Back when I was guiding fly fishermen on the Henry’s Fork, I saw a sight I may never forget. We came floating around a bend in the river and there, in the distance, was a partially submerged drift boat. It was upright, and sideways to the current, and while the bow and stern were clear of the water, the rest of the boat was below the surface. Even though we were a hundred yards away, it was obvious that the boat was resting on the bottom in relatively shallow water.
The thing that really caught my attention, though, was the fellow on the oars. In spite of the fact that his drift boat was 80% submerged, he was still rowing to beat the band. When we got a little closer we could see that the oar locks were just an inch or two out of the river and the full force of the Henry’s Fork was flowing right through the boat. Yet the man in the rower’s seat just kept rowing and rowing and rowing. He must have known that his efforts were futile, but I’m not sure he could think of anything else to do.
We, of course, immediately dubbed the boat “A River Runs Through It” and then helped haul it towards the bank and bail it out.
Over the last few months, I’ve seen something that can’t help but bring that sunken boat to mind, along with all the relevant metaphors it conjures. Over and over again, in Facebook posts and on comment threads, people who profess to be sportsmen are complaining about all the “political” posts and stories they’re seeing. My personal favorite was “Stupid stick to fishing there are plenty of fucking political party pages I would have liked one of them if I wanted to see more of this shit.” Someone else wrote, “Just HAD to get political here, huh? NOT good! We get it, but please confine FB to trout fishing methods, flies, places, equipment.” A third added, “Goodbye ... I didn't follow you on FB to here [sic] about your political opinions!!” At the same time, I’ve literally lost track of the number of people asking for a “no politics” filter on their social media feeds.
All of which leaves me scratching my head and wondering why so many folks who claim to love America’s outdoors seem to have lost their moral center.
Here’s a news flash. Members of Congress, led by the radical congressional delegation from the state of Utah, are doing their damnedest to sell off the federal lands where we fish, hunt, camp, hike, and otherwise recreate. They don’t care about our fishing. As best as I can tell, they don’t care about much of anything except spreading the scripture from the Book of Profiteering & Privatization. And these anti-public lands extremists are actually steering the Republican party. If you go to the 2016 Republican Platform and click on the Agriculture, Energy & Environment section, you can see for yourself that the GOP is advocating for the disposal of our public lands.
Now you’re welcome to stick your head in the sand for as long as you can hold your breath, but facts are still facts and I just shared the honest-to-goodness, cross-your- heart-and-hope-to-die truth. Which means we can either stand up for ourselves, and for the public lands where we fish and hunt, or we can kiss it all goodbye. That’s the choice before us, and as the song goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
There’s an even larger issue, too, for sportsmen who might dismiss the ongoing attempts to privatize public lands as distant or irrelevant. No matter who you are, or where you fish, climate change is poised to beat the living bejeezus out of your angling. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the same politicians who are trying to sell off our public lands are lying through their teeth about the threat we face from global warming. Turns out they’re perfectly willing to sit back and cash their big fossil fuel industry checks while the planet moves from climate stability to climate chaos.
A second news flash. Some people will do just about anything for money. The fact that our fishing is at risk, and that we’re screwing our kids and grandkids, doesn’t matter one bit to the politicians with the Grinch-sized hearts and the sociopathic tendencies. The DC insiders, partisan hacks, and fossil fuel bigwigs who are pulling the strings on climate denial don’t care about scientific accuracy. In fact, they couldn’t care less about our purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain, or about truth, justice and the American way. If there’s cash involved—and in case you haven’t noticed, there are billions of dollars on the line—they’ll smile, and lie to your face, and pat your little Cindy Lou Who-head, and then steal every part of your outdoor heritage that isn’t bolted to the floor after they’ve tucked you back into bed.
Seriously, the powers-that-be in Washington, DC and on Wall Street are playing us for fools. They’re willing to trade a strong, sustainable economy and healthy landscapes—not to mention our fishing—for wealth and personal power. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Thank you, sir, may I have another?
And you know what’s even worse? Far too many of our fellow anglers don’t want to hear the truth. It’s much easier to gawk at fish porn, or drool over the latest epic fishing destination, or whine about the people who take their duty as citizens seriously. Fortunately, real sportsmen - real anglers - don’t shirk their responsibilities. They fight for our fish and our kids because they know if we don’t stand up now, we’re going to lose it all.
So to all of you who are jumping on the phone and calling Congress, and signing petitions, and supporting our fisheries with you dollars and your passion: Thank You! You’re doing the right thing by standing tall for our outdoor heritage. And to those of you ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼who aren’t, please ask yourself why you’re sitting on the sidelines when we need you in the game, or why you’re siding with the public lands privatizers and the rapacious profiteers and the “I Hate Science” crowd. It’s in your best interest—hell, it’s in all of our best interests—to stick up for ourselves, and our kids, and our fisheries. End of the day, that’s the only way we’re going to hold on to the things we care about.
Here are the facts. Human-caused climate change is real. Our fisheries—not to mention our families—are at risk. Public land haters are trying to sell off the places we hunt and fish. The pathological liars who control DC are the problem, not the solution. That’s right, the ship be sinkin’. It’s time to grab a bucket and start bailing. Please call your senators and congressman. Call them today and tell them to tackle climate change and defend America’s public lands. We can make a huge difference—Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz just pulled a bill to sell off 3 million acres of public land because conscientious sportsmen raised hell—but we have to stand together and speak with one voice.