Fishy resolutions

It's a new year, time to make a few resolutions, and endeavor to actually keep them
trout release
Photo: Chad Shmukler

It’s a new year, and I’m doing what I do just about every January. I’m already on the plan to try and dump the holiday weight, coupled with the “COVID weight,” which has been a persistent companion since we all locked down nearly two years ago. And yes, it really has been that long. But it’s more than that. This year, a lot has changed, and that means the resolutions will change, too.

Several years back, I resolved to catch at least one trout in each of the 12 months – it was no small feat, given just how locked in snow and ice eastern Idaho can be in December, January and February. Some of my friends balked at my self-posed resolution, because, they said, resolutions were supposed to be difficult (hence the need to resolve to accomplish them). They weren’t supposed to be enjoyable. And fishing … well, that’s enjoyable, they noted.

This was back before I worked in the conservation business, and when finding time to actually go fishing was something of a challenge. And when December rolled around, and I was snowed out, iced out and generally out-maneuvered by winter until the week after Christmas, I remarked to my friends that my resolution might not be successful, and that I was not, as they claimed, enjoying the effort it took to keep it. I finally plucked a 15-inch rainbow out of the Bear River near the little town of Grace, Idaho, on Dec. 30 that year – the only fish I caught in December. The fishing was not the least bit enjoyable. It was 9 degrees outside and I think both me and the picky trout I managed to hook on a dredged No. 8 Prince Nymph would have rather been doing something else. Hell, anything else.

But I get it. As resolutions go, it likely wasn’t entirely crafted in the spirit of things. You know, like a weight-loss goal or resolving to quit smoking or swearing. So this year, my resolutions are going to look a little more like ... suggestions. Sure, I’ll do my best to lose some weight – I really need to for the sake of my health and my family. But there are other resolutions that have to do with my fishing, and I think you’ll see that they, perhaps unlike that resolution all those years ago, are, indeed, in the spirit of the endeavor.

First, I resolve to catch fewer fish.

Certainly, this could be a simple resolution to achieve, but it requires some explanation. In recent years, I watched as my home waters have been hit with a double-whammy of sorts. First, as COVID hit, it seemed that everyone turned to the woods to escape the lock-down blues. I saw more people on the water than in years past, and I saw more people who were so desperate to get out of the house that they showed up in the hills completely unprepared and without the first clue how things worked. My favorite spots were overrun with newbies, and, unfortunately, newbies who behaved badly. Second, climate change is taking its toll on my local trout water. Last year, in June, my favorite backcountry creek hit 65 degrees. It got warmer in July and August. Fishing it was just irresponsible.

Back to the resolution. It doesn’t make sense to be a “numbers” angler in the age of climate change. Released fish are stressed fish, and fighting a fish to exhaustion when water temperatures are in the mid 60s is a pretty good way to increase the chances that any caught fish will eventually be a dead fish. So, assuming the hordes will return for a third consecutive summer and knowing that a warming world is just getting warmer, catching fewer fish is a resolution a lot of us might consider for 2022.

That, of course, leads to my next resolution.

Fish less.

I’m blessed in that I live among some of the most impressive swaths of public lands in the West. I’m close to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and several national forests. I do not resolve to visit these great places held in trust by federal land management agencies fewer times this year, but I do resolve to tote a fly rod along fewer times. I might try and do some snorkeling in my local creeks and rivers. I’ll hike more (the weight-loss resolution looms large), take roads I’ve never taken and enjoy more night skies.

I resolve to get my guns out of storage and do some hunting this coming fall.

I say I’m going to do it every year, and every year I get so caught up in great fall fishing and the ungodly pasttime of fantasy football that, by the time I think about hunting, it’s too late to go hunting. Grouse and ducks are on the menu this year. And squirrels. I really want to go squirrel hunting. Sounds silly, as these plentiful rodents don’t have a real mainstream following in the West. But some of the best times I had with friends when I was a kid was when I was hunting squirels with pellet guns in the piney woods of East Texas. Also, almost without exception, a meal procured with a rifle or a bow is going to be more nutritious and better for me or my family than just about any meal I can buy at the local supermarket.

Take a kid fishing.

A couple of summers ago, I took my girlfriend’s grandson fishing a couple of times. We went once this past summer, but it was spoiled by a newbie we met on the water who was more interested in the pistol on his hip and explaining to us all the ins and outs of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot than he was in fishing. This summer, I’m going to put one fly rod together and put in Braxx’s hands – he’ll fish. I’ll watch. And I’m going to avoid on-the-water politics like the plague.

Harvest some trout.

Yes, I get that it doesn’t make sense to resolve to fish less and catch fewer fish and then turn around and resolve to keep some of the fish I catch. But, where I live, there are some fisheries that would benefit from a bit of population reduction. Brook trout are not native to Idaho, and, generally speaking, where brook trout swim, native cutthroat trout do not. Killing a mess of brookies now and then isn’t a bad idea if, for no other reason than to try and give some native cutthroat trout more breathing room. But, truthfully, it goes back to my third resolution — a meal procured from the woods tastes better than any meal I might pluck from the meat cooler at the grocery store. And brookies are absolutely delicious.

It’s a new year. A daunting year. And we’re faced with some unique challenges that have many of us anxious. Resolving to make a few changes in light of the issues facing our society is probably a good thing. Keeping them? That’s another thing altogether.


I resolve to reduce my greenhouse gas footprint another 50%. For me, my household, and my business.