Thursday, July 16, 2015

Crossing The Line

While landing a nice rainbow yesterday, I slid over to the bank and saw this guy laying in the rocks. What is it? I'll tell you in a minute but first, I want to discuss ethics.
A few of us were sitting at Izaak's in Craig, MT having a beer and discussing the fishing. A couple names came up as people you didn't want to fish around because they just always seem to be better than everyone else. Geoff Ferguson and Greg Falls were two of the guys mentioned and somehow, they just seem to always catch fish--to the point where you'd think they would be cheating. The reality is, is they are just better at getting their clients to catch fish. It might be the flies they use or how they set the rig or put their folks in the right position or just how they coach them or probably, all the above. The point is, they are just better and they do it the right way.
Other names came up that I won't mention and different rigs that are used to catch fish and I have to be honest, it got me thinking about where the line is for fly fishing that falls within the spectrum of what is considered ethical and which methods cross that line.
There are a lot of guys coming in from all over Montana to fly fish the Missouri River and with that, you see a lot of things you can learn from and yet others you might cringe at. I've heard of guys buying gulp crayfish packs and soaking their flies in it. (I actually heard that from a fly shop employee in Bozeman. I have no idea how true it is.) I've also heard of and seen rigs that are just other ways to present a fly better to get a trout to eat it, which is really the point. Fly fishing is about taking materials to represent a fish's natural food in a way that they will eat it. I guess for me, as long as you're not using bait or lures that create vibrations to trigger a strike, it falls within that fly fishing spectrum. But there is one method and one rig that came up that night that just doesn't sit right with me.
Apparently, there is a group of guides that come to the Missouri who have been roping fish with a really long rig where they tie on a heavy steel worm at about nine feet from the indicator and then an over-sized pheasant tail 18 inches below that. They fish the middle of the river and the riffles with it and have their clients mend the line down stream in the fast water. By throwing a mend or a belly down stream, it accelerates the speed of the drift and drags those big hooks right through staging fish. As the line goes across the fish, it gets caught in their mouths and the hooks follow. We call it flossing. You're essentially just snagging the fish and along with a few trout, you catch a ton of whitefish because they can't get out of the way.
When I was in Wisconsin fishing the salmon runs, we would floss them with streamers because they weren't eating anything once they moved up the rivers. The skill in it was to pick a streamer that got deep enough to get down to the fish and not too flashy that it would spook them. After catching a few Kings that way, I felt a little dirty and waited until the Coho's came up because they were more aggressive and they did eat.
As guides, we're always trying to get a leg up on the competition. We want to be that guy everyone else looks at and wonders what the hell we're doing different to be so "fishy." But where is the line and what does it matter?
I guess that comes down to the individual and a lot of clients can figure it out will make that choice of who they want to fish with too. I would hope that most people really want to learn about fly fishing and how to get a fish to eat their bug instead of just snagging fish as you go. The problem is that most people probably don't even realize they are doing it and they trust the guides are representing the sport in a respectful way. Flossing is snagging and if people are using scents, that's bait fishing and I hope folks do care about keeping the integrity of the sport.
As for the picture, it's a burbot or ling cod out here. In Minnesota we called them eel pout. They are one of the other indigenous species in the Missouri.
Keep 'em where they live...

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