September 07, 2010

Blood as Sport

by Agust Gudmundsson

Fishing is a blood sport, and our actions as anglers are nothing short of primeval and basic and quite frankly as brutal as anything else in nature.  As such the act of fishing is a basic survival skill, and the killing of our prey is intrinsic to the very act of fishing. The practicing of the skills needed for survival are as basic as boys throwing rocks at trees and men shooting guns at targets. As such catch and release fishing is an enjoyable and relatively low impact activity. As anglers we must all face the fact that our actions have life and death consequences.

Sometimes we face the truth early, sometimes late but we must all come to grips with it eventually. My own experience came at the ripe old age of 9, when I carried home a largemouth bass alive on a stringer the mile or so from the lake to the house. My dad admired the fish and instructed me that it was improper to allow the fish to suffocate like that. He showed me how to kill the fish quickly and cleanly, and then showed me how to remove the entrails and prepare the meat. Over dinner that night he made it quite clear that the responsibility for a clean kill and proper handling of the prey belonged to me the angler and not my mother. He also suggested that my providing food for the table was appreciated, and he encouraged me to keep it up. I fished quite a bit over the ensuing years and while the purpose was food, pure and simple. I enjoyed it, and providing food for the table was appreciated especially when my dad was on strike or money was short. I learned to be an effective and efficient predator, by spending countless hours understanding the prey, their habitat and life cycles and everything about them and by fishing often. Soon I began to catch more fish than we “needed” so I released lots of fish, because killing more than was needed was just wrong.

Now as an adult I seldom keep any fish, but I enjoy the sport of fishing because of the basic and primal joy of being part of the food chain provides. After all these years I still exult in nature and all her wonder. I travel to Montana to witness “The Salmon Fly Hatch” or the Beaverkill when the Green Drakes Hatch and the local park when the Dorathea spinners descend on the Musconetcong. The passion to fish and understand still burns, as does the moral demand to not waste life.  So I release almost all my fish, but I also make a point of killing fish a few times a year to remind me that the “game” is serious and real.

During my life I have born witness to declines in trout populations here in NJ, by and large most of the devastation has been by bulldozers and pollution not over harvest by anglers. In fact I have dedicated a large portion of my adult life to protecting trout and their habitat, because I know how important their presence is in the natural order of things. So when I catch wild stream born native brook trout here in NJ, I treat them with care and respect and release them quickly and carefully.

But when I catch brookies in Rocky Mountain National Park, where they are a threat to the restoration of native greenback cutthroat, I kill them quickly and enjoy the pink flesh cooked in a cast iron skillet, in a little butter or better still bacon fat over a small campfire. It feels good and right and does not upset my moral compass one iota.