John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
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This week’s column is a bit of a rant. So sue me…
Rodney King said it best: “Can’t we all just get along?”
“We,” in this case, refers to people who fish. We enjoy a common pastime, but we spend far too much time criticizing each other.
Spend five minutes examining the posts on just about any Internet fishing forum, and chances are you’ll come across at least one flame war.
A common example: Fellow catches a nice trout on a spinner, photographs his catch and posts a photo online. Within minutes – sometimes within seconds – someone puts up a post that reads, “What?!! You used a treble hook? Don’t you know that treble hooks can cause fish mortality? Have you no decency, man? No care for the resource?!!”
And that’s an example of a tame response. The flames really get intense if someone (horrors!) uses live bait or (cardiac arrest!) keeps a bass or a trout for the dinner table.
For crying out loud, people, it’s only a pastime.
Fishing is supposed to be recreation – a way for us to leave the workaday world behind. When I grab a rod and head for the water, my goals are simple: To spend some time away from cameras and computers and telephones, to get some fresh air and maybe to catch a fish or two.
I fish with the tackle best suited to the task. For trout, that usually means a fly rod – but I’d happily grab a spinning rod and sling PowerBait if I thought that would work better. When I fish for bass, it’s almost always with spinning or bait casting gear. My preferred bait for channel catfish is chicken liver.
Crappies go bonkers for live minnows. By the way, so do trout and bass. Yes, you read right; the man who owns 14 fly rods deliberately uses minnows to catch trout or bass when the spirit moves him to do so.
If this horrifies anyone, let me offer some timeless advice from Sgt. Hulka, the drill sergeant in “Stripes”:
Lighten up, Francis.
Life’s too darned short to get bent out of shape because someone caught a fish using a method that offends your delicate sensibilities.
There was a time when stuffy British fly fishermen lived by a strict code of conduct, and looked steeply down their noses at anyone who didn’t comply with it. Trout were to be caught only on dry flies, and specifically only when those dry flies were cast upstream to visibly rising fish.
The high priest of this cult was a stuffy chap named Frederic Halford. One day, he found out that a young upstart named George Edward MacKenzie Skues had fished England’s River Itchen with a sunken nymph.
Halford confronted Skues at the local angler’s club. “Young man!” Halford exclaimed. “One simply cannot fish the Itchen with the methods you describe!”
“But I’ve done it,” Skues replied.
I’m with Skues. If a fishing method is legal, and if the person who uses the method obeys any regulations that govern the body of water being fished, far be it from us to criticize.
We anglers face ongoing challenges from those who would pollute the waters we fish, or those who seek to close off prime destinations by putting up no-trespassing signs. Only through unity can we ensure our fishing future. Yet here we sit, Balkanizing ourselves over such trivial matters as barbed versus barbless hooks.