Insidious: Let's Stop Our Losing Streak

The coin of the realm is action
Tongass National Forest Stream
Tongass National Forest Stream

“Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.”- Ancient Chinese Proverb

I’ve been noticing something for the last few years. Sportsmen lose. We lose a lot. Little battles, big battles, skirmishes ... it matters not. At our best — think Pebble Mine — we fight a holding action, giving ground grudgingly, making the other side pay dearly for their gains. At our worst — and our worst is far too common — we smile, vacuous and polite, while the world around us is diminished before our eyes.

We seem, at least from where I sit, as if we don’t care all that much — as if it’s only natural that the trout streams we fish will eventually run warm and brown, that our woodlots will give way before the rising tide of suburban development, that our wilderness areas, once pristine and untouched, will fall before the onslaught of roads and pipelines and well-heads, that our oh-so-vital wetlands will be drained and filled, that our farms will leach pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers into the gaping maw of oceanic dead zones, that we’ll pull apart our mountains for their coal and cast their broken bones down into the hollows of Appalachia as if our landscapes are mere detritus to be sorted through and discarded.

“Progress,” we call it. Progress, where we trade our outdoor heritage and our sporting traditions for the illusory benefits of comfort and convenience. Faust, were he here today, would surely look around and laugh, for his namesake bargain is the rule rather than the exception. It’s a devil’s pact, pure and simple - selling our souls, trading our kids’ future, worshipping at the altar of endless growth, turning our backs on Leopold and Pinchot and Roosevelt, and on the hard-earned wisdom of our fathers and grandfathers, ignoring the myriad lessons of American history while we embrace the soul-sucking siren song of modernity - all, I might add, so we can fill the shrieking emptiness inside with “more” and “bigger” and “faster” and “better.”

Let’s face it. We’re junkies, snorting conspicuous consumption and mainlining Madison Avenue, and it has to stop. It has to, if we’re going to hold on to the things that really matter.

When you think about it, none of this is complicated. If we want to save our tarpon, we need to get off our asses and fight. The same applies for our trout, and our salmon, and our bonefish, and our smallmouth bass. Nobody else gives a shit whether we’ll still have steelhead in 50 years. Nobody else cares if our snowpack melts away and our rivers run low and hot; nobody else gives a damn if ocean acidification renders our favorite saltwater fisheries bare of everything except an endless armada of jellyfish. It’s on us. Here’s a news flash: it’s always been on us.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I have a confession to make; a personal agenda that bears mentioning. But before you decide to fill in the blank space with your favorite boogeyman, you should know that it’s not social or political or religious. My agenda is that I love to fish. I love to throw mega-flies for pike, and I love to swing a long line for steelhead, and I can’t tell you how many thousands of hours I’ve wandered the Henry’s Fork hunting noses, lost in that predatory reverie where everything else fades into the gloaming and life is ground down to the sharpest of points.

Passion. That’s what it’s about. That’s what separates us from everyone else. We love being out on the water. It’s a genetic imperative burned into our soul, it’s a direct, no-detours conduit to nature, it’s a subliminal, primitive urge that leads, slowly, surely, perhaps unfathomably, towards that rarest of moments when, no matter our failings or our personal limitations, we brush up against grace. Fly fishing is, at its heart, about our connection to something far greater and more perfect than modern existence, and we can’t help but feel real passion for an endeavor so wonderfully unadulterated and pure.

Passion, though, has its price. We have to stand up for our fish, and for our waters. If we don’t, then we’re nothing more than parasites boring into nature’s soft underbelly, taking nourishment but giving nothing back; assholes of The Ancient Hybernian Order of Assholes. Is that a little harsh? No, it’s not. If we hope to wade into cold, clear rivers 20 years from now, and if we hope to stalk pristine saltwater flats, then we have to pay the piper. And like it or not, the coin of the realm is action.

I realize that I have no right to ask anything of you. Truly, I have no right. But ask I will, regardless. Stand up. Raise your voice. Protect our fisheries. Fight for our landscapes. Rail against the limitless stupidity of our addiction to fossil fuels, and against climate change, and against ocean acidification, and against an economy that values growth above all else. The truth is that if we don’t get our act together in the very near future, a threat like Pebble Mine, horrific as it is, will be the very least of our worries.

And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.


Extremely well and fairly put.

... and I'm guilty.

Having a TU membership, donating to BTT, etc are great and should be done by all anglers -- but it isn't enough. We each need to be personally active and involved in fighting for our fish.

As Todd says, when it's all gone, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

A noble, and I hope effective, effort to stem the tide of the bullshit notion that being against growth is un-American.

The reality is that all of the threats that face our fisheries are a result of our addiction to growth. But not growth of our homes, our families, our heritage or our salaries -- those have remained stagnant for over 30 years now -- we're addicted to the proclamation of growth, even if the true reality of that growth is that it does nothing more than line the pockets of billionaires at the cost of our natural resources and our self respect.

Sportsmen, no different than the rest of the American public, are largely a bunch of rubes that prefer to sit back and defend the corporations and fat cats that raid and pilfer their salaries, pensions and public lands rather than rally against them to preserve their simple right to a level playing field and self-determination.

... let's hope I'm wrong and we can turn this around. But, as Todd notes, it is time we wake the fuck up and put an end to the pep rally we've been carrying on for these marauders. They are the enemy. Plain and simple. There is no obfuscated reality here, no complicated system that prevents sound and thoughtful decision making, their actions are willful, well-informed and deliberate.

They will fuck us if we let them. Let's not.

I need to step up to the plate better too. It's getting out of hand and an apathetic approach spells our doom.

Thanks for the poke.

Oh man, where to start. Yes, no group is more invested in working the balance between property rights and sustainability than hunters and anglers. Yes, we are still not doing enough. I'm going to ruffle some feathers here by telling what I see as the truth: one of our collective failures has been the belief that the governmental regulatory agencies, especially the EPA are "on our side" or "looking to do the right thing." In our region, the EPA will dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into BLOCKING a voluntary stream restoration project while allowing (wholesale) the detonation of mountain tops and the dumping of that rock waste into headwater trout streams. They're as politically driven as any other agency. We need to stop thinking that "we need to help the EPA do the right thing." The EPA has defended the Clean Water Act in front of the Supreme Court 7 times; they have lost 6 of those. I hope you see where I'm headed with this: a stronger, smarter brand of sportsmen need to band together (including financially) to compel our supposed environmental guardians to make better decisions. It's going to require your free time and a loose knit group of alliances which will come together on specific issues, and not on others (where hopefully, other new alliances will form). If we want a better future, it's ours to take. The government's supposed to guard it for us, but they've shown themselves pretty incapable of doing so, even if they support conservation theoretically (not a guarantee). The need is urgent; I'm hoping to see new groups pop up and give 'em hell.

Here here. And let me add two simple thoughts. 1) Use your particular set of skills to do something. If you're a lawyer, donate some time. If you're a scientist, get out on the river with TU. If you're a writer (like me ...see my blog deadbait), then write! Let you're particular skillset loose on conservation problems and you'll be using your education twice as hard. 2) Mentor someone, bring a kid, a teen, a young adult, a woman ('cuz there are more and more women sportsmen) into the conservation loop. Take them fishing, show them your best stretch of water and over beers later, tell them its worth fighting for. You have to get people one at a time, and they have to see it for themselves sometimes.

Great post!

I'm heartened by the general messages in these comments, and I like the fire of the original piece. I would just like to point out that most scientists (at least in my field--stream ecology) are also heavily engaged in protection, and some of them aren't even fishermen or hunters! We are on those rivers, doing the science so that we can bring our knowledge as evidence to others, including policy makers. Unfortunately, policy makers seem to be much more invested in listening to $$$ than science. But they have to listen if enough people make enough noise and it's clear they won't be keeping their jobs if they don't protect the environment.

In addition to having a doctorate in river ecology, I also grew up fly-fishing for trout all over Oregon and fishing for salmon in the ocean. I don't think I really need to be mentored by some guy. I would be happy to mentor any outdoor person in stream-fish-wildlife ecology, though :)

Take a look at some of the great work being done by the Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups in Washington. Here's the program for the north Olympic Peninsula:

Todd Tanner hits the nail squarely on the head again and again. When will we heed his call to action? As Tanner points out, we are our own worse enemy. We hope the same approaches that worked 20 years ago will somehow bear fruit these days. I think it is a fools errand. We need more voices raised in protest, more pitch forks and torches, more hard and pointed questions asked of our elected officials. The days when the political maxim “go along to get along” was king are dead. Long live the king.

Tanner is by no means a lone voice and his call to action is right on>

Great Piece. Out here on the east end there is one guy fighting hard to protect the bays. Brad Mcallaster (Peconic bay keeper) He is a great speaker on septic issues. And acidification of ocean....and loose of pristine estuaries to to bulk heads..

One of my best friends in Washington, DC is a committed fisherman with a number of friends who are at least as crazed as he is. He just returned to DC from a trip to Merida and heard my whines about climate change, pollution, commercial fishing and habitat destruction. He cares. He has now committed to working for marine as well as fresh water fisheries. I can only ask that you do the same and pay attention to the destruction of recreational fisheries, coastal habitat and protection of both land and benthic habitat from commercial fishing as I am. The protections for habitat and sustainable fisheries that Senator Stevens of Alaska fought for so hard are under attack by the commercial fishing industry and an awful called the Recreational Fisheries Alliance (RFA) sponsored primarily by big luxury boat builders and gear companies. Real sport fishing advocates were a key to the success of the Magnuson Stevens Act in protecting fish and fisheries in 1996 and 2006. Your help is needed in 2014 and 2015 to keep those protections in place. Please contact to get more information on how to help.

Wonderful post Todd. We all need to do more. As Edmund Burke said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In Idaho we are facing the possibility of losing the Teton River Canyon to a state funded reservoir. The state built one in the exact same spot in the mid 1970's. That dam lasted less than a year before it broke. It would be a very large tragedy to lose the canyon for good. There are many in the area fighting to keep the canyon untouched.

Great piece of writing. One more thought: these people who are raping our world for their personal profit are doing it fearlessly. We (you know who) are always REACTING. It's time for the rapists to learn fear. It's time for them to learn reaction.

I belong to Trout Unlimited. The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation group, Anglers of the Ausable, and Leave No Trace. I write my Congressman so much use are on first name basis. What I am getting at is I protest, I give money and write emails to officials regularly.
I really feel frustrated because it seems like everything just doesn't matter. My Congressman says that he must support the Presidents agenda. My Senators don't seem to care. Just how can we stop the rape and pillaging taking place? The President doesn't seem to read. He takes what his friends have say as gospel. We have a commerce secretary that is involved with the mining industry. Scott Pruitt never met an oil producer that he doesn't like. The interior secretary never met a lumber company that he doesn't like. If these actions are not stopped there will be more flooding, more forest fires, bottom line more natural disasters. There are problems in Florida do to the Army Corp Engineers taking action in the Everglades because no one knew any better at that time. We know better now, again we must figure out how to stop these actions before this country is turned into a parking lot.

Talk about a lack of energy... I do not understand why Hatch is running an article on this from 2014... nearly a decade old. No one has anything current to say about this? Puzzling.