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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book review: Beyond Catch and Release

Lately someone asked me how the fishing was. 
The fishing is bad and getting worse. I blame myself, but really the fishing was ruined shortly after the coming of the railroad. Extinction is a by-product of civilization, marching across the continent from sea to shining sea until until it got to the Olympic Peninsula. By the time I started fishing the old-timers were making fun of us kids not having anything left to fish for.  We didn't know any better so we kept fishing. Fifty years ago we could not have imagined the inexhaustible runs of salmon and steelhead would disappear forever. We would never in our wildest nightmares have imagined a big book of fishing regulation that currently runs to a hundred and forty six pages in the State of Washington.  If history repeats itself, you ain't seen nothing yet. 
“Beyond Catch & Release: Exploring the Future of Fly Fishing,” by Paul Guernsey, Skyhorse Publishing 2011, is a book that explores the future of fishing in a way that makes me glad I am old. 
As a fishing guide I thought the whole point of going fishing was to catch a fish. No.  In “Beyond Catch and Release” we learn that fishing “entails a responsibility to be as good a fisherman or woman as we possibly can. 
Knowledgeable and skillful, embodying a universal set of ethics-shared values, respectful attitudes and right behavior towards the outdoors, fish, wildlife and people who inhabit them.”
At first I wondered what planet these people are fishing on. The author lives in Maine where the fishing was ruined over a hundred years ago by people who had killed off the fish in Europe. Maine is the last sanctuary of wild Atlantic salmon in America. 
Coincidentally, the Peninsula is now the last sanctuary of wild steelhead so maybe we can get a clue to just what the future of fishing holds for us here.  
To look at the future of fly fishing we must look at the past.  Guernsey quotes a Treatise on fishing written by the English Prioress Dame Juliana Berners in the 1400s which boils down to, close all the gates, pray and don't be a pig or you won't have anything left to fish for.
The funny thing is, that's pretty much the same advice Dame Claire, my mother, gave me 500 years later. 
These days there are increasing numbers of people going after fewer fish.  Many of the rules have been changed to the point where you must release the fish you catch. 
Even catch-and-release fishing is offensive to the animal rights people who claim fishing subjects the poor fish to pain and fear for the sport of watching a creature suffer. 
Catch-and-release fishing was banned in Switzerland in 2009. Don't think it can't happen here. If history serves, it is only a matter of time before catch and release with single barb-less hooks is restricted in the New World. 
In the future there may be no catch and release at all. It will be “touch and go” fishing that is, fishing without a hook on your lure.   
Until then, the author of “Beyond Catch and Release” recommends that if you should accidently kill a fish while fishing you should “eat it as sort of a sacrament.”
Making a sacrament out of the fish reminds me of a painting by the Ketchikan artist Ray Troll whose caption read, “Fish Worship: Is it Wrong?” 
Yes. Worshiping things is a uniquely human trait that invariably results in the destruction whatever we worship.

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