Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Is A Twenty Incher?

It is now that time of year for a gentle critique (takedown!) of one of my pet peeves regarding guides, guiding, and flyfishing in general. Some of you will recognize this as "Sobchaking", some of you just learned a new word. However. Last years rant was directed at fishing fast and all those not Fishing In The Slow Lane. Todays cranky guide rant is on measuring fish. Statistics. Statistics like the very uncomfortable class which I barely survived in college, and which when haphazardly applied to flyfishing is the bain of my and many an "honest" flyfishermans' lives.

After an excellent day on the river last week I was queried as to the biggest fish that my boat caught which then prompted the topic of why I (usually) don't measure fish.  This fellow guide then produced several pictures of fish he had caught himself which had been meticulously taped at between 20 and 25 inches. They were all nice fish, all of which I would describe as large and definitely not your normal specimens, and I would have taken hero pictures with all of them. As to how big they actually were I had to take his word on their specific dimensions as I no longer carry a tape-measure with me on the river and am severely out of practice.

Having a certain kind of temperament and scalpl-edge mind I considered several possibilities:

1) I catch some fish that are bigger than I would guesstimate them to be. Sweet.
2) I am doing my fishing a disservice by by not meticulously recording every trout proportion I can.
3) I catch no large fish.
4) Large fish are only validated by their length.
5) Fishing guides are only validated by catching more big fish than other fishing guides.

Only 1) can be considered a valid and true observation about my experience on the water. All the other reasonable connotations from the measure-net crowd can't hold a lick of water. None. Zilch. Nada.

Am I 20"?

While this individual was merely another example of the Patagucchi trout fishing jockhead I have seen plenty over the years I couldn't help but feel put off by this particular bout of "trout-cocksmanship". Not knowing how big my biggest fish to the net was? How could I call myself a guide! I should just hang up my chacos and join my other favorite bunch of stats padders out on the golf course.


There are several reasons why I choose not to get wrapped in the measure net game. First off, I no longer care how big any particular fish is. There are fish and then there are nice fish. We all know nice fish when we see them, the stacked across the back bodybuilder trout that can be anywhere from a 15 incher all the way up to the true 20+ specimens. Bearing in mind the three stages of fishermen (catch lots of fish; catch big fish; catch lots of big fish / catch certain big fish) I have been in stage 3.2 for some time now, and maybe a side effect of that is a general ambivalence toward big trout stats. Who knows.
Secondly, I prefer to enjoy all of the "nice" fish I catch equally rather than creating a mental hierarchy of enjoyment based on their respective size (which I would have to do if I held firmly to the !@ck measuring formula. I took just enough philosophy to know mutually exclusive conditions when I see them). Thirdly, being a size queen fails to give credit for aspects of certain large fish that make them more memorable than just their gross dimensions; Hooked him in a tough spot, ran downstream almost too fast to contol, "fought beyond his weight", "last-cast fish", ate the smaller frickin fish that i was landing. All these descriptions of great fish have nothing to do with "exactly" how big a fish was. Some giant fish don't fight at all while a smaller fish will do everything he can to take the rod right out of your hand. Some fish are caught while landing other fish! How cool is that! So what that it was "only" a sub-20 inch bull trout.

Nice fish. Still not sure how big he is.

All this is to say that I know a lot of good honest semi-honest fishermen who rarely (if ever) start swinging the 20+ inch benchmark around. I roll my eyes behind thick Costa shades when I hear these numbers blurted out by clients and guides at the end of the day. If we are honest with ourselves those fish are rare on rivers like the Bitterroot and are seen only a handful of times each season. They are not fish that are landed everyday, nor should they be held as a daily expectation. A day with more than one twenty incher isn't "a good day out on the water": That is probably the trip of the year, if not several years. So I will continue to catch nice fish and enjoy them all regardless of disappointing my bloodthirsty trout friends at the brewery end-of-day weigh in. Life is full of opportunities to judge and compare yourself to the achievements of others. I for one would prefer to keep my one true passion in life free from this ego-stroking as long as I can.

Here endith the rant. . .