As fly fisherman, we rely on access to the waters we love, in order to pursue the fish within them. But often times that access is taken for granted and treated with less than the respect it's owed. It's not always fly fisherman - I've found plenty of worm buckets, plastic stick bait bags, beer cans, even a few random shoes here and there. (How does one lose a shoe? Why not both?) But either way, when we as fisherman take something for granted, can we get mad if it's taken away? If we don't respect the land and the land owners, how can we be mad when they cut off access to their property? Even something as simple as a gate being left open can cause a lot of extra work for a farmer if his cattle get out.
I bring this up for a reason. This past weekend while gearing up to fish a public stretch of water, I was approached at my car. The gentleman, who couldn't have been a day over 19, decided he was going to take it upon himself to ensure I followed the rules he would be establishing for me.
"You fishin' here?" he asked.
"Yes, sir." I replied. "Soon as the rain passes, I'm planning on fishing this stretch right here, just up to the pasture fence."
"Well, it's a**holes like you that make all us farmers hate fisherman. You really ruin it for everyone. You know the farmer over there is 90 years old and a**holes like you are going to kill him. You leave gates open, leave trash all over the banks and generally treat the land like sh*t."
I looked at him stunned. To be honest, I'd never fished this high up on the river, never stepped foot in the pasture and hadn't even planned on fishing anywhere near a gate, or the other farmers field. It was a stretch of thatch, weeds and roots.
"Well, I apologize for the inconvenience other fisherman may have caused you, but I can promise you won't have that with me. I'm not planning on crossing in to that farmers field and always pack out what I take in. So you won't have to worry there." I replied.
"It's public land so there really ain't sh*t I can do about it. But, watch yourself. If you leave those gates open, or cross the fence in to that field walking out, I'll shoot ya."
I looked at him dumbfounded. Seriously, is that what these people have driven you to?
"Alright, a cars coming. I gotta go and get out of his way. Just know, I'll find you." he said, and drove away.
Seconds after he drove away it started raining again. The sky opened and it rained for about twenty minutes. I sat in my car drinking a Spotted Cow wondering how a nineteen year old kid can be so angry with a bunch of guys waving sticks in the air with fake bugs attached to the end, only to catch and then release the prize they so covet.
It's not the first time I've had my life threatened, probably won't be my last. But after climbing through the gate and trudging through the thicket, my desire to fish was gone. I was angry that enough people had so little concern for others that it drove this kid to hate an entire demographic of people.
I found a spot where things opened up a bit, sat down and watched a few rising fish for a little while before heading back to the car and then back to camp.
It seems that in and out of fishing our ability to be empathetic towards others is dwindling. We as fisherman aren't owed the ability to fish on private property. If we're going in and creating problems, leaving trash, and lacking a general respect, we should have it taken away. I try to get out there as much as possible and pump as much money in to their economy as I can. But if I'm lucky that's maybe 6 weekends in a summer, and a few day trips. These people live there everyday, and those fields are their offices. If we can't respect, why should we get to use it?
If you respect their land, respect their property and treat everything as if it were your own, you take a greater pride in it. Knowing that the better we treat the land, the greater the chance it will be there in the future, how can we not want to treat it with care, keep it cleaner and help the people who make it possible?