed their way into the guiding profession.


  1. "A real guide is a teacher, a steward, a man who lives for the observation of the river and its fish."

    The first thing that came to mind when I read this line was Steve Buckner. He quit guiding on the OP because he saw the light and realized even the small impact he had on the fisheries was not worth the possible damage it could do.

    Great post!

  2. Lets me ask you this question, because it begs asking.

    If you are a guide, and you happen to get into a great day with a client and the stars align to catch a lot of fish...do you pull the plug when you hit your "magic we stop now fishing number"

    Imagine the look on the clients face when that happens.

    We all have impact, but the guy I believe you are speaking about is a great steward of the rivers he fishes. The way they are persued, fought quickly, and not taken out of the water speaks highly to this eithical nature. It it's who I think this is....the dude lacks an ego

  3. "If you are a guide, and you happen to get into a great day with a client and the stars align to catch a lot of fish...do you pull the plug when you hit your 'magic we stop now fishing number'"

    no, but you can stop sidedrifting and teach clients less effective techniques when the stars align. 30 fish on wild steelhead is gluttonous and irresponsible (if i even believe it). but when it is entirely a numbers game, what else matters.

    i do not know which guide we are talking about, but being a great steward is more than proper c&r. is he a member of conservation organizations in the NW? does he donate trips for their auctions to help raise money? does he go to meetings and write letters to reduce the kill on wild steelhead in the NW? not many guides do these things, so it's not bad if he doesn't, but imo that is being a good steward.

  4. the fact that few guides/anglers invest time and money in conservation is the crux of the problem. most are happy to enjoy and profit from the last gasp of the precious resource while blindly blaming others when populations continue to decline.

  5. I would surmise that the razors edge between ' a great day' and downright gluttony is a choice different to evryone and every guide.
    Guides sell time do to reputation, and, as sad as it is, reality is that numbers sell. An inherent conundrum. However, 30 wild steelhead? Yikes. Especially as Washington fisheries are collapsing.

  6. Interesting. My goal as a guide (in Oregon) is to have a chance to feel a steelhead eat you fly in a day. I find it best to have sports who are less interested in how many (but rather how) we have that chance. Observing the wildlife, connecting as people who care for the health of wild fish, learning a new trick with our rod, having some excited anticipation, and to have fun are the bigger pictures.

    I had a group have a trip this fall where the stars lined up and we were catching a stupid amount of fish on a swung fly. My advise was to put on a skater instead of the very productive wet fly we had on. They caught much less fish, but they few they rose were so much more special!

  7. My feelings as well Marty. I have trouble with big time guides, I won't name names, that tout a fly fishing experience for steelhead in winter and really don't provide that. Side drifting huge glo bugs and a bobber doesn't classify as fly fihing to me,I'm just funny that way.They fish their dudes a certain way for numbers only. People that fish with these type of guides catch numbers, big numbers and they expect to do it every day and every year they come back. A guide that fishes say 100+ days in the winter using these techniques is seriously hooking some fish. Some guides wont pull the plug after a double digit day, they keeps fishing and in doing so really gives their clients unrealistic views about the sport.

    Just because a guide is a member of a bunch of conservation groups, and talks the talk when it comes to wild fish,doesn't necessarily mean he is the best steward on the river. His actions on the river speak louder than all his involvement off the river.

  8. This is a very important discussion and great comments. One where perspective matters a lot. I would submit that guides inevitably go through many stages in their development. Building a business requires some sort of compelling marking strategy, and the most effective, in general, is catching a shit-ton of fish. I would argue that very few are "raking in the profits." Most are living hand-to-mouth, hoping their next tip will help them pay their phone bill, or buy lunches and gas for the next trip. Maybe fix the trailer.

    But there is, hopefully, a moment when the guide adds up his or her impacts, stacks them up with all the other guides on a given river, and realizes that they are having a major impact of the fish. To the tune of hooking the majority of the steelhead in a run of fish! That's a big deal, and it underlines the responsibility inherent in the profession.

    Most guys evolve to tactics like Marty's--"let's see if we can get them on dries! Let's test out some new techniques and/or fly patterns." Or, my favorite, "We got one out of this spot, let's keep moving."

    At some point we have to have the confidence to look at a client and say "No." That is hard, especially if you're in the early stage of building your repuation.

    All your points are strong, but the added element of judging others so harshly seems overdone. Perhaps it's better to stay positive and set a good example. The idea of judging someone's actions versus their words seems solid until you factor in the telephone game and the competing egos involved. I've been accused of plenty of shit that never happened, so I try to remain empathetic.

    Lastly, regarding guides and stewardship: Most guides donate trips and involve themselves in conservation issues as part of their marketing plans. That doesn't mean they don't care, it just means that involvement doesn't necessarily mean the same thing to everyone. When I add up the time, money and stomach lining that I have contributed to the cuase of wild steelhead and salmon, I see very little real effect in my watersheds. It's usually big-picture stuff, more feel-good than applied. In fact we lose almost every battle.

    Just because you don't go to chuch doesn't mean you can't have a deep personal relationship with your chosen God. And often the quiet folks are the real heros, versus the vociferous who are all too often half-baked--which describes me pretty well :-). Actually, I'm usually totally baked.