When this image confronted me through its plastic-wrap encasing in the mail, all I could do was marvel — and possibly feel a bit dismayed. Undoubtedly, this is the ultimate 21st Century hero shot, in which the angler completely disappears in favor of the fish, and, apparently, the fish never leaves the water. Conversely, it takes two to create this image : fly fisher and media wrangler. (Maybe better three, including the fish), not the “me, myself and I” team most of us fish.
Gone are steps most useful in careful catch and release: no dipping net and hands in water; no reviving the fish before release, in favor of total angler immersion.
Gordon M. Wickstrom, the author of “The History of Fishing for Trout with Artificial Flies in Britain and America: A Chronology of Five Hundred Years, 1496 to 2000,” wrote about six periods in fly fishing for the Orvis News blog in 2011. He pegged catch and release to 1960-2008, his Trout Unlimited Period, and reminded us of “Lee Wulff’s famous 1939 statement that ‘game fish are too valuable to be caught only once’ that became the basis for the catch and release movement that took hold over the last two decades of the 20th Century.”
The Drake cover reminded me of an art history prof I took once upon a time who said that American painter Albert Bierstadt’s depiction of human beings in his later-1800s landscapes represented people dwarfed by the habitat in which they traveled and were no longer the center of the story. Epic nature took center stage.
There’s much evidence that catch and release fishing tends to keep native fish populations healthy, especially in high-pressure areas. Who knows People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) might even grudgingly endorse this image. The organization is vehemently opposed to sport fishing.
It’s a sure bet that until GoPro invents an underwater camera on a selfie stick, not many of us will be repeating this beauty shot anytime soon. For most, the trophy mentality is still there and we document our hunt with a photo instead of going to the taxidermist or the dinner table with our catch. We are, after all, still fishers fishing, but there may come a time when we join the ancient Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu by fishing along a stream with just the pole and no line. That may be the next step after Tenkara removed the reel.
Jokes aside, it is impossible to fly fish without becoming acutely aware of the environment in which you ply your passion. After all, this blog began after years of wondering what the hell was happening to the Southern California no-kill areas I’d come to love. When the fish is the star — not the gear, or the outfit, or even the destination, I see hope.
Back to the resonating words of Wickstrom:
“In closing, allow me to play the prophet: I think that, in this New Period of angling, we are part of an important cultural shift toward a deeper humanity and mercy of the good Earth. We may find ourselves living quite differently, living better with less, with a greater delicacy, clarity, balance and honestly. Fishing a fly on a clear, cold stream may well serve as a working model and inspiration for what we want. It shows forth qualities — environmental, psychological, social, economic and political — that we need to incorporate into the future.”
See you on the water, Jim Burns