Note: If you’ve been following along, the following introduction will be repetitive. Keep scrolling for the latest sustainability and conservation tips.
As humans, it’s easy to get caught up in our own world and neglect to consider how our actions, while seemingly innocent at the time, or small in scale, impact the environment we love and cherish. While anglers are among the many leaders bringing conservation and sustainability issues to the forefront of our attention, we too are often blinded by convenience and, in some cases, our ego. As such, we’re making it a point to remind ourselves and our esteemed FlyCast following of the simple, yet highly impactful, actions we can take as a community to preserve and protect the resources we love and enjoy on a regular basis.
We fully recognize that no one is perfect, ourselves included, and everyone, in their own way, can be doing more to protect the environment. So over the next few months, we’ll be releasing a number of simple tips and explanations on ways we all can do our part as it relates to preservation and conservation through our Fly Fishing Sustainability Blog Series. We’ve chosen this format understanding that the issue at hand is dynamic. As such, we’ll be releasing updates, or amendments, to this blog over the next few months so as to consolidate our thoughts in a comprehensive manner.
As always, if you have any suggestions, feedback or messaging you’d like to convey to our community on ways we can do our part to conserve our fisheries and environment, we’d love to hear from you! Thank you for reading thus far and we hope you enjoy and make use of the following conservation and sustainability tips.
Sustainability and Conservation Practices
Leave the fishery in better shape than you found it!
Practice #1: Don’t be litter bug.
Background: This might sound painfully obvious for most. However, there are some subtle nuances to the concept that are not blatantly clear and we could all use a simple reminder from time to time. For starters, you’ve all heard the phrase “leave no trace” or “pack it in, pack it out”. Straight forward conceptually, yet more complex in practice, this motto literally means anything you bring with you to the river must go home with you or be disposed of properly.
Problem & Impact: At this point, we’d like to believe that the human race is adapted enough to understand that littering is no bueno. However, the impact of littering on our fisheries and environment are not always abundantly clear. As trash, particularly synthetic items like plastics, degrade, chemicals and microparticles are released, they can make their way into the soil and freshwater sources, impacting both human and animal health. Improper disposal of trash can lead to the spread of disease and in some cases create physical obstructions for which trout and other wildlife can get caught up in. I’m betting most of you have heard the horror stories of marine wildlife getting caught up in or digesting plastic litter. The same holds true for trout and other freshwater species! We’ve caught many trout hung up in discarded leader and/or tippet that could have easily suffocated and died, had we not removed the trash. Everything from a plastic six-pack yoke to discarded leader or tippet are fair game when it comes to creating unnatural obstructions and can easily result in death.
- Pack out non-biodegradable goods: Obviously, you don’t want to leave your sandwich bags or beer cans on the side of the river. Do everyone a favor and make a point to consolidate and properly dispose of non-biodegradable goods.
- Pack out biodegradable goods: The same goes for less obvious biodegradable waste such as banana or orange peels and apple cores. These items will naturally decompose. However, in some cases it can take up to several weeks, which if you consider how many anglers are visiting a fishery in a given week, the action of discarding said waste adds up quickly and creates quite the eye sore.
- Carry a PioPod trash container: Additionally, don’t leave behind excess tippet or split shot. This can be a tough one for anglers, ourselves included, as it is far too easy to get caught up in the moment of hooking into that stubborn trout refusing to feed as you throw countless flies their way. To make life easier, we’d highly recommend carrying one of FishPonds PioPod trash containers with you on the water and taking the extra 5 seconds to pack out and recycle your excess tippet or split shot as opposed to leaving it behind.
- Pick up after your fellow angler: Again, easier said than done. However, it is something that can take a number of forms and even the smallest gesture goes a long way!
- Use your net as a makeshift trash can: Start small by keeping an eye out for trash on your way back to the truck and use your net as a makeshift trash can.
- Collect trash as you fish: Take it a step further and collect trash while you’re out fishing. This one adds a bit of complexity and is far less convenient, but if you have extra space in your pack or backpack it is always a good idea to collect trash as you go.
- Organize a river clean up: If you’re feeling ambitious, you can participate in one of the many organized river clean ups or assemble a crew yourself!
Practice #2: Practice Ethical Fishing
Background: The ethics of fly fishing is often tricky to address as there are a vast number of opinions and beliefs that anglers hold close and if you’ve ever met one, you know that we can be stubborn and in some cases stuck in our ways. Fortunately, times are changing. The information age has led to an incredible expansion of the sport. Not only that, transparency and evidence based studies around aquatic based ecosystems have settled many age old debates allowing us to better protect and preserve the fisheries we love. With that being said, we’d encourage you to do your part in minimizing the impact we’re all having on current and future generations of trout and our fisheries.
Problem & Impact: Like anything we do as a species, all of our actions have consequences. As such, it is our responsibility to limit the negative effects our sport has on trout habitat. For starters, it is imperative that we educate ourselves and others around the importance of ethical fly fishing. While tricky to navigate these conversations, especially when unprovoked, we’re obligated to speak up as ambassadors of the sport. Oftentimes, negative consequences are born of ignorance and are easily corrected. Other times, it is more complicated and it takes more convincing. Either way, the education side of things is at the forefront of the problem. If we fail to educate ourselves, our fisheries and the sport itself are at serious risk of becoming obsolete.
- Don’t Target Spawning Trout: This is arguably one of the most dichotomous topics when it comes to ethical fishing. On one hand, it is incredibly tempting to target trout on redds (or spawning grounds) as they are highly visible and so focused on doing the deed that they neglect your presence in the water. As such, channeling the trout hunter mentality to leave these easy targets alone is often difficult. On the other hand, recognizing that disturbing the spawning process can lead to systemic changes in future generations of trout is fairly obvious as well. In other words, if we don’t leave them alone there’s a good chance that there will be fewer trout to catch down the line. Regardless, if you see trout paired up on shiny gravel, often in shallow and slow water, it is in everyone’s best interest to leave them alone.
- Keep em’ Wet: While easy to forget in the heat of the moment, trout need water to survive and if exposed to the air we breathe too long the risk of survival increases. As such, it is crucial that you keep them wet, preferably in your net, as you gear up to take that glory photo and quickly release them back into the water.
- Safe handling: While resilient to nature, trout are fairly delicate creatures especially as it relates to human contact. They have a protective slime coating, which helps prevent fungal and bacterial infections. If the protective coating is exposed to dry skin, synthetic material or air too long, it will deteriorate, leaving them vulnerable to disease. Keep em’ wet is a good place to start. However, you’ll want to make sure to dip your hands in the water before handling trout. Additionally, refrain from handling trout with gloves made of wool, cotton or any similar material. If you must wear gloves, go with nitrile which is common in surgical and gardening gloves as they won’t dry up or remove the trout’s protective coating.
- Don’t Fish Warm (67 deg F +) Water Temps: This is another tricky one as it can be tough to determine at what point the water becomes too warm. However, there is an easy solution. Carry a thermometer with you and check it periodically. Otherwise, use your best judgment and error on the side of caution. When water temps rise above 65 deg F, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water diminishes at an alarming rate, pushing trout into conservation mode. If you hook into a trout when water temps are high, their odds of survival is minimal as it takes a tremendous amount of energy to fight and when released they are unnecessarily taxed.
- Use Barbless Hooks: Another simple action we can take to preserve trout is to use barbless hooks. While it will inevitably lead to a few missed trout, it will make the release process more seamless and allow you to remove the hook more quickly. This is especially important in times of high heat, but a good practice to adopt year round. Barbless hooks also prevent unnecessary harm to the trout, such as tearing of its maxilla.
- Release trout slowly: After fighting the angler for a period of time, trout become increasingly stressed, especially when the water is warm or cold. As such, the trout will be exhausted and require some time to recover. Loosely hold the trout in the river with its head facing upstream. Gently hold the trout until you feel them pull away.
- Use a net: A net may seem unnecessary unless you’re reeling in a hog but in reality, a net will help you keep the trout in the water while removing the hook. The more the trout stays in the water, the more likely they are to recover.
These are only a few of the many things we as anglers can do to preserve our beloved fisheries and environment. To make a suggestion or give us your take, our lines are always open. Stay tuned for more!