Making Peace with Bait Fishermen

As an angler who primarily fishes on non-stocked or special regulation streams, Pennsylvania’s closed Trout Season has become insignificant to me. This ignorance occasionally haunts me, as it did on a recent trip to the Lehigh River. I did everything right: woke up early, drove to a wilderness stream, and was ready to fish just as the first light broke over the canyon rim. But as I studied the water, vehicles began to parade down the dirt road at my back, and the lonely river became crowded. I had forgotten that it was Opening Day. The bait brigade had arrived and my high hopes of a secluded day of fishing crashed.

Fly-fishing is the pinnacle of my artistic pursuits. It follows that I consider anyone who does not fish for trout to be a fool, nearly matched in foolishness by those who pursue them with bait or spinning rods. I recognize that this sounds very aloof, but it is hard to be a fly-fisherman without being an elitist. For myself, looking down my nose at bait fishermen is a self-preservation technique designed to compensate for not catching as many fish as them. Getting skunked is not as shameful when it is received in an elegant manner.

Early Morning light on the Lehigh River.

Feeling out of place, I quickly put space between myself and the crowds and waded for the far shore. It would be embarrassing to fish shoulder to shoulder with such simpletons. Besides, my superior skill would now be displayed while I hooked the uneducated stockers hand over fist. My disappointment had turned to bitterness and then into conceited glee, as I was going to have my revenge.

Like most fly-fishermen, I was once a bait/spin fisherman myself. Worms were always the most effective, but my preferred tool was a pink Panther Martin spinner. I had some magical days with that lure, although gold Panther Martins usually performed similarly. By the grace of God and those who taught me to fish, I never used PowerBait. My childhood was full of afternoons spent in Stony Creek Valley and 4-wheeler rides from the cabin down to the Tioga River, always with a medium-action spinning rod in hand. But after High School, I took up fly-fishing and haven’t had the urge to use a spinner since (discounting mayflies).

Yet as I cast my way through a promising piece of the Lehigh River, my indicator stayed dry and my nymphs unmolested. Meanwhile, sideways glances revealed many stringers heavy with nice sized trout. The Fishing Gods were punishing me for my conceit, and I became bitter and disappointed again.

After an hour with nary a bite, I sat down on a rock and stole a disdainful glance at the opposing bank. My morale was low, and I was looking for a scapegoat. But surprisingly, I didn’t see a single bait fishermen.

Instead, I saw fathers, sons, and even a few grandfathers, old friends, locals, each of them a lover of trout fishing. I saw bonding, camaraderie, tradition, and adventure. I saw a reflection of the excitement that I had once felt every year in mid-April. This excitement was felt not only because it was Opening Day, but also for the season that lay ahead. I remembered the good times I had experienced with family, and the friendships I had developed on the stream. I remembered that the strength and strain of a trout felt very similar through 9 feet of graphite or a 6-foot Ugly Stick. I remembered how my mom’s grilled trout recipe tasted, and it made my mouth water a little bit. Who was I to say that fly-fishing and catch-and-release was the superior method?

Eventually, my mind jolted back to the task at hand. The trout were proving more challenging than I expected, but I felt equal to the task. I rooted around for some new flies to tie on, and headed upstream to find solitude and maybe a few trout.

And I made my peace with bait fishermen.

 

-Ethan

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