It’s time to end discrimination against bait fishing

Several years ago, I surveyed anglers on Centre County’s Spring Creek as part of a joint Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission/Trout Unlimited project. Questions included – how many fish have you caught, how long have you been fishing, how far did you drive to get here, and are you happy with the current catch-and-release all-tackle management on Spring Creek?

On one pleasant spring morning, I asked permission and then waded out to interview a mid-stream fly-fisherman. He had traveled some distance to fish Spring Creek and was having a good day. However, when I asked him if he was happy with all-tackle regulations he replied, “No, I think that they should make the entire stream fly-fishing only.”

I jotted down his comments and was wading towards the bank when he called for me to come back.

“I’ll bet that you wrote ‘selfish bastard’ on my survey,” the fly-fisherman said. I assured him that I did not write any such thing and that I was only gathering opinions.

“Well, I want to change my answer, because it was a selfish answer,” he said. “The regulations allowing anyone to fish are good, and they should stay the way that they are.”

The fly-fisherman seemed to recognize his selfishness, but others unfortunately do not. On another more-recent occasion, I was presenting at a Trout Unlimited meeting in Blair County and a chapter officer pronounced, “Fly-fishermen deserve to have their own fishing areas.”

Stop and think about the gall, arrogance and sense of entitlement proclaimed in that statement: “Fly-fishermen deserve to have their own fishing areas.”

Really? Do fly-anglers pay more for their license and trout stamp than bait anglers? Does buying a fly-rod make you a member of an elite royal family?

I don’t think so. Then why does this or any fly-angler “deserve” his or her own fishing areas? Do lure anglers deserve special fishing areas? Do bait anglers then deserve their own exclusive fishing areas?

In Pennsylvania, 80 to 85 percent of licensed anglers fish for trout with bait all or part of the time. For many – particularly youngsters – it is the only way that they can successfully fish. By far, more license money (ie., Fish & Boat Commission revenue) comes from bait anglers than any other group.

Being a lure angler, I tended to like artificial-lures-only stream sections. One of reasons that I became a lure angler was because scientific surveys at the time showed bait fishing to have a 25 to 50 percent mortality in trout, and lure fishing had much less. However, at least four recent studies conducted in different states demonstrated that bait fishing has only a slightly higher mortaility rate than fly- or lure-fishing. In fact, a study with native brook trout in Maryland found only a 2 percent mortality with bait-hooked trout. This is lower than most fly-fishing mortality studies.

I now recognize that my love of artificials-only regulations was selfish, because there is no biological basis for such regulations.

All-Tackle regulations on Pennsylvania streams such as Spring Creek, Penns Creek, Pine Creek and the Little Juniata River have been very successful – in fact, these stream sections have super trout populations and they are some of the most heavily-fished streams in the state.

In my current state of mind, I find it particularly troublesome when a state-owned section of stream, such as Slate Run, is fly-fishing-only. The stream is owned by the citizens of Pennsylvania – why discriminate against 80 percent of the anglers? Aren’t they citizens? As I said, there is no biological basis for such regulations.

I also find it troubling that all anglers’ license and trout stamp money is used to stock a large proportion of trophy trout in Keystone Select Stocked Trout Waters, but bait anglers cannot fish there using their preferred method of angling. I repeat, there is no biological basis for such regulations.

With this as a background, I was pleasantly surprised when I attended the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Fisheries Committee’s spring meeting in Harrisburg. At that meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to override a staff recommendation for artificials-only, and instead made a newly acquired section of Spruce Creek “all-tackle.”

This comes up for a final vote in July. I am sure that self-serving fly-anglers are lobbying against all tackle.

Maybe, just maybe, the commission will recognize selfishness for what it is and vote to eliminate the bias that has been shown to bait anglers. I hope so.

Disclaimer — I fish with lures 99.9 percent of the time. I don’t care what is on the end of your line as long as you obey the rules – don’t litter, handle your fish carefully if you intend to release them, and help to protect the resource. I don’t care for people who ooze a sense of entitlement — whether it be a fly-angler, the rich classmate at my high school, or the guy who cut me off yesterday with his new BMW.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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