There are only two kinds of anglers: those in your party and the assholes. – John Gierach
I had a chance to spend a week fishing in the Yellowstone backcountry this summer – chasing cuttys, exploring new water and getting off the damn grid for a bit.
I’ve been to Yellowstone (literally) hundreds of times – but this was the first time I’d gotten to camp in the backcountry or fish there, and to say it was an interesting experience doesn’t quite do it justice.
I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe that anyone who had the time and inclination to get off the trail in a park like Yellowstone knows what the f*ck they’re doing. Maybe I thought that everyone up Slough Creek would know that you don’t take a shit in a riverbed or that people who carted their kids in would cart their dirty diapers out. Hell, I might have been crazy enough to think that people read the rules and regs about barbless hooks and catch and release, or to think that I could outrun a mosquito, or that I couldn’t eat a pound of beef jerky, but I certainly didn’t expect to find so many people in the woods with no clue how to use the place in a conscientious and sustainable manner. Or safe. How about we start with safe?
The absence of education became grossly apparent as we were walking back to our campsite on our first night in the park when we ran into a park employee who asked us, “do you guys know how to get back to the trailhead” and “how far is it from there to the road?”
This kid had no bear spray, no map and no clue. I felt bad that we sent him on his way with nothing but a headlamp and a GoPro, but seriously, how do you work in the park and find yourself out in the bear-iest part of Yellowstone (the bear-iest part of the country, for that matter) at night, lost, four miles from your car?
Now, to avoid coming off as an elitist, I’ll admit that I set off with new boots and had blisters the size of half dollars after seven miles (we did a little over twenty) and I forgot my wading boots, so I made do with a delightfully European combination of neoprene socks and Chacos. I also attempted to plan food for the trip while impressively hungover from my best friend’s wedding (and after an ill-advised 8am flight the morning after) – so resorted to MREs after the first night’s meal. Amateur moves, no doubt.
And I’m not saying that everyone I saw in the park was an asshole, but I did run across some folks who’s choices – in gear (or lack thereof), method and motivation left me confused. I mean, I get that a lot of people who buy waders might only get to use them once a year, and if that time happens to fall on a ninety degree August day, well, God bless ’em. And I know that a lot of people like to throw spinners and bonk trout on the head for dinner. I mostly shake my head and move on, but I was actually shocked that when we left the Backcountry Office with our camping and fishing permits, there were no instructions from the Ranger other than “hang your bear bags!” Maybe we just looked like we knew what we were doing?
Regardless, the whole idea behind making videos with a camera mounted to my net is that I want to raise awareness around when and how to appropriately handle fish. Trout are an especially fragile species, and to see them so casually and so often mistreated makes me concerned for both the welfare of the current population and the future of an industry dependent on their health and ability to thrive in our rivers. I’m doing my best to learn as much as possible about how to minimize my impact on a resource that I frequently make use of for recreation, and I feel that it’s my responsibility as an angler to help educate others on best practices when it comes to life in and on the river.
And so, I conclude my rant with these reminders: wet your hands, press your barbs, keep ’em wet, let ’em live!