I've been lucky. For seven years I've been able to fish all four seasons. The winters have been on the milder side, especially last year, and dealing with frozen rivers wasn't an issue. Sure, I've dealt with frigid fingers and toes, a bright red nose, and even boots that were almost impossible to get on. But, there's always been moving water and hungry fish, and most importantly, days that got above 30 degrees.
I've gotten a little bit of slack from friends recently about how little I've been fishing this season. That perhaps I'm just being a wuss about the cold. That could legitimately be a part of it, but here's the bigger issue: selfishness.
We all know how important it is to avoid warm water temperatures, practice safe handling and release techniques. We know to not fish certain sections of rivers during spawning season, and a lot of us avoid entire rivers if we notice a population decrease. So, why don't we talk about the extreme cold?
This week I was happy to see that Hatch magazine began to address the issue. It basically equated to don't touch them, don't take them out of the water, and don't play them too long. Obviously, these are all important rules that should be taken seriously for all those who participate in winter fishing, but here's my question: are we still doing significant harm?
That's the hard thing about catch-and-release fishing, once we've let that trout go there's no guarantee it survives. And, if it doesn't, how wasteful is that? Over the years I think I may be fishing less, but I'm thinking more. I shudder when I see a photo of a beautiful brown being held by glove covered hands. The shot of a rainbow lying on a snow-covered bank is pretty grotesque. And, bragging about braving a 17-degree day whilst holding up a brook trout is just downright shameful.
I'm not here to tell you to avoid fishing in the winter, that's not my call. I think we all ask ourselves the risk vs. reward question before we hit the water, and that's a personal decision. But, as responsible anglers and conservationists, we should all take care to follow certain guidelines, setting a good example for newcomers both on the stream and online.