You’ve likely heard some version of the oft-repeated sentiment: “If you can’t enjoy simply being in nature, even if you don’t catch a fish, you shouldn’t be fishing.” Whether uttered by famous authors, well-spoken naturalists or your grandfather, this sentiment shines a light on the fundamental, underlying reason most of us cast into water. Catching a fish is a nice byproduct of being outdoors and seeing everything nature has to offer.
It is for that reason we make an implicit pact with nature. We drink in the soft gurgling of a brook, the crash of waist-high swells against rocks, the osprey slamming into a lake or a pristine sunset’s sprays of light feathered through the tops of a tall alpine forest. The sound of sipping trout on a mirror-flat pond or the explosion of a school of 150 stripers crashing herring in a small bay stay permanently with us. A fox quietly slips along the bank of a mountain brook. A harbor seal surfaces with a sizeable bluefish wriggling in its mouth.
Nature offers us these gifts. In return, it’s our responsibility to change as little of nature’s beauty as possible each time we go out. Just as fish are a precious resource, so are the waters and the shorelines we fish. Treading lightly, leaving no trace that we’ve been there, is how we should repay nature for these gifts.
Here are some tips on how to be good stewards of the land and waters we fish:
1. Plan ahead
Make sure to have accurate maps that show access roads, boat ramps, marked trails etc. It’s best to stay on these paths, particularly when walking on trails. Avoid stepping on delicate vegetation, including that which that often lines trails. If there’s a downed tree, try and go over it first.
2. Respect landowners’ rights
It’s best to avoid posted private property. If there’s a spot you really want to get to, try approaching the landowner beforehand and ask for permission. You may end up making a new friend.
3. Invasive species ban
Wash your boat thoroughly before you go to a new lake, river or coastal ramp. If you have felt soles on your waders, wash them thoroughly. Better yet, trade them in for non-felt-soled options that have decent traction, but won’t port in non-native plants and organisms.
4. Pack smart
Be prepared to consolidate food items to minimize waste. Pack something to cart out all of your trash.
5. Camp smart
If you’re camping, be sure to camp in already established campsites. Try not to create new sites. Also, be sure to camp a minimum of 200 feet from lakes or streams.
If you plan to build a fire, do it in established fire pits, and keep it small. Don’t risk losing control, and be sure to thoroughly extinguish it when you’re done.
7. Pack in, pack out
Carry all trash out. Bury human waste six- to eight-inches deep 200 feet from shore. Try to pack out used TP and similar hygiene products and carry water away from shore to wash your hands. Soap isn’t going to benefit the fish’s ecosystem.
8. Be an observer
Appreciate local historical, archeological or paleontological sites without disturbing them. Try to leave natural plants, trees and rocks as they are. Be respectful and mindful of wildlife. Do not follow or approach wild animals and don’t feed them. Most foods we eat aren’t healthy for them. Secure trash and food stores so you don’t have bears rooting through your peanut butter.
9. Respect others
Be mindful of others out in nature as well so they can enjoy the experience equally. Yield the trail to hikers heading uphill, control pets (also respecting wild animals) and let nature’s ambient sounds be the loudest “noise” you hear. Save the heavy metal for the ride home.
10. Think Catch and Release
While it’s O.K. to occasionally keep a fish to eat, remember stewardship also means releasing fish you catch so they may spawn and potentially hit another fly, lure or worm.