Fly fishing gear

Something must give – us or the river? | Free content

I recently returned from a spectacular multi day fly fishing trip.

It was a raft floating in a beautiful canyon with sheer shale and sandstone walls, cool water, lots of brown and rainbow trout. The difficult access meant we hardly saw anyone else during those days.

The life of the insects was incredible (caddis, outings, mayflies, dragonflies), several hatching each day. I was happy to see no tamarisk swallowing water and very few Russian olives.

Our trip had four rafts, each with a guide and two clients, personal gear, camp gear, food. Each day we traveled 5 to 6 miles, fishing from the boats and stopping often to wade the banks. We all had a great time and caught a lot of great fish. Regardless, I came home with a bit of bad taste in my mouth. Why is that?

As the trip progressed, as we were all fishing for fish with excellent supervision from our guides, I started noticing some dead fish.

Drowned fish, in one piece, sunk slowly on the bottom, their white belly clearly visible from above. I could only assume that they had been killed by anglers, that is, poorly played, poorly landed, poorly handled or poorly released fish.

I started to pay thinking about the temperature of the water. I didn’t have a thermometer with me, but with over 100 degree days, sunshine on the water from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and wet and comfortable wading conditions, it seemed reasonable to assume that the water was at least in the upper 60s.

Warmer water means less dissolved oxygen, which makes life much more difficult for trout. The consensus is that we should stop fishing for browns and rainbows when the water temperature hits 68F.

Were we all as diligent as possible? Were we all using oversized tippets to land fish as quickly as possible?

Make sure all of our flies were trimmed? Always get your hands wet before touching the trout to preserve the slimy barrier on their skin and ward off infections?

Avoid touching them in the first place, if possible?

Trying to unhook the fish in the net without even taking them out of the water?

Don’t hold them for a few minutes for that eye-catching, smiley photo to show off to friends at home?

At first, I thought it was the guides’ responsibility to educate the fishermen. After all, they are uniquely positioned to control what their customers do.

It would be easy to blame guides, but it should be remembered that fly fishing shops and guide services are first and foremost a business.

They are there to make money. They do what they believe meets our expectations.

I am not letting them get away with saying that they are blameless, but we have to recognize that we are the ones causing this problem.

If we get to the river while waiting for the guide to catch us fishing, and if our definition of a successful trip revolves around the number of fish on hand, can we really blame the guides for doing whatever it takes? ? I do not think so.

Over the years, I have learned a lot from the guides I have had the chance to fish with.

I thank the guides and friends who took the time to teach me not only to be a better fisherman, but also to treat fish well.

I think I have become a more conscientious fisherman who now transmits that respect and ethics to others.

It is the clients’ job to decide what the purpose of the trip is.

What cost (in terms of damaging the fish and the river) are we prepared to accept?

Is the trip all about catching the most fish, whatever the conditions? Or is it all about protecting the river and the fish and enjoying the day?

For Trout Unlimited members, resource conservation comes first.

Sometimes it is not enough to just use barbed hooks and keep the fish moist. There are days when you shouldn’t fish because the water is too hot.

Some rivers, such as the Deschutes, no longer allow boat fishing because the fishermen have caught too many fish, which places great stress on fishing. Now guides rower clients to good wading spots.

Guides teach, customers catch and it’s easier for the fish. Can this become the new normal elsewhere, including in our Colorado rivers?

I’m not a guide, but it shouldn’t be difficult for our goals and those of the guides to align.

If we accept lower catch counts in return for feeling good about helping the fish survive, the guides will certainly follow suit.

As their careers depend on having healthy fish in healthy rivers, it is in their vested interests to preserve these fisheries for as long as possible.

Let us convince our guides that the protection of the resource is our priority.

Their advice will come from the fact that we are having a good day in a great place and will not be tied to the number of fish caught on inappropriate days. If we can responsibly catch fish, then that’s fine. But it comes second.

For more information on the Collegiate Peaks chapter, including our events and projects, visit our website:

Tom Palka is the communications manager for the Collegiate Peaks chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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