Monday, February 22, 2016

Shed Hunting and Oh Yeah, a Response to the Montana Wild Thing

With the first really nice day in a while, meaning warm and the wind wasn't blowing fitty, Jill and I headed up to where I shot my bull last fall for a little shed hunt scouting. Yeah I know, they haven't dropped their sheds yet but if you find the elk now, you might get into the sheds in the next month when they do drop. Plus, it's a great way to get out and get some exercise.  
I was sent this article of the Montana Wild film crew getting busted filming bull trout fishing on US Forrest Service Land illegally. I was glad I was sent this for my own benefit because outside of the fact that these guys were illegally targeting bull trout, I honestly wasn't aware that you can't film on USFS land for commercial profit without a permit. Now, I have never filmed on federal land but it's not a stretch to say I might have in the future and used it to promote my blog or podcast and I guess, if nothing else, it's something I definitely need to clarify before bringing a camera into the back country.
I think if it wasn't for the fact that these guys have been producing films for consumption for a while and should know the laws, if someone were unknowingly  filming illegally on federal land, I think people would be pretty forgiving. However, this incident has absolutely blown up in the guiding community and I can't tell you how many Facebook friends have posted this and commented about it. It's been so many that apparently, the film company has put out an explanation for their wrong-doing--an explanation that some are calling complete BS. Apparently, what wasn't addressed in their explanation was the depiction from FWP on how the film crew handled the bull trout. (Go to the link)
I think it's a good thing that people, especially guides and outfitters, are so enraged by this. I think it shows some support for FWP, (even though a lot of guys don't think the fines were nearly enough,) but it also shows a concern for the resource and upholding what is ethical when promoting one's business. I'm not sure if folks understand the history of the bull trout issue but at one time, bulls were seen as nuisance fish because they ate other trout. In fact, I talked to clients that at one time, were told to throw them up on the bank if they caught one in order to preserve the artificial fishery that was created by the introduction of rainbows and browns. (There was also concern for the native cutties as well but for the most part, folks just wanted to catch trout and they felt the native bull trout were destroying "their" fisheries.) 
There's probably some debate on when this started but at some point, folks recognized the value in naturally replenishing trout streams and more specifically, wild trout. I heard that movement started in Pennsylvania with a study on Spruce Creek from a client I had last year but upon doing some more research, the Montana movement was actually triggered by the work Dick Vincent was doing on the Madison in the 60's and 70's. The study on Spruce Creek was completed in 1984. The result of the Vincent work was to initially stop stocking streams and rivers in Montana in 1974 and in a short time, that practice actually helped to double the trout populations across the state. (
As much as the non-native species were flourishing, some of the native species were being outcompeted and quite honestly, destroyed by anglers until 1999 when bull trout were placed on the endangered species list by the feds. It's kind of a paradox with the bull trout because sportsmen who were concerned with wild fisheries and wanted to protect those wild reproducing, non-native trout; were actually doing harm to the native fish. But we all live and learn, right? So with the listing, sportsmen started realizing that protecting the bulls was just as important and in 2015, the bull trout recovery plan was introduced and for the most part, has been widely accepted by outdoor enthusiasts, fly fishers, guides, and outfitters. ( I guess I would argue that even though we may have hurt the bull trout populations initially by some of our practices to produce more non-native trout species, at least it got the ball rolling into a thought processes that would recognize the need to preserve bull trout in the end.  
But let's not let it end there and let's definitely not be hypocrites.
We all know bull trout are being aggressively protected and in most areas, you can't even target bulls and if you catch one, you are suppose to release it immediately. That means no goggling at it, no measuring it, and absolutely no grip and grins. Where people are outraged by what Montana Wild did, (and believe me, I'm not defending them,) is how they were handling the fish for up to twelve minutes at a time according to FWP, in order to get the perfect shot. So where's the line? Is it because they were handling the fish, which is illegal or because of the length of time? Or, is it because they were doing it for self-promotion?
Listen, do you know how many times I've been told by guides and outfitters how to catch a bull trout? It's common practice by many guides when fishing the tribs to the Blackfoot and other known bull trout streams to bring a streamer rod along while fishing for cutthroat because when a cutty is hooked in a hole that holds a bull, that bull trout will get agitated and hammer the hooked cutty. When it does, "Throw that streamer in there..." And if the client catches that bull, do you think they're not going to get a pic of it? In fact, I've actually seen a number guides with a picture of them holding a bull trout on their business cards!
So, for all you guides and outfitters out there that have shown so much outrage for what Montana Wild was doing, (and you should,) look at your own practices and maybe look at where you draw that line of what is right and wrong and maybe, just maybe instead of getting self-righteous, (and now probably very defensive for some,) let's all vow to uphold the standards of how to preserve this fragile resource.
And, as it pertains to filming for self-promotion, I'm not going to pretend to be above it all because believe me, I'm filming and I want people to check it out because I want people to get excited and  come fish with me. But I definitely am going to research the laws more and be open to feedback to try to do it the right thing and develop an environmentally friendly, and quite frankly; more socially accepted line. (Unfortunately, I think that socially accepted line sometimes is more important than what is really more or less harmful to the resource, which confuses the issue and often draws our attention one direction and we don't even look at many other, even more detrimental practices.) 
We have cameras at the ready and we release fish as quickly as possible. Sometimes we get really cool shots but most often we don't because we are incredibly hasty in the process. We're ok with screwing up more shots than we get because we know there will be other opportunities and not getting that perfect shot isn't the end of the world and definitely isn't worth stressing the fish more than we already have. We are all out here trying to make a living and I hope, trying to do it the right way.
Keep 'em where they live...  

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