I hope one finds me at this place often


Monday, May 24, 2010

Fly Fishers' Lament

I've been watching the fly fishing pressure in the northwestern part of the state of Maine increase over the last 10 years. By pressure, I mean simply more fishermen and women (I will use the term "fishermen"). The reason appears to be the unbridled spread of information about where to catch significant numbers of wild trout and salmon.
This unprecedented abundance of information is coming from a variety of sources, including news outlets, electronic networking and bloggers, among others.
The biggest culprit collectively is the Internet. Never in my wildest imagination did I dream that hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of fly fishermen could gain access to the precise GPS coordinates of some of my favorite fishing spots just by clicking a mouse.
I've fly fished for a long time. I grew into this activity learning that one never told the truth about anything to do with catching a fish, especially if you were the only person to have witnessed it. The cardinal rule, however, was that you never told a stranger about your favorite fishing spot. You only told people you trusted, which included your mother and maybe your favorite aunt. Okay, maybe your best friend as well, but only if you'd known him or her for a good 10years or more.
The reason is simple: tell the wrong person, and your favorite spot would no longer be your favorite spot. Today, that is even more true. The numbers of fly fishermen capable of decending upon a tiny fishing hole is limited only by the number of wading boots, rods and elbows that can fit on the riverbank.
Part of the problem, aside from the leaking of this information to the once-unenlightened masses, is that the fish are getting bigger. That should be -- and generally is -- good news.
The problem is that some of the best wild trout and landlocked salmon streams are getting clogged with fishermen, some of whom either don't know, or are ignoring, established fishing etiquette and custom.
Fly fishing is a passion for those who practice it, and it is a sport that requires elbow room, if not solitude. More importantly, it requires that fishermen respect others' places on a stream.
Fish may feed in the same spots year after year, depending on water levels, temperature and other factors. Fishermen who know a stream, know where those feeding areas are.
There are fishers out there who increasingly are not respecting other fishers' spaces and there have been reports of encounters between or among groups of fly fishermen who are vying for the "favorite spots" on the stream. Many of these streams are tightly regulated and require care in catching, handling and releasing wild native trout and salmon back into the water. If these people are ignoring basic fishing norms, perhaps they aren't respecting the regulations that are in place to protect the fish. The result of taking too many wild fish or even mishandling them could be devastating to the fisheries.
Some of this is too late. The word is out on a number of these places. And the half life of information collected on the Net is almost limitless.
Nonetheless, fishermen are well advised to return to the days of, let's call it being coy, when it comes to disclosing fishing locations. Tell the truth if you will about the size of your trout, but don't tell them where you caught it.
By the way, the photo above, taken by my brother-in-law, Joe Ridge, shows a wonderful salmon measuring 20 inches leaping out of a Maine stream. But I won't even hint at where it is.
--Tom Welch

Politics on the schoolgrounds

I said to my wife, Lin, the other day that I could never be a politician. Not that there's anything wrong with them, mind you. I have friends who are politicians. Members of my family have worked with and for politicians. In fact, so have I. I just couldn't be one. And these days, I'm mad at the whole lot of them.

I'm mad because every time I watch the news I hear grown adults whining like school children. It's like watching a dispute play itself out on the playground. Remember how productive those were? Children aligned themselves with their like-minded friends and then squared off, hurling nasty and even hateful accusations at each other. Someone usually went away with badly bruised feelings, or, occasionally, a punch in the nose. Nothing ever got resolved. And, if I remember correctly, teachers weren't exactly delicate mediators.

That's why I'm mad. While the show plays itself out on the TV news, nothing gets resolved, and important ideas get buried beneath a lava flow of rhetoric that goes nowhere. Ideas that could save money or even lives are trivialized by opportunists, who, in the end, try to take credit for the shreds that are left when the fighting is over. And there is no teacher to stomp onto the playground and take the most vociferous ones by the scruffs of their necks and march them to the principal's office. That usually quieted the shouting, but it didn't stop the rest from sticking out their tongues at each other as the bell rang. That's what's happening now in Washington.

So what are we to do? Everyone has an opinion on this topic, as well they should. I think we all should take every opportunity we have, in whatever form of expression we use, to bring our views out in the open. If it's writing a blog or a song. Words are powerful. I found that out almost 40 years ago.

When I was a young reporter for the Portland Newspapers back in the 70s, I really believed that things that I wrote about were important, and that bringing controversial issues to people's attention helped to make a difference. I believe that today. I'm not sure whether I still believe it, or whether I believe it again. At this point in my life, I can't remember a lot of the in-between things that have gotten me from there to here. Suffice it to say, people can't change anything if they don't know about it.

Which brings me to the subject of my first blog: "Kinggate." If you recall, this involved several members of the Maine Republican Party searching an 8th grade King Middleschool classroom after noticing what one member described as "anti-American" material posted on the walls and elsewhere in the room. The party members were using the classroom while attending their party's state convention. Apparently some members thought the messages contained in the artwork and other material posted offended one's sense of political decency.

So, one or more of them apparently searched the room, removed some of the offending material, replaced it with GOP slogans and the like, and left the teacher a note that read: "A Republican was here. What gives you the right to propagandize impressionable kids?" The offending material rifled through or removed included a poster depicting the U.S. Labor Movement, copies of the U.S. Constitution that were donated by the American Civil Liberties Union, and a collage that included an image of George W. Bush throwing the word "peace" into a trash can, among other things.

Later, in an interview, one member criticized the teacher for encouraging the teaching of what he thought were "un American" ideas.

Un-American concepts like freedom of speech and expression? So just remove them and replace them with GOP slogans. Four legs good; two legs bad, maybe? I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican, so I'm not slamming Republicans across the board. But I do think that these so-called Republicans have gotten too caught up in what they might think are the tenets of their party's philosophy. It's really just overzealous and rather childish behavior.

Politics, you say? No, this isn't politics. This goes beyond the juvenile playground antics I've been talking about. This is people calling themselves politicians or Republicans but not understanding what either term means. This incident gives us a glimpse of where the fringes are -- and there are fringes to every political party.

These particular individuals should have been marched down to the principal's office and made to write on yellow lined paper 350 times: "I am glad I live in a free country."

-- Tom Welch