By Bert Cushing / High Country News / August 6, 2007
NOTE: Reprinted with permission
I had to cool off for a couple of days after reading Irle White’s sanctimonious diatribe praising his father’s attitude toward fly-fishing and condemning anybody who fishes for sport or with new and improved equipment (HCN, 6/11/07). How and when did he get the rights to dictate the moral ethics for fly-fishing?
I’m 76 years old, refinished bamboo rods with my father, was brought up wearing rubber hip boots, and treasure those times. But does that mean that I have to trudge along wearing heavy wading gear when I can ease the burden on these old muscles by wearing lightweight waders? Do I have to fumble underwater with cold fingers to take out a hook when a quick twist of the wrist with a pair of forceps can do the job quicker and without even touching the fish with my fingers? Has White looked at tackle prices these days? Spending megabucks has more to do with buying adequate equipment, not top-of-the-line gear and snobbery.
If White had taken the time to read the current literature pertaining to whether or not fish can feel pain (“torturing” he calls it), he’d learn that a trout’s nervous system does not have the necessary neurological components to perceive pain (see Dr. John Nickum’s column in the Summer 2004 issue of Rocky Mountain Streamside, published by Colorado Trout Unlimited). Further, many, many studies have shown that catch-and-release fishing can enhance and preserve fish populations. Sure, some fish die if mishandled, but this is incidental to the number lost due to natural mortality and easily compensated for by the productive capacity of good trout streams.
I admire White’s remembrances of his father; I, too, fondly recall fishing with my Dad
However, his claims to moral “theology” are suspect themselves. Accusing those of us who take advantage of the equipment improvements we can afford of “defiling his father’s sanctuary” is an unwarranted “holier-than-thou” attitude. I’ve fly-fished for over 60 years, spent my professional career studying the ecology of streams, and don’t need a pretentious egoist telling me that my reverence for trout and streams is heretical because I use some new equipment and fish for sport. Damn right, fly-fishing can be both sport and ethical if done right.
Estes Park, Colorado