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When Catch-and-Release Doesn’t Work, with Tim Traver

Description: Catch-and-release fishing for trout is not a conservation tool. It’s a way to manage trout populations for larger fish, based mainly on sociological or even political pressures. Sometimes it doesn’t even produce larger fish, and it can backfire when it inflames local anglers. Tim Traver [38:50], author of Lost in the Driftless, has spent years studying the effects of fishing regulations on both fish and human populations and I think your eyes will open to the limitations of regulations like “fly-fishing only” or “catch-and-release”.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi, and welcome to "The Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week is Tim Traver, author of a book called "Lost in the Driftless," which is an excellent book. And, yes, it's about the Driftless region of Wisconsin, but it's more about the effects of catch-and-release on both fish populations and human populations. And we're gonna explore some reasons why catch-and-release doesn't always work.
So, I think you'll enjoy it. It's a thought-provoking topic. And you may disagree with some of the things Tim and I talk about. And if so, you're welcome to send a comment to me in the podcast mailbox. And speaking of the podcast mailbox, if you have a question for me that you'd like me to try to answer on the air, you can send it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can either just type your question in the email or you can attach a voice file, and if I can answer it, or I wanna answer it, I'll read it on the air.
So without further ado, before we talk about catch-and-release, let's do the podcast. I mean, let's do the Fly Box. And the first question this week is from Henry. "First, I wanna say that I love the podcast and it has been a great source of fishing wisdom to me over the past few years. I especially enjoy listening to the Fly Box and picking out bits and pieces of advice, and trying them myself as I'm a young angler and love nerding out to new techniques to catching fish.
Now for my question. I recently moved out to Maryland from Wisconsin, and have just started exploring the trout waters available to me where I live. The three main waters that I can fish with relative easy access are the Gunpowder, Savage, and Patapsco Rivers." I hope I pronounced that right. "I'm closest to the Gunpowder River, only about 25 minutes away. And every time I've driven past the places to get on the water, there has been a crowd. Back home in the Driftless, if there's someone at the place you wanna fish, you just drive for another five minutes and find a different stretch of water, as there is just so much available. And if you know what you're doing, it's all very productive water. This leads into my question.
First of all, are the crowds related to the relative lack of trout water that I'm accustomed to back home? Also, not knowing all the rules regarding public/private land access to rivers. Am I just missing big stretches of water that are accessible without having to get permission? I would love some feedback on this, and can't wait to tighten a line to some Maryland trout."
So, Henry, yeah, you know, the greater Baltimore area is not exactly trout country, and the rivers aren't warm enough to support trout unless they're tailwater. So you're gonna have some smaller tailwaters like the Gunpowder and the Savage that can hold trout, that have water temperatures cold enough for trout. And it's rare to have a great trout stream. The Gunpowder is a great trout stream that close to an urban center, so it's a great resource. But, yes, there's a lot of fly fishers in that area, and it's gonna be a lot more crowded than Wisconsin because there just aren't as many good trout rivers.
So, you're gonna have to get used to probably fishing closer to other people. And this is difficult, but you kinda have to gauge what's accepted on that river. You may have to fish a little closer than you're used to, but it may not bother the other people, and after a while it probably won't bother you. You still wanna try to get as much distance between you and other anglers as possible.
But when you move to a new place like this, the first thing that you wanna do, and this is good advice for anyone who's moving into a new area to fish, is to investigate your state's access laws, because every state has different laws regarding whether you can walk in the bed of the river, whether you can walk on the bank, whether posted signs are required or not when it's public land. I would advise you to look at the Maryland state regulations to see what your riparian laws are.
There's a great resource. It's published by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, which is a great organization that is concerned with public access. And it goes state by state, and tells you what the access regulations are in each individual state. You can find that in the Orvis Learning Center under the Resources, and you can look up what the laws are in Maryland, and then you'll know whether you can access the river in places where you don't see other people without getting into trouble with private landowners.
So you're gonna have to kind of adjust your sense of space in Maryland, but I'm sure you'll find some places where you can get away from people. And think about maybe fishing at different times a day when there aren't as many people on the water. Sometimes very early in the morning, you can get away from the crowds on rivers like this.
Let's do another email. This one's from Rich from Wilmette, Illinois. "Hey, Tom. I've gone all in on fly fishing this year after many years of conventional fishing, mostly for smallmouth bass. The podcast has really accelerated my learning, so thank you for that. I'm looking at sling packs so that I can extend my time on the water and start carrying a net with me when wading. As a right-handed caster, do you prefer a left shoulder design? Is an integrated net sheath preferable to hanging in that from a D-ring using a magnet? Any other thoughts or advice for someone looking for their first sling pack?"
So, Rich, that's an interesting question, because the older Orvis sling pack was designed to be worn on the right shoulder. And that's where I wore mine all the time. And then the product designers decided that, "Well, that's dumb because why put the sling pack on your casting shoulder, and most people are right-handed? So why not put it on the left shoulder?" And they switched over to a left shoulder design.
Well, I didn't quite get it, and even though it was designed for the left shoulder, I kept putting my sling pack on the right shoulder. And it worked out fine for me. I get a lot of grief from people on some of the videos I do on the Learning Center and YouTube for wearing my sling pack on the wrong shoulder. But you can actually wear it on either shoulder. You can make it work on either shoulder.
The main problem with wearing it on the right shoulder, I find, is that the net kind of gets in the way. So if I'm carrying a net, I do put it on my left shoulder and the net stays out of the way. But what I use is a magnetic net retriever on the D-ring.
I think that a smarter way to do arms aren't that long, and I find that my net is always a little too short, and I really wanna start carrying a long-handled net. And a lot of my fishing buddies use a longer-handled net, and they just stick it in their wader belt, stick it behind 'em and stick it in the wader belt, and it stays put there. And you can put a retriever on it if you want, if you're worried about losing it, but the long-handled net stuck in the fishing wader belt, I think, or just a regular old belt seems to work a little bit better. But, yeah, I don't have a good solution for you. It really depends on your own individual preference and how you like things hanging from you.
John: Hello, Tom. This is John in California calling. A recent question that came in about the degree of adjustment of our thinking in casting for fish in the water, distorted in the location by the water refraction. The numbers are tricky, but as a retired professor and engineer, I can give you some rules of thumb that can help. For most of our fishing we're out there 20 to 40 feet away, and depth distortion by the refraction makes the fish actually 2 to 3 feet deeper than we think, and that's much more than most people realize even at 2 feet down there, 1 to 2 feet more than you think.
And they're much closer as well, at least 1 foot if not 2 feet closer. So keep that in mind as you're adjusting. Dry flies tossed way over the fish will line them immediately, and so you start fishing closer as you suggest in your videos, to the bank and then work your way across the stream, and get deeper. Adjust that indicator. That's why adjustable indicators are so valuable. Your videos on that are extremely helpful.
Second, a fish's periscope. They look out with a periscope, and then it's bent. It gets out of the water 10 degrees above the horizon so you can hide under that 10 degree zone. But that gets pretty skinny as you get toward the water. If you wanna hide from them, you gotta have 30 feet below 5 foot [inaudible 00:10:21]. Keep your hands below it, and then at 20 feet on a 4 feet, that's tough. So, if you can't avoid it, you have to, but otherwise, like your videos show so well, get downstream, cast upstream, and get that fly coming down.
And then, finally, that circle that they look through, that Snell's window, that's pretty big. And you don't wanna be lining spooky fish by dropping your rig on top of that circle, certainly not a big fly or an indicator. At 2 feet down, the window's 2 feet in diameter, or 4 feet down, it's almost 4 feet in diameter. So get upstream, like you recommend in your videos, and get that rig moving downstream. So those are the guidelines, those are the tips, and hope that works for you guys and you don't have to do the physics. Take care. Thanks for all you do with Orvis, and please keep up the podcast. It's terrific.
Tom: Well, thank you, John. It's good to hear from an expert in physics on a trout's window. And, you know, I like your common sense approach that the window is pretty narrow, particularly when a fish is in deeper water. They can see out of the water pretty well. And, so I appreciate your not getting terribly technical, but giving us a good overview of a trout's window.
I still don't think we have determined whether if you can see a trout, a trout can see you. So maybe you can get back to us, or maybe someone else who is trained in physics can tell us that if the window works in reverse. In other words, if I'm looking in the water and I can see a trout, am I within a trout's window? Still haven't gotten that one sorted out.
Here's an email from Richard. "Just listened to the 'Bamboo Podcast' and I love most of it. I'm proud owner of a 7-foot 3-piece Orvis-impregnated bamboo rod, rated for an HFG line. I think it was built in the mid-1970s. I bought it at the old Eddie Bauer store in Boston in 1982. I just worked a bunch of overtime and had a few extra bucks, enough to buy the rod, but not the Hardy reel I planned to pair it with.
We finally had some time off, and I asked this girl out to dinner on our first date, and told her I wanted to stop at Eddie Bauer and pick up the rod that I have been coveting. I had just enough money to get the rod and buy this girl dinner. But when she saw the whole thing, she was so taken with the beauty of a split-bamboo rod, and insisted that I get the Hardy reel as well. She said she would buy me dinner. Of course, I married her. Wouldn't you?" That's a great story, Richard.
"I still have the rod and it is my favorite thing I own. If it came to a fire and I could only say one thing, it would be that bamboo rod. I mean, the kids can get out on their own, right? Anyway, on the podcast, I would have liked to hear more of the technical details, particularly what type of adhesive is used, and is it a traditional glue or more modern one like epoxy? Also, I would have been interested in how your guest ended up where he is now.
Also, you never mentioned the smell. Whenever I open the tube and smell the varnish, it takes me back to a hundred fishing trips and all those old friends, and every trout I ever caught with that beautiful rod. I am headed to Southwest Colorado in two weeks with that rod to fish some of the smaller mountain streams, so that is an ongoing story. Finally, you asked, what is so special about a bamboo rod? I would answer that a bamboo rod, because it is made with once-living organic material, has a soul, which is something no synthetic rod can ever have."
Well, thank you, Richard. That's a great email. And I did actually mention last week in a follow-up that Sean uses a Unibond 800 glue to glue the sections together, which is a two-part urea formaldehyde liquid resin. It cures clear, it's flexible, and it's very strong.
Alex: Hey, Tom. This is Alex from Texas. I ended up buying a Helios 3 Blackout, 9-foot 5-inch 5-weight, because, well, you never really were pushed about Orvis products, but you would subtly just talk about how good they were, and that made me think I really need to try it out when I was looking for a high-end rod. I wanna tell you that rod is phenomenal. I am so grateful that you were never pushy about Orvis products, because that got me into actually seriously considering it when considering a high-end rod. And the accuracy, the presentation, the power, the delivery, everything about the rod is just phenomenal. It is a game changer, and fishing is even more fun now that I have that rod.
Now, relating to that rod, somebody told me that if I was to euro nymph, I could just put my 3-weight euro nymph rig reel on that Blackout rod and fish with that. Now, I'm fairly new to euro nymphing, and I have a clear water 10-foot 3-weight that I've used and caught some on. And I've caught some with my 3-weight reel on this Helios Blackout rod. But just because I've done it, doesn't mean it's meant to do it or gonna be very good at it.
I'm just wondering your thoughts on this rod, whether it be a good euro nymphing rod. Is it sensitive enough? It certainly is long enough to reach a lot of things I'm trying to reach with that 9-foot 5-inch rod. I just wanna know your thoughts on that, or if I should just go ahead and pack two rods in on some of these excursions.
My next question is, I have access to a lot of squirrel tails. What is squirrel tail good for as a substitute when tying flies? And I do have one suggestion or request. It'd be nice if you had a guest that could really talk about the entomology of midges coming in the tailwaters of dams.
Tom: Well, Alex, I'm glad you loved that 9-5-5 Blackout rod. It's one of my very favorite rods, too. And, yes, you can euro nymph with it. Since it's a 5-weight, you're gonna lose a little bit of sensitivity, and it's gonna be a little bit more difficult to flip those weighted nymphs without that super-soft tip that's on your 10-foot 3-weight.
But as you said, you've made it work. And if you love the rod, then use it for euro nymphing. You're not gonna sacrifice that much. And you've obviously proven that it'll work, so I'm not gonna tell you to do anything else. And you can maybe switch back and forth between that and you're 10-foot 3-weight, and compare 'em and see if you do better with the 10-foot 3-weight, or if you enjoy it more.
Regarding squirrel tail, it's a great material. The tail itself is a great material for streamer wings. And I honestly can't think of much else to use it for. Both streamer wings and wings on Atlantic salmon flies, or steelhead wet flies, squirrel tail hair has a nice banding to it. It has great mobility in the water. It absorbs water pretty quickly, so it's not a good material for something like dry fly wings. And I can't think of much else you'd use it for. I mean, there's some great streamer patterns that call for squirrel tail.
One of 'em is the pink squirrel, which is a very popular streamer in the Midwest, particularly Wisconsin. It's one of the most popular flies in Wisconsin. And then there's an old Catskill fly called the Picket Pin, which is kind of a cross between a wet fly and a streamer. It's a great old pattern. I used to use it a lot for night fishing. So look up the Picket Pin and the Pink Squirrel, and you'll have plenty of uses for that squirrel tail. But I don't know what else it's really good for. And great idea for having a guest on the entomology of midges. I have a couple people in mind, and I'm gonna do some research on that. And I'll plan on doing one on that sometime in the coming year.
This one's from Steve in Middleton, Idaho. "My preferred local river is a renowned brown trout fishery, many of which are in the 20-inch-plus range. Frequently they are feeding on very small midges, size 20, 22, 24. My problem, my question is around 5X and smaller tippet. While 5X is more hit and miss, about 98% of the time when using 6X, the fish breaks the fly off, and I lose the fish and the fly, especially on any fish bigger than around 8 or 9 inches.
Do you have any tips for fishing small tippet? Am I using the wrong knot? I always use a clinch knot. Is my rod the problem? Medium action 5-weight most of the time, also a 3-weight. Or is it a technique issue? I love the podcast and all that you do for fly fishing. And I'm pleased to report that over the last year, my two teenage boys have also become hooked on the sport, so we have a great time bonding on the river."
Well, congratulations on getting your boys into fly fishing, Steve. It's a great way to share pure nature with your kids. Regarding that 6X tippet, 6X these days is pretty strong. And I don't hesitate to use 6X when I need it on fish 20 inches or bigger. I try to get away with 5X on bigger fish, but sometimes you can't. Sometimes you can't get the drag reduction, you can't get the delicate presentation with 5X. And so, there's a couple things that you should investigate.
First of all, are your knots strong enough? You say you're tying a clinch knot. I would take 6 turns on 6X with a clinch knot. And always test your knots. Always test 'em. You know, pull that fly pretty hard to the point where you think it should break, and see if your knot is strong enough. Practice your knots, make sure that you're wetting your knots. And if you're not happy with the clinch knot, then try something else. A lot of people with small flies like the double Davy knot. And you can look that knot up online. A lot of people prefer that for small flies.
The other thing is the brand of tippet material. You know, not all tippet is created equal. They're not all the same stuff. And you may want to investigate using a different brand. That could be part of the problem. And then, yeah, there is a technique issue. You have to know when you can put pressure on a fish, when the fish is moving toward you, or the fish is not lunging away from you, you can put a fair amount of pressure on a fish with 6X. When it lunges away from you, yeah, you're gonna have to loosen up and let the fish run against your drag.
And if you do have a lot of logs, or moss, or other obstructions, then, yeah, 6X can be problematical because a fish can quickly wrap the tippet around a log or something and it's gonna break off. But if you have plenty of wide open water, and you don't have a lot of obstructions, you should be able to land the fish on 6X. I don't think it's your rod. A medium action 5-weight, or a 3-weight, you shouldn't be breaking a lot of fish off on 6X. So practice your technique, practice using side pressure, check your knots. And if all else fails, try a different brand of tippet material and see if it works out better for you.
Here's an email from Sam from Washington. "I really enjoy the podcast. I recently caught my first fish on a fly thanks to the help of this podcast, and I was lucky enough that my girlfriend was with me to assist with the net. That being said, I was curious if you have any relatively cheap ideas to keep a net on myself that I can easily grab and put back. I don't have a designated fly backpack or vest to attach a net to. PS: If you have any fishing-related book suggestions, I would love to hear them."
So, Sam, yeah, there's a number of ways you can carry a net. One is to just, as I said previously, use a longer-handled net and just stick it in the back of your wading belt. Or if you're wading wet, just stick it between belt loops on your belt. The other thing is not totally inexpensive, but you can get a magnetic net retriever that you can attach to one of your belt loops, or, you know, a D-ring, or a zipper, or whatever, and that'll keep the net out of the way, yet you can grab it easily and it has a lanyard on it. So there are a number of ways you can carry a net without having a backpack or a vest.
And regarding fishing-related book suggestions, you know, there are thousands of fly fishing books out there. And for an open-ended question like that, I don't know what you're looking for. Are you looking for books on technique? Are you looking for essays about fly fishing? Are you looking about a book for places to go? So, I really can't answer that question without a more specific request, because there's just so many of 'em out there.
Here's an email from Matt from the Denver area. "I've spent my younger years fishing in the Midwest on still water with spin rods. Over the course of my 20s, I had various exposures to fly fishing, typically only once or twice a year, though with friends or blindly figuring it out myself. This past year, I finally decided to put the mystery to bed and commit to the sport that I've always had a fun time doing but never knew my way around at all.
All that's to say I find your podcast earlier this spring of '22, and have been listening every week since. It's been a great resource and a way to fill the weeks with some knowledge and promoting inclusiveness to give everyone confidence to learn more. Thank you so much for all the efforts and materials you put out there for us newbies.
Few questions for you. As I've said, I'm fairly new to the sport and getting out more consistently. This fall I've gone fishing in one of the more popular creeks coming from the Rockies, and through the foothills to Golden. A few times I've gone out, the water was quite fast. Now, the creek is only about 15 to 20 feet across. But as I walked up and down, most of the water had white caps.
And even with the boulder breaks in certain areas, the flow was seemingly quick. As a beginner, mostly doing dry droppers, I really like sight-fishing and/or slower flows so I can keep my eye on my dry flow or big hopper. When I'm trying to fish these faster streams, my dry fly, no matter how big, gets lost from my eyesight instantly, and the line is taken quickly.
My other strategy has been casting across to the other bank where slower water hugs the bank. My problem is my fly line always gets caught in the middle current and really grabs my fly in the middle. Do you have any tips or resources in trying to fish faster waters? Am I just looking in the wrong spot and need to find slower bends or pools? Sometimes my issue with fishing is getting to my perceived spot and jumping right in without analyzing or walking up and downstream. Any tips or directions are helpful.
My second question is a little bizarre and I don't mean to creep you out, but bear with me. Back in late October 2020, my wife and I were staying in the Smoky Mountain, Tennessee, Gatlinburg area. We had a pleasure of doing a guided day tour of fly fishing through the National Park streams. It was such a beautiful day and fun day of fishing which really got us hooked. I just remembered, on part of our day, we were walking by a stream and our guide pointed to a guy in the river. He lost his mind like he saw a celebrity.
He mentioned the gentleman in the water was a famous angler which was all over YouTube and various books, and very excited. My wife and I, being very casual in the sport, had no idea whom the name of the famous fisher was, so we ultimately shrugged it off albeit a fun moment. I still do not know that many famous anglers, but curious if you ever fished those streams as I try and connect the dots on who we stumbled across that day. I'd like to think I caught a glance of the big Tom R as I listen to this podcast. Fun memory regardless."
Well, Matt, it wasn't me. I have fished that area, but not in 2020. So I haven't fished there probably in five or six years. So it wasn't me. I don't know who it was, but interesting moment. Regarding your fast water fishing, the fish aren't gonna be feeding in that really boiling white water. So you need to avoid that. Now, that being said, you'll find little pockets. And what you want to look for are the smoother pockets where there's, kind of, like a smooth lens in the water, where there's no white water, and the water flows a little bit slower. And that's where the fish are gonna be.
Now, usually in those areas with a lot of fast water, unless there are some good pockets, some good, deeper, slower pockets in there, there may not be many fish in there. So you gotta look for those little spots. Sometimes those are spots that are overlooked by other anglers, so they're good places. But I would advise you, as you kind of inferred, that you should probably be doing a little bit of walking around and looking for the places where the river plateau is a little bit, where the water slows a little bit. It's gonna be easier for the trout to live there and feed there. And you're probably gonna find more fish.
Regarding casting across stream to those little pockets along the bank, you say the river isn't very wide, or the creek isn't very wide. The best way to fish those spots is to cross the stream and fish directly upstream to those spots. That way, you won't be throwing your cast over faster water, and it'd be a lot easier to get a good drift, and it'll probably be easier to see your fly.
Now, that being said, if for some reason you can't cross that stream, and you need to fish those pockets on a far bank from the near bank, the best way to handle that is to either throw a lot of slack into your cast. You're still gonna get a short drift, but throw a lot of slack in your cast, or use what is called a reach cast, and make a big upstream reach to give that line a little bit of extra insurance before it starts to drag. And if you don't know how to do a reach cast, there's a great section in the Orvis Learning Center with my buddy Pete Kutzer, on how to do the reach cast. So hope that helps.
Here's another email from Matt from Virginia. "Good day to you and the good folks at Orvis. I'm writing to identify with a comment from the most recent episode and pose a question as well. You read an email comment and question from a man who received a very nice Orvis Helios as a gift, and was feeling a little intimidated to use it. I can identify with him 100%. A few years ago, my wife gave me a beautiful 3-weight rod and Hardy reel as a gift. I loved it immediately.
Now, several years later, it is 100% my favorite rod and reel combination. I rarely fished it for the first couple of years. I was afraid I would break it or someone would see me as a little overgeared. I am normally a minimalist when it comes to most things, and this seemed like an extravagance. I'm so glad I got over that. I figure that if I break it, it could be fixed, and the reel is an absolute work of art.
Now, every fish I catch on that rod makes me love it more because it was a gift from the love of my life. It almost doesn't matter if it is an 18-inch brown trout or a tiny pumpkin seed. They're all special, and it makes me think of my wife and daughter and all the things I love. If I have a real crappy day, just casting the rod in the yard makes me happy. My advice, fish it and share those memories with the folks who gifted it for you. They will love it as much as you do.
Now, on to my practical question. I've been fishing almost 15 years and I managed to hit the water about 100 days a year. I know there is always more to learn, and that is a big part of the appeal to me. I'm thinking about fly selection. Basically, we tie flies to imitate food sources. Some flies are attractors, and they have elements that fish find attractive. If that is the basis of most fly tying, why do we change colors so often?
I have a black and blue crayfish pattern that is an absolute killer. Why? If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use at all. But I am yet to catch a Chartreuse Minnow. But a Chartreuse and White Clouser is a killer. The food sources we imitate don't change colors on dark days or light days, but we can't deny the effectiveness. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem throwing a cartoonish deer-hair bug for bass or perdigon for trout.
Hell, a cheddar cheese-colored Mop Fly is one of my most productive trout patterns. I don't feel dirty for fishing them, because I like to catch fish. But why change colors when those creatures we try to imitate do not change colors? We don't fish Chartreuse Adams-Parachutes, although a Purple Haze isn't far off. Thoughts? Overthinking? Thanks for everything. We out here in podcast land appreciate you."
Well, thank you for that great story about your rod, Matt. And, yeah, I think you're overthinking it a bit. You know, fish don't take flies because they're attractive. And I don't care for the term "Attractor pattern." They take flies because they think they're food, period. It's life or death to them. And an attractor fly is just something that we don't know what it imitates, but the fish thinks it's food. The fish may think it's a specific food. The fish may also think it just looks buggy, or it looks like something that could be eaten, and it looks alive.
And, you know, fish are opportunists. And I think that the change in colors that we do has to do with visibility. Sometimes the fish can't see our flies if they're too muted, and under certain light conditions, a brighter pattern just catches the fish's attention, say, "Oh, there's food. I'm gonna eat it." I don't think it's any more than that. But we don't want to overthink this too much because fly fishing and fly tying is fun, and there's a lot of mystery involved. And, you know, we don't wanna solve every problem. We want there to be some mystery in this.
So, why a Purple Haze works, why a Purple Adam's works, I don't know. Maybe the color looks different to a trout. We don't know exactly how fish see colors. And why we change those colors based on light conditions, I think it's just due to visibility and catching the attention of a trout. So, anyway, not a good answer, no firm answer for you there, but just enjoy it. Try different flies and have fun thinking about it.
Here's an email from Frank. "Maybe I missed this in your Sean Carey interview, but there are several reasons why we should fish close to home. One is simply time. The less traveling we do, the more time we have to fish. Another is climate change. The closer we fish to home, the smaller our carbon footprint. And there is something intrinsically satisfying about knowing your local water.
You can become the steward of your domain. Study the local flora and fauna. Watch for invasive species. Talk to your fisheries biologist. It will make you a better fisher person." Well, thank you, Frank. That's very eloquent. And if we missed those points in our discussion, shame on us because those are some of the most important reasons to fish close to home. So, thank you very much.
Brian: Hi, Tom. My name is Brian. I'm from New Hartford, Connecticut. I was just wondering what everyone in the Northeast is doing with the drought and the lack of fly fishing. I've been kind of dry...excuse me. I've been fly fishing on our lake here. No success at all, but just to kind of keep my rhythm going. Just wondering what everybody's doing with the lack of water, you know, especially in the Farmington River and the White River. Thanks a lot. Love the podcast.
Tom: Good. So, Brian, fly fishing isn't just trout fishing. And you live in Connecticut. You have some unbelievably good fly fishing. When there's low water in the streams, you have great smallmouth bass fishing. You have largemouth bass fishing in ponds. You have some of the best saltwater fly fishing for striped bass and bluefish on the Connecticut coast. So there's lots of for carp, pike.
I have some friends who actually went down to Connecticut from Vermont to fly fish in the Housatonic a couple weeks ago. They didn't go for trout, they went looking for pike and carp, and bass. And they found all of those and they had a great time fly fishing. So don't just think that fly fishing is for trout. There's a big, wide world out there and there's lots of fun to be had chasing alternative species.
So, yeah, the rivers got low and warm this summer and trout fishing wasn't a good idea. Not only was it not good for the fish, but it wasn't very productive. But there is a wide world out there that you can enjoy with your fly rod. All right. That's the Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Jim Traver about why catch-and-release doesn't always work.
My guest today is Tim Traver, and Tim is the author of a book called "Lost in the Driftless," which was recommended to me by another podcast listener. I don't think you even know him, Tim. But he read the book and he recommended it, and he actually even sent it to me. And I read it, and really enjoyed it. It's not really about fishing the Driftless. It's more about the way that we regulate trout fishing. Would that be fair way to describe it?
Tim: Yeah. I think that is fair, although I've been accused of being a travel writer, you know, with the books I've written on fishing. So there is an element of really trying to meet people in the Driftless area, some of the fish managers and people who fish, and with probably a greater focus on worm anglers, and local guys. So there's an element of that, but, no, I think you're right, it's looking at...and going back into the history of special regulations, especially catch-and-release rules. That would apply to region-wide, nationwide kinds of regulations.
Tom: Yeah. And that's what we wanna talk about today. We wanna talk about these rules that have been instituted on various streams, things like fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release, artificials-only, and the pros and the cons of these kinds of regulations. And I know you've done a lot of research on this and talked to a lot of people at the grassroots level, which is really the way to find out what people care about, right?
Tim: Yeah. So, I think that is a good way to get the pulse of the fishing world. And it's a diverse world. Well, people have different values. You know, I talked to a guy this morning, and we're gonna go out fishing if we can find some water later in the week. It's very dry. It's incredibly dry up here.
And I'm in Vermont, more north of you, Tom, up here in the Connecticut River watershed. And he was just telling me, "I used to go fishing. I really like to catch brook trout. And there are a couple of beaver ponds near the house, and I could always go down there and find brook trout, and I'd catch a few and bring 'em back home, fry 'em up for breakfast." And so, for him, and, I think, for a lot of kind of more traditional rural Vermonters, actually catching trout and eating them are part of the sport.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: You know, Lee Wulff said so many interesting things. And, of course, you know, Lee Wulff is considered, and I think it's true, really the father of the catch-and-release movement. And for fly anglers, I mean, the very high percentage varies, river to river, but most, like, 90% of us or 85% are returning all the fish they [inaudible 00:42:22] to the river.
But that's not true for a whole 'nother group of people. And that's okay. I guess that's what I want...hey, it's cool and it's good as long as we're not depleting the resource. And the aim of catch-and-release fundamentally is to be able to recycle fish, share the resource with others, protect it, and not overfish places. Now, there are social ramifications to...I can go on and on. So, Tom, totally...
Tom: That's okay. We like to ramble on this podcast. We're here to listen to your thoughts, so...
Tim: Yeah. All right, good. I don't know where I was, but there are ramifications in that when you put a catch-and-release rule on a stream, you are excluding people who have gone out to fish to catch some food. And that's something to be aware of, that I think our fish managers are excellent at kind of trying to create regulations that work for everybody, and protect the resources. I actually really admire the work that our biologists and social scientists are doing. It's better than it was in the past, to put it that way.
Tom: I do, too. It's easy to criticize fish managers and biologists. It's like criticizing the weatherman, you know. Everybody complains about 'em, weather forecasting. Now it's so much better than it ever was. Yeah, they're wrong a few times, but it's so easy to criticize these people. And when you get to know 'em and you work with them, like you and've been with electroshocking crews and talked to biologists. And they're so dedicated, and they really want this resource to improve. And they wanna try to please as many people as they can. It's a tough job.
Tim: Yeah, it is a tough job. And rivers are just finicky, and things change. And one rule will work for a while and then it won't. And I think, at least for a number of the worm angler, people who use live bait that I talk to, and not just in the Driftless, but in the Pere Marquette in Michigan, I spent a bunch of time there, and on Spring Creek in Pennsylvania.
The people who were having to fight essentially to keep water that they could fish...and in Michigan, that meant poorly-organized local anglers fighting against really well-organized groups that wanted more fly-fishing-only water. And for them that was tough to take because it meant being excluded from water they may have been fishing over generations of their family. So it's really hard. And I think they fought really hard to keep that water.
But even those people, what they wanted, I think what I heard a bunch was they just wanted to know that that special regulation had some grounding in biology and science, and that it wasn't simply in response to one group that was better politically connected, or better financed, or whatever, to have their way always anyways.
So they wanted to know, this catch-and-release rule, is it needed, and is it justified based in science? And I thought that was a really fair question to be asking. And the answer is not always clear, and it is complicated. It's like peeling layers of the onion back to try to understand why things are the way they are in rule making.
But, I mean, I could just give you, kind of, my thoughts on when catch-and-release rule is sort of justified scientifically. And that is...I'll just say here. I'll probably get it all screwed up. I'll try to make it as plain as possible. And generally, where it works well, if the aim is to improve the condition of the fish, and maybe the weight and size of the fish. In other words, if you're trying to create a blue ribbon or fishery that can produce trophy fish, then there are a lot of situations more than that where it's just not gonna work. But.
Here it does tend to make sense is where you have very fertile water, you have the fundamentals of the fishery, of good, exemplary, excellent fishery, because a rule can't create an excellent fishery. The environmental factors create that. So you need to have great water quality and high fertility. You need to have a population of wild-like fish that have longevity, that can live a long time. And you probably need, you do need to have a fishery that has the potential of suffering from overfishing.
In other words, heavy fishing pressure, because then, if you can reduce that fishing pressure, and reduce the mortality rates of human predation on those fish, then that bodes well for essentially removing an impediment to growing really big fish, or improving the condition of those fish. Because otherwise you've got fishing that's harvesting the big fish, and harvesting a sizeable piece of the production of that fishery.
There's one other factor, too, that...I'm gonna actually pull out this paper. This is something Bob Behnke said about this very question about regulations. And what he adds to this formula is that you need to have enough fishing pressure such that you are exceeding the natural mortality rate that's without any fishing at all connected to that fishery.
In other words, the study that he's basing this on is the Poudre River in Colorado. This is a study from 1977. But he's saying year-round angling pressure really has to be, to make a difference, greater than, in that river, a 35% natural mortality rate. So those fish in the Poudre, 35% of them are disappearing without any fishing at all. So, do you have enough fishing pressure so that you are creating fishing mortality that's greater than that?
So, he talks about a concept that I heard a lot about, which is compensatory angling pressure, where there's sort of a carrying capacity for rivers and streams that is going to be taken, whether or not there's any angling fishing pressure at all then. So if there's less fishing pressure, less human predation, then natural predation will be greater. And if there's less natural predation, then you have both things going on, then fishing pressure is going to make up the difference. Nature's gonna get its pound of flesh, whether it's through fishing angling mortality or through nature, natural mortality.
Tom: Let me interject something that is often stated by my good friend, Bob Bachman, who is a trout biologist who's studied trout behavior all his life. And we talk quite a bit, but his concept...
Tim: Robert Bachman?
Tom: Yeah. Robert Bachman.
Tim: Oh, he's a very famous, well-known, highly-respected biologist, for sure.
Tom: Yeah. He's kind of my go-to person for when I have a question about population dynamics or trout biology. And his concept is a trout stream, unlike a lake where the fish are milling around...
Tim: Good point.
Tom: ...there's a difference a stream, there's what he calls seats in the restaurant. And...
Tim: Oh, cool.
Tom: ...the seats in the restaurant are a place where a trout can feed actively without expending a lot of energy, and be protected from predation, have cover close by or have cover right there. And he really strongly believes that a trout stream's population is limited by those seats in the restaurant. And, so to kind of elaborate on what you're saying, if you have a pool and you have 10 seats in the restaurant, and there's 20 trout in that stream, 10 of them are gonna be exposed to predation, or they're gonna have to feed in a place where it's not so efficient.
And they actually die of starvation because they're having to [inaudible 00:53:22] too much fast water, herons and otters are getting 'em. So it's limited by seats in the restaurant. And either nature or man is gonna eliminate those fish.
Tim: Gonna take care of them. Yeah. That's so interesting. I mean, he is a giant. He did this Spruce Creek studies of brown trout. That information, or the data that you're talking about, I'm imagining it came from some of that work he did on Spruce Creek. But he had a lot of really good stuff to say about hooking mortality. And that's a whole 'nother, you know, part of the onion. It's so interesting.
Tom: Yeah. Let's explore that a little bit.
Tim: Sure.
Tom: Let's explore hooking mortality, fly versus barbless fly, versus treble hooks, versus bait, and what you've learned about that.
Tim: Yeah. Absolutely. Let me see if I can remember what I've learned. Hooking mortality.
Tom: Well, I do know that you can find any conclusion you want. If you look at all the studies, none of 'em are great, right?
Tim: Yeah. Good point. I mean, one of the studies I love that I cited in the book a couple of times is that Ontario study that was a meta study. It looked at 100, 105 or something hooking mortality studies, and, kind of, mushed them all together and came up with their thoughts on it.
But a couple of things about hooking mortality studies that I found really interesting, the early, early ones were done in hatcheries and in still waters. So people like Bob Hunt, and Bill McFadden, and some of the greats really were cutting their teeth on hooking mortality studies. And they wanted those fish to get deeply hooked, and they wanted to see what levels of mortality would occur in still water with deeply hooked rainbow trout, for instance.
And the rates of mortality were huge. I mean, like, 70%, between 40% and 70%. And that's probably happening today in still waters still. Even though we have circle hooks and we know a lot more about how to quickly set the hook, and to reduce it, it's probably pretty darn high in still waters. A lot of those people want to bring those fish home, so they're harvesting [inaudible 00:56:15].
Tom: And you're talking specifically here about bait angling, right?
Tim: I'm talking about bait, yes. I'm talking about use of bait. But what changed a lot and brought those hooking mortality rates down were studies that were done in moving water, in rivers and streams, where you need to set the hook rapidly, people are using smaller hooks, smaller pieces of worm. Again, this is for bait angling.
And there's some really great contemporary studies that bring...for a lot of people, an unacceptably high hooking mortality, that study...and I'm thinking about, and I think it was in Idaho, somewhere in the book, the reference. But got something like an 11% hooking mortality. Circle hooks could bring that down from the teams, down to that level, I would think, or even less. So it's so interesting, they've studied every angle of hooking mortality and, yeah, as you say, there's still a lot of debate about it.
Well, here's another thing that I did want to make sure I mentioned that. If you talk to fish managers who are managing maybe catch-and-release, like the Spring Creek in State College in Pennsylvania, is, in the book, there's a chapter on that. Bob Carline had a lot to do with the restoration of that incredible river, which is, you know, a spring creek.
And what he told me was a lot of us who are managing rivers with really high fertility, like Spring Creek, with a lot of fish in there, is that they can sustain harvest, some level of harvest. And they can sustain higher levels of hooking mortality. In other words, you could, and they do, I think, on Spring Creek, let the bait anglers and the lure casters, the spin fishermen in, so you're inviting a broader groups of anglers in. Even though it's catch-and-release, I think people who fish with worms and spin fish really appreciate the access to the water.
Now, the system is fertile enough and productive enough, and the fish are in good condition that they can sustain some harvest or sustain no restrictions on what's at the terminal end, and tackle. Which, I thought, was really interesting. And there's some really great studies. There's one about the conflicts over big Wood Creek, and I think that's in Idaho or Wyoming.
Tom: It's in Idaho.
Tim: It is? Okay. Dan Schill and Thoreau did that study. And basically they came up of the conclusions was anyways that allowing anglers in who fished in hopes of catching some food, and who fished with bait, and otherwise was a way to enlarge the conservation, the people who would be involved in conserving that.
Tom: Absolutely. Yeah.
Tim: So, I thought that was an important conclusion, if I need more people.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, if you have local anglers, and a stream is threatened, and they've been excluded from the fishery because they fish worms, you've lost part of your voice. You've lost your support for threats to that stream. And we all know that it's all about the habitat, it's all about water quality and habitat. It's not so much about fishing pressure or what kind of gear you use.
Tim: Yeah. So you really want to avoid resentful anglers, especially if they've dropped out and don't have anything good to say about the fishery or about the managers of that fishery.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, when I was young and arrogant, and I thought fly fishing was superior, I used to look down on spin anglers and bait anglers when I was a teenager.
Tim: Yeah. Me, too. God, yes. I was bad. I mean, I remember, though, I started fly fishing when I was about 18. I went through a year of college, then I dropped out of college. But a friend of mine got me into fly fishing, and it was just such a powerful elements suddenly in my life, this whole new world. And I think I plastered my walls with big Lunker trout from "Fly Fisherman Magazine." But I remember one letter that was written, a letter to the editor. I think it was in "Fly Fisherman" or something.
And it was a Native-American person who was commenting on catch-and-release. And he was saying, "We don't release the fish we catch. We eat them. And that's a way to honor the fish and be in relationship with the fish. And it's important to our tribal identity." And I just thought...I read that and that really struck me because I was all in on catch-and-release, and I still am.
I mean, let's face it, every angler out there has to learn how to release a fish today, and release it well. And it doesn't matter whether they fish with worms or spin fish, or fly. You catch a fish out of season. You need to return it to the stream, whether it's just smallmouth bass or something else. And maybe you catch your limit, and you wanna keep fishing. And that is one of the advantages of fly fishing in a way. You don't need to worry about the rules, because you're gonna release everything anyway.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: Which is kind of freeing in its way. You do have to get a license, and that's important. But, anyway, that one letter to the editor, somehow I just sort of remembered that. And there's good writers out there who...this guy, I don't know if you ever run into William Robichaud?
Tom: No.
Tim: He writes "A Bird in the Bush." I think you can find him online. I think of him as this really elegant writer about sport fishing. And he goes to places like Croatia, and he travels a lot. He's been in Switzerland. He's got family there, I think. And he talks about the Swiss rules around trout fishing, which are really interesting. But he wrote a piece about...he's a guy who does like to catch a few fish and eat them, and fix them, and serve them up to friends, and whatnot. And he writes truly beautifully about how that is important to his set of values, his experience of being on the stream.
And there are other people who would never think about keeping it. I've got friends who fish for striped bass, who would never think about keeping a bass, no matter how large. I mean, they're returning 40-inch fish...
Tom: Yeah. I don't think they taste very good anyway.
Tim: ...and would never keep it. Oh, gosh. Striped bass?
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: God, they're really good.
Tom: Oh, I think they're horrible. I've tried 'em over and over again, and I stopped killing. Yeah.
Tim: Really? Oh, shoot. I mean, I like them. I haven't eaten a striped bass in a long time, only because I haven't caught a keeper. Where I fish for striped bass, they're all schooly fish. It's very inshore. But I used to work for a bass fisherman on Nantucket, and he was a guide out there. His wife would poach...he would keep the fish occasionally and rarely. And she would do a poached bass thing that was, God, unbelievable, really good. But anyway, everyone's taste...I respect your opinion about that.
Tom: I have to get a recipe.
Tim: Yeah. Well, I would say the same thing about bluefish in a way, that a lot of people don't like bluefish and I think it's...
Tom: Oh, I love bluefish.
Tim: I love bluefish, too.
Tom: I'll whack them on the head.
Tim: Yeah. Anyway...
Tom: So let's get back to the catch-and-release trout. In what you found in your research and in your talking to people, where is it misguided? Where are some instances where catch-and-release was instituted where it was a mistake?
Tim: Yeah. Okay. Well, look, I'm gonna say there's a lot of information about that in the book, and I'm not gonna try to regurgitate it all, because it is complicated. But I will say, for the listeners out there who want to learn more and kind of dig into that question specifically, go online and look at the Wild Trout Symposium proceedings that go all the way back to the very first Wild Trout Symposium in '74 or something, or '73.
Tom: Yeah, '73, '74.
Tim: And they occur every three or four years or so.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: So, I'm gonna just say, if you look at that and you look at what was going on in '73, there was this battle cry around the whole idea of catch-and-release. And you can see the dimensions of that in there with the papers and the presentations people are making. There's just a lot of high-powered people. Lee Wulff is in there, Starker Leopold, Aldo Leopold's son, who's really important in this sort of story of protecting wild trout. And he talks about kind of going and the need to focus on the watershed scale, which is so ahead of his time.
So it's really a fascinating read, but I would say with this real push during the '70s, especially in the early '70s, to going all the way into the early '80s, to create new kinds of fisheries around special regulations, in particular in catch-and-release. Now catch-and-release is like, you know, is the thing.
And so, there is pushback. There's some pushback, and some very thoughtful pushback from the folks in Pennsylvania, the Water and Boat Commission people, to Graf, and others who say, "Hey, wait a minute, let's hold off and let's learn more, because catch-and-release is going to exclude a lot of anglers, a lot of people that aren't coming to the table, that aren't speaking up at our listening sessions."
And there, again, I have to credit the local fish managers who knew these people and who knew what was going on, and they were also saying, "Let's not be too hasty here." But the voices were really powerful and strong. And, so a lot of states and all the regions went in and created more fisheries. There was certainly a demand for it, a huge demand for a growing population of fly anglers and traveling fishermen.
And there were economic reasons to push catch-and-release. Growth of catch-and-release was related to kind of a downtime for hatcheries where people are looking askance at fish hatcheries that were throwing all of these fish into natural systems. What was the impact there on native fish? And what's the cost of supporting these hatcheries? And they worked it all out to dollars per fish, and all this. So that was part of the rationale, along with creating economic opportunities throughout the West, and South, and East.
So, anyway, it was all in. But then states began to study the impacts. So, what was working? A lot of that came out in papers that began to come out in the mid '80s, so in '83. I forget which...I think that was Wild Trout 3, was the kind of...I don't know if you would call it the measure of how successful these kinds of rules were. And that's what became clear that they weren't successful. They were tried, and then the fish didn't respond to the various [inaudible 01:10:58]. The Batten Kill actually gets reported out, that the Batten Kill in '83...well, the catch-and-release rule went in on the Batten Kill in '71 or '72, right?
Tom: That was just in New York State, not in Vermont.
Tim: Not in Vermont?
Tom: No. What happened in New York State wasn't catch-and-release. I think it was, like, 3 fish over 12 or something like that. But the Batten Kill in Vermont is an interesting sidebar here, because I've fished it for 50 years. When I first started fishing it, it was just full of fish. Just full of fish. And you could go out and catch 20 fish during a Hendrickson hatch, easy. But most of 'em were small. A 14-incher would be a really big one. And it was under 12 fish, any size, regulation. You could kill 12 fish any size you wanted, and there were brook trout and brown trout in there.
Tim: In Vermont?
Tom: Yeah. All wild brook trout and brown trout. And it went on that way through the '90s, I think. And all of a sudden, the population started to crash. But when it was 12 fish, any size, the population was fine for the longest time, but then the population, particularly brown trout crashed. Nobody knew why. The state said, "Hey, look, we don't know why this population has crashed. We're gonna study it. But in the meantime, we're gonna institute catch-and-release on the Batten Kill. Now, we know..." They admitted. They said, "This isn't the panacea. It wasn't fishing pressure that caused the crash. But we don't know why, and it's the only thing we can do to try to help re-establish this population."
So they did the study and they found that it was mostly lack of overhead cover, shallowing of pools because of gravel deposits coming in from channelization, and a lot of merganser predation, because the fish couldn't find a place to hide. So they put catch-and-release on it. And the population has come back in the areas where they put the overhead cover in. It's come back, so there's more smaller fish. I mean, at one point, you couldn't find a 9-inch brown trout in the Batten Kill. You could find a 20-inch brown trout, an old fish, but you couldn't find...and so, what's happened is the Batten Kill has become a trophy fishery. You can catch it.
You know, I got 2 22-inch wild browns in the Batten Kill this year. That never would have happened in the past. But I haven't caught a lot of small fish still. So catch-and-release has protected those bigger fish, and in Vermont, made it catch-and-release, but you could fish worms. You could bait-fish, because they knew that they needed support from landowners to do these studies and to institute these structure projects where they put large woody debris in the river. And they knew if they made it fly-fishing-only or artificials-only, the locals wouldn't have supported it, and you wouldn't have been able to get any landowner permission to come on their land to do the work. So, anyway [inaudible 01:14:49] was smart, anyway.
Tim: Yeah. I mean, the Batten Kill, yeah, is actually an example of a successful catch-and-release rule, and without the restrictions on bait and lures. So I think it is somewhat self-selecting. I would imagine anglers who are more interested in catching and keeping a few fish are not spending a lot of time on the Batten Kill.
Tom: It still did exclude some people, certainly. But there's a lot of spin anglers that use single-hooks lures, and they catch a lot of big fish and they release 'em all.
Tim: I bet. Yeah. And I suppose if you really wanna keep this, you can go down to New York and fish parts of the Batten Kill that allow that.
Tom: Or the tributaries to the Batten Kill. Yeah.
Tim: No. I think Batten Kill is a really interesting example, because once it was determined that things needed help, they didn't really know what to do, and they just studied everything. You just did all these studies early part of the century, and got all this really great information, and came out with a plan, and got good buy-in from everyone, it seems like, and went after improving habitat. And it seems to have worked. I mean, yeah, there are big fish in the Batten Kill. I haven't caught one, but someday, you know.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: But, anyway, it was a mixed bag. In the '80s, states were looking at, how successful are these? Are we seeing angler dropout? Are we seeing improved fisheries? And, so there was some real soul-searching that went on. The South, and some other regions, began to remove some of what had been placed under catch-and-release. The concern was that they were creating exclusive fisheries and they weren't improving under catch-and-release.
And there were really mixed results, I think, in the Northeast. But the West had a lot of success. A lot of those fisheries were seeing good growth and an increase in anglers, although some saw a decrease. And all those states, in the '80s, came out with sort of plans and statements, including a really forward-thinking one in Pennsylvania that began to recognize the importance of social science in managing fisheries, and began to amp up the information they could get by looking at the social science, social preferences. And began to shape long-term plans around both the biology and the social science.
Wisconsin did a really good angler dropout study in, I think, 2011. Everyone started doing better social science. But there's still somewhat of a rarity. You know, you don't see a lot of social scientists running around in the field.
Tom: No.
Tim: Maybe we need more of that.
Tom: Yeah. In Wisconsin, when they went to kind of almost blanket catch-and-release on a lot of those small streams in the Driftless, they did see a big angler dropout, didn't they?
Tim: Yeah, they did. And this guy, Roger Kerr, who got me into this can of worms to begin with, a worm fisherman, a retired fisheries biologist, that was his big thing. He claimed that the rules that Robert Hunt...Hunt's another scientist, one of the great people of science in the 20th century. He's the guy who...he was working for Wisconsin, and I think he headed up the research division, fisheries research, the trout program.
Anyway, he created...he's sort of considered to be the father of the new rulebook that came out, I think, in the early '80s or something. Anyway, Roger Kerr likes to say that the rules went from 2 pages to 32 pages. And his claim, and it's still his claim to this day, is that the big dropout that was witnessed, the angler dropout, sales of fishing licenses that happened in the late '80s was due to these regulations.
I don't really think so, personally, after looking at all the evidence. I think the regs were a factor, and the state made some mistakes, and actually, I think, corrected them, made the rulebook simpler, reduced a lot of the special regulations. It was a complicated system that he created, but it was a really good one in some ways in that it gave managers a huge amount of flexibility in how they managed their creeks.
And the other thing that was going on in the spring creeks in Wisconsin was this big effort to restore water quality, and to restore trout fishing creeks. And there's so many spring creeks in the Driftless that have benefited over the years from active work through lots of volunteer effort from TU and other groups. So, yeah, it's a cool story in the Driftless.
Tom: Yeah. And it was all about the riparian habitat, right? It was all about the...
Tim: All about the riparian habitat.
Tom: ...agricultural practices, and...
Tim: Right. And that all started really back in the late '20s with the projects at Coon Creek, you know, this major effort to work within this watershed of Coon Creek, with the farmers getting on board to change their agricultural practices.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: That was primary, that work that they did back then. And Aldo Leopold was part of that effort, too. His ideas were in there. So, I don't know. What more do we need to say about catch-and-release?
Tom: Well, I think we wanna talk about fly-fishing-only regulations, that you and I have strong opinions on.
Tim: Yeah. Some of the great conflicts in the trout regulations world, and the culture wars, let's put it that way, were around the attempts to expand fly-fishing-only. Michigan was probably the battleground for that, with efforts up there. I think the North Branch of the Au Sable was maybe the first fly-fishing-only stretch. Is that right? I try to remember my history.
Tom: I think, in the United States, it was Fisherman's Paradise in Pennsylvania, was the first.
Tim: Oh, right. On Spring Creek. Yeah.
Tom: Yeah. I think so.
Tim: Okay. So then, following that on its heels would have been the North Branch of the Au Sable, and that was in the [inaudible 01:22:56] I think, through. And what happened there was this really wealthy timber baron, this guy, Mershon, bought up a lot of land the banks of the North Branch, and wanted to build a lodge there.
And, so then he went to the legislature, and with lot of clout. Got the legislature to approve a fly-fishing-only on the North Branch, which effectively removed all of the local...the so-called Yahoo anglers, you know. And that's what he wanted. He wanted that. I mean, that may be the worst example of, I think, a rule gone bad. But there have been battles on the Pere Marquette, and certainly in other parts of the fishing world around getting more fly-fishing-only water.
I think I'm not completely against it because I really like Seyon Ranch in Vermont, which is this little farm. It's like a trout club, but it's owned by the state. It's public, and you can go up there and rent a squeaky rowboat, and go out and catch-and-release mainly small, wild brook trout. But there are some bigger fish in there. And the property was given to the state by the Noyes Family, which is Seyon spelled backwards. And it's very, I think,'s why I also think Fisherman's Paradise is kind of interesting as a historical artifact.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: That's what it is, I think. But I like going up to Seyon Ranch and just kind of tooling around with friends occasionally. And it's a pretty spot. It's a really pretty spot. But, I don't know. What do you think about fly-fishing-only? Maybe we're not in agreement at all.
Tom: I don't think we're...
Tim: Let's fight about it.
Tom: I am dead-set against fly-fishing-only, absolutely dead-set. I mean, there is no biological reason for fly-fishing-only. And we have enough divisiveness in this world. We don't need to piss people off with these elitist fly fishermen. And we need to all work together to protect the habitat. And it's just dumb. I'm sorry, it's just dumb.
Tim: You know, I agree with you 100%.
Tom: And I'm sure I will get letters to the podcast, but I think it's stupid.
Tim: Yeah. I know.
Tom: So, there.
Tim: And I agree with you. I agree with you on that. And, you ever fish Slough Creek?
Tom: Yes, I have. Yeah.
Tim: Isn't that an amazing fishery?
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: And I've always wondered, I did go in there once, and I've been in there a couple of times. I guess the first time I went in there...I'll just tell this little anecdote here, that relates, believe me, somehow.
Tom: Okay.
Tim: So, they have a sign-in book. You have to reserve a spot in there. And I wanted to camp in there, so I had to go through all the grizzly bear training, film, and all that. And this is back in the...I guess it was in the '70s or maybe early '80s. So, anyway, so there's a sign-in book at the trailhead. This is a walk-in-type fishery, so Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park. So, I signed in, and just above me in the sign-in book was this guy, John, who had signed out. And he said, you know, "Had my way with 25 cutthroat trout." And these are really beautiful fish. They're all, like, 18, 20 inches, something. And I just thought, "Oh, God. That's kind of annoying."
Anyway, I went in there. And the next morning, I went fishing. And I was walking across the meadow, and it's really a big meadow stream. It's really pretty. Walking across there with my little fly rod and whatnot. And here comes this guy storming across the meadow, and he's wet. He's, like, soaking wet up to belt, or something. And he stops when he gets to me and he says, "Yeah. There's a grizz over there," and it was on the other side of the stream. And, so I said, "Wow." And he said, "Yeah." So I just took off. And to me, that sounded like the wrong thing to do. But, anyway [inaudible 01:27:51] was gone.
Anyway, I walked down, and no sign of the bear, and had a really great day of fishing. But when I went out, the next day I noticed that that guy that I met had been John, the guy that signed out the day before. And I just thought, "How ironic is that? You know, this grizzly bear almost had its way with this guy, John."
Anyway, what got me just thinking about how arrogant we can be as a group, and yet we're all good, enthusiastic, passionate people who fly fish. And I totally understand the love of the sport motivates all kinds of incredible action. And I just wanna see more of that. I wanna see more people...and I think the passion's there regardless of how you fish.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: I've just seen too many...I love talking to people when I'm out on a stream. And the enthusiasm is amazing. And it cuts across all boundaries. You can fish...sometimes I go over to the Black River in the spring, which has the trophy thing. I don't know if you ever fished in the state's early-season trophy waters, like, eight rivers. Like, the Black is one, where they put these 2-year-old rainbow and brown trout in. And...are you there?
Tom: Yeah. I try to avoid stockfish if I can.
Tim: Yeah.
Tom: It's easy in Vermont.
Tim: I know. So, I go there and watch, maybe cast a line or two. I've never had much luck there. But then you can drive up to the Knapp Ponds. There are these two ponds that, I think, CCC built of that era, anyways. They're shallow. The state stocks one of the ponds with brook trout and the other one with rainbow trout. And they put some bigger fish in there, too. And I've never ever actually fished there, but I like to go up there and see who is fishing there. And it's this really interesting, culturally very different group than you might find on the Black River a few miles away. They're all fly anglers for the most part. But up there it's kids and families.
And I've seen vets up there, a guy with one arm fishing with a spin rig, you know, who was a vet. And it's just a whole different scene. But they're having a great time up there. And it's stocked fish, from a hatchery, but it's, kind of, like different strokes for different folks. I think maybe there's an opportunity cost of putting too much energy into hatcheries, and not enough into preparing for climate change. But, yeah, it's an interesting terrain, I think, culturally, socially, and we all need to, as you said, just sort of pull together in the same direction.
Tom: Yeah. And we don't need people thinking fly fishers are snobs and exclusionary. That's not a good way to go. Tim, I'd like to read a passage from your book that I thought was especially elegant. And it comes at the end after you have gone to some Trout Unlimited meetings. I mean, throughout the book, you kinda gave the impression that Trout Unlimited, as an organization, pushes for catch-and-release or fly-fishing-only regulations.
And it really doesn't. It's a habitat organization. They're really all about preserving and enhancing the habitat as opposed to pushing for catch-and-release, at least as a national policy. Local chapters, particularly the ones I think Wisconsin did, do a lot of pushing for catch-and-release. But currently, Trout Unlimited is not part of their charter.
Tim: Yeah.
Tom: And you realize that at the end. And I just wanna read a paragraph or two from your book that I thought was really cool, if you don't mind.
Tim: No, not at all. Thank you.
Tom: Okay. "We need the truth seekers, the artists, the marginalized, the political activists, immigrant population, the Black Lives Matterers, the boldest and the brave who are able to say, 'This is who I am, and this is my community, and we belong.' Restoring nature restores the meaning and value of individual lives. Boldness and risk taking is what got TU to where it is today. Create a conservation movement that people can dance to, that puts at the center of the immigrant angler with a $10 rod and a family recipe for trout curry. We need to open up to a diverse community. Pay attention to the importance of fishing culture to rural life today.
Too often, the wild trout vision has been framed in terms of the urban angler with money and mobility. Special regulations are framed as an inevitable marketing necessity to this group. Highly mobile urban fly anglers are valuable, but shouldn't be privileged when it comes to rulemaking. Demographics suggest that the future story of trout fishing has rural anglers alive and well. The 21% dropout of trout anglers between 1991 and 2011, a 38% drop after adding in population growth, is skewed to the urban. The relative decline of trout anglers in rural America is less than in urban America.
Small-town anglers belong as solidly in the middle of any future vision for trout fishing in America as urban populations, and the growth potential may be there. According to [inaudible 01:34:13] report, based on the last U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Survey, rural people value all freshwater fishing, including trout fishing, more than urban anglers do. Women and families are an increasing demographic in some types of non-trout freshwater fishing. There is potential in these figures to increase the number and diversity of people who care enough to get involved in stewardship work." I thought that was especially poignant and...
Tim: Yeah. That's nice.
Tom: ...[inaudible 01:34:46] statement.
Tim: Thank you for reading that. If I had, you know, one more minute to kind of...I would have chosen to say something like that. Like, I think the book actually misses out on another kind of people who are urban dwellers, but who do not have access to nature, who don't live near parks, who don't live near streams. They can't get out into the world. And, I mean, I think there's a movement to change that, but I kind of wish...and I think that statement, or that piece of writing you just read is inclusive in that way.
Tom: Yeah.
Tim: But we're so divided as a country right now, anything that smacks a division, I just feel like, oh, I gotta run away from that, because we're all human beings, you know, we're all people. We gotta live together and make this work. And there's so much work to do, good work, you know, good, fun work. You can have fun. I mean, I loved researching this book because I could always have my fly rod in the back seat. And I could always go out and find a creek to fish on. So that's a blessing, and I feel so much gratitude for that.
Tom: Yeah. Well, thank you, Tim.
Tim: Thank you. Yeah.
Tom: We probably posed more questions than we've given people answers, but I think it's something that everyone should think about.
Tim: Yeah. Thank you. And, Tom, thanks for your great books and your contributions to this work. Thanks very much.
Tom: Well, thank you, Tim. And if you're interested in pursuing this further, Tim's book is a fascinating read. It's called "Lost in the Driftless." And it's self-published, right?
Tim: Yeah.
Tom: Self-published. So help Tim out, because he had to foot the bill to print these books. And it's a worthwhile book to read.
Tim: Go to your local bookstore and order. They'll get it for you. Or, of course, you can go Amazon, too. That's [inaudible 01:37:00]. But thank you. Thanks for that plug. I appreciate that.
Tom: Okay, Tim. Thanks very much. And I can't believe you and I have never crossed paths. We've both...
Tim: I know. It's insane.
Tom: ...lived in Vermont the same amount of time. We're both passionate fly fishers. And, of course, unlike you, I don't talk to people on the river, so we may have passed each other before.
Tim: Well, we're also provincial in Vermont, and Vermont is divided up by mountain ranges and whatnot.
Tom: Yeah. You're on the other side of the state. Yeah.
Tim: Anyway, good luck in all your work, and I'm sure we'll run into each other, because I wanna get down on the Batten Kill and catch a large brown trout.
Tom: Oh, boy. Well...
Tim: Good luck.
Tom: You got about a one-week window, and I'll call you when it happens.
Tim: Okay. Good. Sounds good.
Tom: Thanks, Tim.
Tim: Thanks, Tom.
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