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PUBLISHED: 12:01 PM on Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Don't Leave Your Good Manners at Home
It was a story to break the heart of the saltiest fishing guide who ever lived. We were on a business trip in Homer, Alaska, near the top of the prettiest places in the universe. Between sales calls, we were comparing fishing notes.

My companion could be a model for All American girls-blonde, blue-eyed, not a scrap of makeup or pretense. With a degree in outdoor recreation and a husband who commercial fishes for salmon off Kodiak Island, Rebekah knows her fishing.

But I was surprised with the answer when I asked her if she fished for fun.

"Not any more," she said somberly.

"I tried fly fishing on the Kenai and there was a good run of reds (sockeye salmon). I'd never been fly fishing and wasn't doing a very good job casting. People were catching fish everywhere and I finally hooked one. I was so excited and couldn't do anything with it. It was running every which way!

"And then some guy next to me starts hollering-'get that fish out of the way! Don't you know what you're doing? Get out of the way so somebody else can fish!'"

Her face fell.

"I was embarrassed. Here I'd been all excited and now I didn't even care. I got the fish in and I all I wanted to do was get away."

She thought for a moment.

"I put my rod in the truck and haven't fished since."

What a horrible tragedy, letting some jerk ruin an once-in-a-lifetime for a young person who would be a world-class emissary for outdoor recreation.

Yet it happens every day. And sadly, you don't have to go nearly that far to find bad manners outdoors.

We love our outdoors. But even in a place as big as Alaska, we sometime run out of room. If you just doubt it, spend a little time fishing the Russian River any Saturday in July or False Outer Point the first week of the king run.

We love our favorite places and we'll seldom have them to ourselves. Most of us don't mind sharing, so long as it doesn't ruin our own experience. Sadly, there's not a required course in manners that comes with that hunting or fishing license.

The glory of our outdoors is that freedom to choose our own trail, tackle or time. That's also the responsibility, and as with any freedom, it brings out the true nature of people, both good and bad.

When more people are crowded into a smaller place, all with huge expectations for their small slice of free time and paradise, lines and tempers are going to cross.

It doesn't just apply tofishing.

I long ago lost count of the number of trespassing groups of hunters I've encountered on High Plains pheasant hunts. There's nothing like waiting all year to hunt your own property, only to find a dozen orange yahoos from Louisiana (sorry, I almost said Beaumont) stomping through it, shooting everything in sight, before you arrive.

These confrontations can even turn violent.

You may remember the case of a waterside dock owner onan East Texas lake who took to shooting at bass fishermen, including some tournament pros, who got to close to "his" water.

One of my favorite striper fishing holes in Texas was below dam spillway, when the big stripers were packed like sardines in the raging outlet of water. Anglers were also packed shoulder to shoulder, catching fish on most casts and in general having a good time.

But one good ol' boy cross the line with another-I can't recall if it was over tangled lines or a "stolen" spot on the bank-the offended party pulled a fillet knife and stabbed the offender.

Needless to say, they both lost.

There are days when, despite our best efforts, we invade a fellow angler's space. That's especially true this month and next, as the red and then silver salmon runs peak, and more anglers jam into smaller and smaller creeks.

When "combat fishing" in a shoulder-to-shoulder fishery like the Russian, it pays to learn the routine, to work your way into the pattern with other anglers, before joining the fray. Never take an angler's spot, leave space for others on either side, and use tackle and tactics adequate to keep even a good-sized fish under control. Better to go heavy and get your fish into hand quickly. A fish allowed to run far up or down stream will almost certainly take a few other lines with it, slowing down the fishing for both your neighbors and you.

The same applies to trolling. Study the route others are following and find your own place in the line, leaving plenty of line to avoid crossing lines. Doing otherwise might get you a few one-handed salutes.

Here's a personal editorial comment: there's no room for obscene gestures in my outdoors. A person who can't keep from using hand signals needs to stay in their own back yard.

These confrontations are not isolated to the outdoors, but are just reflections of the larger issue that too many folks are losing their manners, or never had them. Our world is getting more crowded, moving faster, asking us to work harder and play less.

Sadly, many of our neighbors never learned common courtesy. I still get weird looks for answering a question with "Yes ma'am," or "Yes, sir."

Don't leave your manners athome when you head to the lake or woods. Remember we're outdoors to celebrate life and the beauty of nature and to have a good time. Taking home some fillets is a bonus. Except for a few places in Alaska, none of us go hungry if we don't.

During the next months, from border to border, we'll be sharing out favorite spots with a million or two of our future best friends. So relax and smell the salt air, the wild flowers and the cut herring, and smile when some idiot makes a mistake and gets into our space.

Oh, and if you don't like crowds, go fishing on Wednesday!

Lee Leschper is an award-winning outdoor writer, advertising director of the Juneau Empire and general manager of the Capital City Weekly. Email him at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com.


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