By Louis Cahill
If you pay hundreds of dollars for the chance to catch a really big trout on someones private water, are you doing the right thing?
Pay-to-play fishing is a hot button issue. It came up in conversation the other day so I thought I’d put my two cents in. I don’t have any data to back this up, but my guess is that a pretty small percentage of anglers regularly pay to fish private water. I’d guess that a fare number of us do it a time or two and move on and a very small number do little else. On the other hand there are an equally small number who would never consider it.
What you figure out pretty quickly is, whenever pay-to-play comes up, there’s going to be an argument. The fur usually starts to fly when fish size becomes the topic. If you are boasting about catching a trophy size trout on your local pay-to-play water you’re very likely going to hear how, “That fish doesn’t count,” or how, “That’s bullshit.”
It’s true that there is no comparing a hand fed pet to a wild fish of the same size. Perhaps there is no comparing the effort or skill that went into catching those fish, but there is certainly no comparing how unique, special or important those two fish are. Wild trophy size trout are a treasure and should be treated as such. All of that said, if you are boasting about the size of your fish to establish yourself as a superior angler, you’re probably a douche bag. If you’re trying to spoil someone else’s excitement by calling their fish bullshit, you’re just as bad. That’s my opinion.
Focusing on numbers or size takes the fun out of fishing for me. I don’t count fish and when I do measure a fish it’s about appreciating what a special fish it is and how fortunate I was to catch it. Not for one instant do I hold to the idea that it makes me special as an angler. I’ve been at this long enough to know that humility is waiting in the next run. I like to hear anglers talk about special fish and I like to talk about them too. I think that’s something we all share, I just think it sucks when it ends in an argument.
So here are some facts about pay-to-play fishing.
So I guess I’ve suckered you in with an inflammatory headline, only to make a balanced and reasonable argument. You should be used to that by now. I’m going to list some things I know to be true on the topic as + for positive and – for negative.
+There are lessons to be learned from PTP fishing. Fishing to fed fish really doesn’t teach you too much about catching trophy size wild fish. Those PTP fish can be very hard to catch at times but for different reasons and they behave differently for that reason. Once you do hook one though, you learn a great deal about fighting big fish. It takes a different set of skills to land trophy size trout and most anglers lose the first few they hook. You stand a better chance of learning those skills where there are lots of big fish to hook.
-PTP fishing can make you lazy. If you spend your fishing life paying to fish where the odds are stacked in your favor, you’ll never learn to do the research and leg work needed to find really special wild fish.
+PTP fishing supports a lot of guides. It’s generally a requirement that you fish with a guide who is affiliated with the owner and that helps support a lot of young guides. These spots are often where guides cut their teeth and learn their craft. Fishing guides are good folks and of huge benefit to the community. They educate anglers and inform innovation in the sport. The more of them who make a living, the better off the community is as a whole.
-Private water, depending on individual state law, limits angler access to fishable water. This is not a simple formula. In some places, these access laws are seen as a violation of rights, while in other places they actually help preserve fish and habitat. You have to take it on a case by case basis.
+Private water protects fish and habitat. While some states do a great job of managing their resources, others do a very poor job. I’ve lived in a couple of those states that do a poor job and have seen first hand how private water allows land owners to enforce quality management the state will not. This is a double edged sword however. It relies on land owners making good stewardship choices in the face of a profit motive.
-Management of private water can be a disaster. Those choices made with the profit motive in mind can have huge consequences. The idea of private water is inherently flawed. A river or a stream is never truly private. That water, and the fish in it, move from one place to the other according to the laws of nature, not the laws of man. The decisions we make on private water affect everyone. Think of that stream like a road. You can put up a fence and some plastic flamingos, but it’s not cool to make up you’re own road signs or shoot at cars. I’ll give you an example.
Here in Georgia a fly shop managing a stretch of private water made the decision to stock a bunch of very large tiger trout, thinking they would offer clients a unique experience. On their half mile or so of water they did just that. They also offered those tiger trout, a notoriously aggressive species, the unique opportunity to swim into the adjacent public section of an important wild trout fishery where the average wild trout is roughly snack size. That shop made a very bad decision, which impacted the rest of us.
These kind of decisions are not limited to PTP water. anyone who owns a stretch of water should be very careful how they manage it. It’s a huge responsibility. I own a small piece of water and I stocked it years ago but thought better of it and stopped a long time ago. Now I leave it natural and ,oddly, never even fish there. If you’re interested in private water management you should read this article on the pros and cons of feeding fish.
I don’t think pay-to-play fishing is inherently good or bad.
I think it’s like Al Frankin said, “A hammer is a tool. You can use it to build a house or to kill a coed.” I encourage you to make your own mind up if it’s for you or not. If it is something you want to do, even just once, consider doing your research and booking with an outfitter who employs responsible management practices. Some outfitter offer private water experiences that are essentially wild and natural fishing on water where angler numbers are restricted and those can be fantastic. If you prefer to fish to pellet fed fish, that’s fine too. Just understand what you’re doing and it may affect you and how those outfitters may be affecting public fisheries.
Let us know about your experiences with pay-to-play fishing in the comments!Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com email@example.com Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!