August 9, 2011

Conflicting Stream Etiquette

When I was fishing on Sunday, I had an "interesting" thing happen to me.  Actually, may have been the first time, so I'm not sure if I handled it "right," but I'll describe the scene nonetheless.

I was fishing Valley Creek as I usually do, working upstream from one of my usual entry points.  About 30 yards into the session, a father & son approached me as they walked downstream.  It was a typical scene, actually the type that kind of makes you feel good.  The dad, clearly an occasional fisherman, but wearing a legit fishing vest with a valid 2011 PA fishing license clearly displayed, side by side with his 8 or 9 year old son.  Both were wearing sneakers and wet wading the creek with spinning rods.

Not them, but you get the point

They approached as I was fishing a small set of riffles, and the dad, being careful and considerate asked if the two could pass behind me while I was fishing.  Keep in mind Valley can get sort of crowded on the weekend, so this common courtesy of sportsmanship was refreshing.  Holding his son's hand they walked slowly behind me and we had the typical "how ya doin" conversation.

I told him I had plucked two out of the pool downstream and I was headed up towards the metal bridge.  Yanking my fly from the water, I showed him my beadhead prince nymph as an example of what I was having success with.  He quickly responded by more or less saying, "we've been fishing for about an hour and are killin' them with worms."  Cue record scratch sound effect.

Now if you know me, you know I'm cool with those that fish worms, bait, lures, whatever...I'm no fly fishing snob and even promote what I call "equal-opportunity angling" here on the blog.  The reason the record stopped is because Valley Creek is catch & release only (note: they didn't have any fish on them) but also live bait of any sort is prohibited, and a quick glance at the end of the pairs' rods clearly showed those worms on the hooks were not of the plastic variety.
Per the regs:
The use of any live bait in the waterways of Valley Creek is prohibited. Use of some types of bait (e.g. worms) is permitted in other park waterways (e.g. Schuylkill River), however chumming or placing preserved or fresh fish eggs, fish roe, food, fish parts, chemicals or other foreign substances in fresh waters for the purposes of feeding or attracting fish in order that they may be taken is prohibited.
in other words, no worms

What did I do?  I just mentioned to the dad, "I don't know if you knew, but you're not allowed to fish worms here," to which he said "oh, okay," as he and his son slowly continued downstream.  A quick glance back a few minutes later saw them fishing the pool I had exited, presumably with the worms still on their hooks.

Now I'm sure the dad just didn't know the rules heading in (restricted waters are few and far between in this part of the state) and upon finding out from me didn't want to cut his fishing trip with his son short.  I mean what dad would?  The fact that he was so polite and mindful of me fishing before passing makes me think he has sporting intentions.

I suppose if I had a spinner or two on me I could have handed them to him, but I didn't, I only had size 18-22 flies which would have rendered their heavy rods useless.  As I waded upstream I just kept wishfully thinking, "next time...when they come back next time they'll bring the right stuff..."

I'd like to think I did the right thing, but you guys tell me...what is one supposed to do in that situation?  I'm no wildlife conservation officer, but Valley being my home away from home, I still wonder...


  1. You did the right thing, Michael. You told them the regs and they acknowledged. If you really want to see the regs enforced, then call the PA fish & game, but I might have a hard time doing something like that myself for a polite person on the water with son. If he didn't know the regs, he will either fish somewhere else next time or fish only with artificial in the same area. Mission accomplished.

    Now if the guy was carrying a stringer full of fish and acting like a jerk, I probably would of called while still on the water.

  2. Were it me, I would have done the same thing. Our only trout water in Texas is fly/lure only I only call the Game Officer if they keep fish or kill fish, but I always inform them. I have also offered up a streamer if they lack anything else and want to stay compliant.

  3. In freshwater, I'd be lying if I said that I "don't mind" having to compete with live bait fishermen right next to me, but if it's legal, I don't say a word (I just get mad and usually fish somewhere else).

    When it's not legal, I try to do exactly what you did. Non-confrontational. Providing good information. Providing an alternative, a la, "You know, you can use live bait down below the bridge."

    This year, several times I have also used the nameless/faceless "Game Warden" as the bad guy, to the tune of, "You know, the game warden out here is a real jackass....I'm just giving you a heads up....would hate if you got a ticket today!"

    The problem is that the guy who is keeping fish during the closure, stealing cobbles out of the river, on state land, to the tune of 10 x 5 gall buckets, or hunting in the safety zone probably already has the attitude of "F the game warden!"

    Can't fix stupid.

  4. I think you did the right thing. I have had to do the same thing from time to time. If they are polite and seem reasonable I inform them and go about my business. If they are an a@#hole (esp. with a kid in tow) I let them move on and then make a discrete call to the DEC. They are always happy to take a few "collections" for the environmental coffers from idiots. I have also run into some guys who might stick a knife in you ovrer such things and I don't need that when I'm trying to relax.

  5. I see it all the time in Wisconsin. Don't kid yourself, they know the rules, they choose not to follow them. I would and have done the same thing.
    You hate to call the warden when he has his son with him. But if he would have been stopped by a warden I'm sure the young boy would have offered up how many Dad caught on worms. Who knows what kind of environment they came from so I think you did the right thing. I feel sorry for the boy in a way but at least his Dad took him fishing.

  6. But then again isn't it also a problem that there is even a rule about which tactics to employee in the historic human endeavor of fishing? It's not like he had a purse seine in a choke-point on the river or using dynamite. Who says the fly/lure fisherman deserves exclusive right to the fishery? Why is the government dictating tactics? Maybe he prefers bait fishing and likes that river that flows behind his own property. Maybe he wanted to keep it simple for the boys. Maybe his shoulder is bad and he can't fly fish. I think its a shame that the government imposes so many rules in a sport in which I like to think I am "getting away from it all".

  7. Mike,
    I think you definitely did the right thing.
    If it weren't for all those crazy rules, the fishing would really suck. The "rules" are based on stream surveys by fisheries biologists and are adjusted to what kind of pressure they determine the stream to be able to handle. Unfortunately, the human population is a little too big at this point for everyone to go down to the creek and engage in "the historic human endeavor of fishing" in just any way they please. The streams, especially small ones like Valley Creek just can't handle it.

  8. I agree. Right thing done, but if you see him again fishing with worms, call the Game Warden.


  9. Anonymous,

    Those regs aren't in place because the "fly/lure fisherman deserves exclusive right to the fishery". The regs are there to protect the fishery. The conversation Mike had with this fellow illustrates this very well. Mike caught a couple of fish on a fly, but this man said that he was "killing them" with worms. Enough said. I think Mike handled this correctly. Put the guy on notice without embarrassing him in front of his son.

  10. I think you did the right thing. I'm like you, I don't care what method you use, as long as you are doing it legally. Fishing is fishing.

  11. Class Act! You did the right thing, you informed them. No need to be nasty or ruin the young anglers outing.

  12. I smell a worm fishermen in the comments section. ;)

    I think you did the right thing, however....if they continued to fish worms after being told they were BREAKING THE LAW, I'd have made the call to the proper authorities. Ruining the young man's outing was his father's doing - by not knowing the regs, by ignorning your information, by continuing to show his son how to steal, cheat, and poach.
    I'm hard line about it. You worm guys want the regs changed, then give it a go. But don't steal from other people ( who knows how many they might have killed?) and teach your son to do it so he can steal from kids like Lilly, who will be brought up right. .......

    i'm grumpy i guess.

    if I caught them there again fishing worms I'd turn them in and be there when the Game Warden showed up to point them out.

  13. Saying something was the right thing to do. Though I usually play the part of a concerned fellow outdoorsman (unless they're being rude/jerks). I stick with stuff like:

    "I dunno if you know or not, but if the warden catches you fishing with worms out here, he'll likely execute you since it's illegal...just a heads up"

    Or something along those lines...

    If they were jerks or rude about it...then by all means call your wildlife officers.

    I did have one question though, coming from a stream fishing ignorant, saltwater guy: Do ya'll use soft plastic worms for fishing in those streams? Could he have been using those? Or did you actually see a wiggler on his set up?

  14. @Anonymous - You're right. How dare the government stick it's nose into any aspect of our lives. As for me, I just ignore all laws - bald eagle tastes great fried in a little DDT!

  15. You did the right thing. You can lead the people to water, but you can't make the follow the regs.

    For your personal sanity, it was kind of you to tell them of the rules, weather or not they follow them is entirely up to them and the dad if he wants to pay the fine should the warden be patrolling the stream next time.

  16. I think you did good by letting him know the regs without leaping off the deep end but I lean a little toward Owls comment. It's one thing to be ignorant of the law (maybe new to the area, who knows) but by acknowledging your warning and then continuing to practic and teach a lack of respect for the law, I would have popped out the cell phone and made the call. Don't get me wrong I have my bad habits. But disrespect for the enviroment and the rules concerning wildlife managment, I don't tolerate very well. As far as being polite, sorry but I've met some the politest biggest A-holes your would ever want to meet. Hell I work with some of them (kidding guys)!!

  17. Is there going to be the first Troutrageous! flounce???

  18. You did the right thing. However, next time you might mention the price of a ticket then add that you had just saw the game warden putting on his waders down in the parking lot.

  19. Wishing that my 19-year-old son would fish with dad like he did at 11, I agree wholeheartedly with you. But, sentimental thoughts aside, it's the situation that warnings, not summons, were made for! Good job!

  20. I run into this exact scenario on a regular basis, as I take alot of lunch breaks in a park where the ALO and ATW regs meet. I always ask the parent to step away from the kid, and politely inform them that 20' down is bait, and where they're at is ALO... and the WCO comes through often (a mild exaggeration). I've never watched people not pick up and move down.

    If they kids are small, I offer up some suggestions on a few willing bluegill hotspots.

  21. Mike, you are a class act and I would have handled it exactly the same. However I agree with the Owl that if he doesn't heed the warning, then he's fair game. Assuming he was using real worms, he probably literally "killed em".

  22. A few years ago I was fishing the most regulated stretch of water I know of locally when I had a chance to explain the regs. My friend and I pull up to the parking lot and find a guy digging through his car for something. He heads back up to the creek before we leave the parking lot. On our way to the creek he comes walking back with his friend (both adults) and behind them about 30 yards is a young boy. When they get close/past us, they yell back to the kid to "get the bag." As we got up to the kid he was very excited to say "want to see what we caught?" He then showed us the biggest fish in the creek (20+, when most are about 10 inches), dead in the bag. I told him he wasn't allowed to keep that fish....ruined his day, but I hope it got back to his dad and his dad felt like crap. See, this stretch of the creek has 1 way in, and it's past the HUGE sign that clearly spells out the regulations. No way you can say "I didn't know" unless you are legally blind.

  23. Me again... I know Mike stated tolerance for bait fishing... Thanks! I like all kinds of fishing. And I understand and support conservation efforts. But as Mike also stated, the father and sons in question were apparently actually practicing catch and release. My comments weren't defending overfishing or abusing a fishery which was the issue most of the rebuttals to my comment centered around. It was an issue of government over-regulation of tactics one can employ in recreational fishing.

    I'll reply to a few comments:
    @Jay "if it weren't for all those crazy rules, the fishing would really suck."
    As it stands now fishing doesn't just SUCK, it's ILLEGAL, for anyone other than a lure fisherman. And they guy wasn't keeping any fish.

    @Ty: "this man said that he was "killing them" with worm"
    No; he was letting them go. Just like Mike was.

    @Sanders: We aren't that far apart. I just don't like government making unreasonable rules.

    @Owl: "I smell a worm fishermen" Some days it’s true. Reminds me of the joys of childhood. I have great memories of fishing with a stick at a creek that my parents wouldn't let me go to alone. I'd leave the house without my rods, just a little line and a few hooks in my pocket, so they wouldn't suspect anything and improvised with native resources. Again, thumbing my nose at the rules.

    @ the other Anonymous: who compared my advocacy to freedom of choice and espousing the virtues of limited government regulation to killing birds with DDT. That was like escalation from a border skirmish to thermonuclear war; completely out of line.

    @Cofisher: "Assuming he was using real worms, he probably literally "killed em".
    Why do you assume a bait fisherman is always hording fish or disrespectful to the environment. Re-read Mikes post, he was letting them go.

  24. Anonymous,
    You misunderstand. By "killing them", the guy clearly meant that he was catching alot of fish, not literally killing them. I think this was pretty obvious in both the post and my comment. Bottom line is that the guy was breaking the law, and willfully so since he continued fishing after Mike's warning. And he was teaching his young son to do the same.

  25. Once upon a time, a fish swam around eating bugs and worms and was happy. This upset the government, so they stocked 50 times more fish then the streams would support so they could sell fishing licenses and make money to pay politicians.

    Then it was noticed that bait fishermen began to catch the fish with worms and ate them. Fish were fed. This upset the government so they made bait fishing illegal and keeping fish illegal so they could issue fines and pay for the prisons being built.

    The 51 starving fish is better, they will now take fake food and amuse the rule followers. Then die from malnutrition and suffer from catch wounds each year. The end.

  26. I'll have to weigh in with the libertarians. Too many laws = too many prisons.

    So I dont think I would bug the guy. Moral high ground is not my thing.

    We 'all' choose which laws we break. It happens to each of us, every day.

    We're all put on moral tight wires by rules, one sides ice the other's fire. Relax.