In short, this opening chapter begins with an earnest plea to persuade every angler in this broad land, first to force upon himself a stern self-sacrificing abstinence from the capture of small-sized fish, and secondly, to make every effort to induce others to do likewise. This is of the most vital importance, for, in the short space of two years, each angler will reap the benefit, as the result of larger growth will be astounding and satisfying beyond all measure. I have often thought, if it could only be possible to stop all angling for just one season, what a vast change there would be in our captures the next year. It would double the size and quantity of fish taken, and that of our pleasure likewise. To abstain from the capture of small fish, while not enough, is all we can expect from the angler. Much more is required from others, in conserving, breeding, planting, and transferring every kind of available fish-food in the most desirable places, viz.: where fish happen to be most abundant and food scarce. Anglers can help along this work, also, by filling their pockets with grasshoppers, crickets, caddis, bottom creepers, garden-worms - in fact every kind of food - and by dumping it in the water, where it will find ever-ready mouths to feed. Even should the food not be taken by game-fish it is sure to feed some creature game-fish eat, for, in the round circle of nature's work, even garbage feeds worms, fish eat worms, we eat fish, and, in the course of time, worms eat us.
In addition to stopping the slaughter of young and undersized fish we must go still further by not robbing game-fish of their food to use as bait to capture them. There are many advantages to be gained by doing so, and we lose nothing by it. In later chapters many good and sufficient reasons are given why anglers will benefit; in fact throughout this entire volume the subject is treated from every view-point, as I have known it for many years. We not only encourage the growth of fish by making our own artificial flies and lures, but of our own effort we transform the present cruel method of live-bait fishing, which is dirty and disagreeable, into a cleanly, scientific method that is far more effective, artistic, and satisfying in every way.
If we fail now to make every effort to encourage the growth of game-fishes, and still continue with a determined resolve to ignore future conditions, and if new members of the angling fraternity start in to act in a like manner, after a few more years we shall face a situation when it will be too late to recuperate - our goose will be dead - and the golden eggs we took as a matter of course will be out of reach. The splendid, free, open fishing will be absorbed by private individuals and clubs in control of posted waters. These clubs do now, and will in future, restrict the number of fish to be caught more than ever. Then the angler of limited means will ask why he cannot get the sport his forebears did, with all the fostering care the State provided. Many an angler will say, "what's the use of me putting small fish back when I see lots of others catching them?" Then is the right time for propaganda, persuasion, and advice to those who need it - small beginnings in the end find great things.
In a nutshell, the point is this: We take our vacation, supply ourselves with a fair stock of artificial flies and lures, arrive at our destination, and have no delay or worry of buying or digging baits. We fish with a method safe to catch in a humane and sane manner, and enjoy a greater personal triumph in fishing a higher style with far better results than before.
The last, though not the least important, suggestion to encourage the growth of fishes is that each and every angler bestir himself to form associations or committees to have the laws revised concerning the opening and closing of the trout season of every State on a wise and rational basis. I am not familiar enough with conditions to speak with personal knowledge of the Middle West and far Western States, but I do know by experience of the harm being done in the States of the Eastern seaboard, particularly New York State, which I use as an example. It is very difficult to find out who is responsible for making the date of opening and closing season as it now stands. Whether it be politicians or the conservation officials, they seem to have done their very utmost to inconvenience the angler and destroy the trout. The best natural trout streams in the State are located in the higher altitudes of the Catskills and Adirondack mountains, where the temperature remains low, with ice and snow water still running up to the end of April, and often later. Till that cold water is run off, all fish food, minnows, bottom creepers, and insects are still dormant. The river is void of life, and is nearly always a raging flood. After the long winter's rest from fishing, most anglers naturally await the opening day with impatience, and, without realizing what adverse conditions will greet them, take their first trip only to find their lines freeze to the rod-tip - no trout responding to their flies; no insects in flight except a few small species on warm days, which are rare.
A member of New York's most exclusive fishing club told me that the opening day in 1919, after a very mild winter, was bitter cold. A heavy snow-storm made him very uncomfortable while wading the stream, located at a low altitude in New Jersey. He went on to say, "fly-fishing was out of the question; my fingers froze to the rod handle and the line fast to the tip; so I had to turn to the 'inevitable worm' - even that was a miserable failure. There won't be good fishing for a month." The first of May is plenty early enough for the opening of the trout season in the States of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. A far worse condition is present at the closing date of the season, which needs immediate attention and revision.
Adult brown trout feeding on minnows.
Quoting from an angler's letter, written August 2, I read: "The river (Beaver Kill) seems now to contain as many fish as in the spring. I caught four last evening, two fourteen and two sixteen inches long. Three were females, and I thought it a crying shame to take trout so late now they are full of eggs" Whoever framed the law to close the season on the the last day of August must be entirely ignorant of what is best for the fish and fair to the angler. The season should close on the last day of July; which would give three months open season instead of five months, which it is at present. Those anglers who can only take their fishing in the late summer or fall will find in the bass just as good sport, if not better, because trout fishing in August is only good when the water is high, which happens on very rare occasions.
To briefly summarize this chapter on how to get more and larger fish for the angler's better enjoyment of his sport - first: Refrain from the use of live bait, which, if left, will foster game-fish growth. Second: Stop the capture of undersized fish by not fishing in brooks where they abound and by using a method to which they will not respond. Third: Agitate for the revision and shortening of the trout-fishing season.
If each angler will make a personal effort in pushing these three reforms into working order, he will be not only astonished but gratified at the result, that will be evident in a season or two, of the wonderful growth and abundance of game-fishes.
In Chapter IX a brief reference is made to the advisability of propagating and transplanting the Montana grayling to Middle Western and Eastern States. At the present time, for some cause or other, the grayling is almost extinct. There are many reasons why this excellent game-fish should become abundant in every State that has natural trout streams. The first reason is, this fish is every bit as gamy as the trout. It rises to artificial flies with the same vigor. Its economic food value is equal, and, best of all, the open season for grayling fishing would have to begin about the time the trout season ends, filling a void of fly fishing in the delightful Indian-summer days, from September to the end of December, when frost really begins in the temperate zone. The fisherman whose vacation happens during the fall months would get most agreeable sport. For what reason do Eastern State culturists ignore this fine fish? If there are difficulties, why not endeavor to overcome them? I know hundreds of trout streams in different Eastern States where grayling would be sure to thrive, and would very soon afford splendid autumn sport for anglers. The trouble is (without personal reference to any particular State), fish culturists seem contented to trot along in the rut their predecessors have made; self-satisfied if they pile up vast quantities of trout, half of which by judicious planting would suffice; if the expense and labor necessary for the other half were devoted to the culture of food for them.