An Essay on Ethics from the Muskies Canada Release Journal

As you know I am not in the habit of reprinting information or stories on this blog. It has to be something very special to entice me to do this but this commentary on ethics as it applies to the fishing world and how the standards we set permeate our entire existence and often end up having consequences far beyond the arena for which they were intended.

One of many advantages of being a Muskies Canada member is receiving the Release Journal four times a year. Some of the best learning I have ever done on muskies came out of this little publication. Gary George is our editor and he produces an excellent publication on our behalf. This editorial is from the latest edition of the RJ and Gary kindly gave me permission to reprint it here for you.

If you chase muskies and you are not a member of Muskies Canada the obvious question is why? ‘Sport Fishing Research’ is on the crest of this almost 40-year old organization and the list of environmental accolades and community awards compiled to date should make you proud if you are a member. There is a lot to like here so check us out.
And the article from the Release Journal courtesy of Muskies Canada:
I’ve been watching on social media a lot of debates regarding the “Ethics” of fishing for species not currently in season. Unlike in “real life” folks argue and abuse each other about this subject in ways that are both shocking and refreshingly creative. The most common spark for these debates, photos of Bass. Many use the defense; these fish are from New York waters, so it’s legal or it was an accident, I was actually fishing for Perch. Both valid and good reasons but it does bring up a very serious question. Lately I’ve found myself using the phrase; “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”! I think it came to me watching Duck Dynasty, or maybe it was during a Federal leadership debate, regardless it’s a very wise and useful phrase. I’ll admit when I was younger, much younger and less informed biologically speaking I may have neglected to live by it, by that I mean I might have tied on a Flippin Jig and spent the day probing the edges of bull rushes for “Perch”. I may have inadvertently left home for the Crappie location and forgot that my tackle box only contained half ounce Spinner Baits in Bullfrog colours. So I learned, likely because somebody wrote an editorial back then giving me insight into moral and ethical attitudes and the relationship to laws. You see they aren’t the same thing, plenty of laws actually could care less about morality or ethics while many valuable ethics and moralities don’t depend on laws to be useful and good. The fish out of season subject most definitely demonstrates this very well. The debate on social media is a bi-product of a clash of these two things.
Let’s go back a couple decades to see what I mean. In the 80’s and early 90’s New York State legally tolerated snagging of Salmon. My Steelheading adventures took me there during that era. At first I was disgusted but over time I softened my perspective. “What the hell”, I thought, the fish are all stocked so it’s a put and take fishery, they are just dirty, soon dead Salmon who’s spawn is lost to the silt and pollution of the streams, so why not let guys have some fun. A few seasons passed, I saw fights and arguments, I saw gear destroyed by temper tantrums, I saw a lot of guns under the arms of the trout guys who were truly afraid of the nut jobs who showed up for this debacle called snagging. But the worst of what I saw was the moral code around the rivers sink. I saw garbage and tension and the snagging technique was slowly permeating other types of fishing and fishermen. The tolerance of a seemingly innocuous approach was expanding to other places and causing an ethical reduction in attitudes. I realized my own code had been downgraded; I had become tolerant of the abuse without even considering. The light went on for me one day when a CO appeared at my side, out of nowhere. Ever notice that, I mean these are the guys we want for homeland security, they could sneak up on themselves. Anyway this CO asked me if I’d noticed the “technique” employed by the two “trout fishermen” just upstream. I said ya, it looked a little iffy. You see these guys were “lifting” fish. If you don’t know that’s a snagging method where one drifts bright visible baits repeatedly past visible fish until you hit them near the mouth. An efficient practitioner can usually snag any visible fish within a few “drifts”. The clue, heavy weight, the hook always penetrates from outside the mouth inward and the fight is brief due to the hefty line weights. And they don’t stand still, they are constantly on the move seeking vulnerable fish. Real Trout guys don’t go much above 6lbs test in the streams and generally fish locations top to bottom methodically, much like picking thru weed beds for Musky. So this CO explains all this and we agree, I offer to join him in court. He goes on to explain how this problem has grown exponentially since snagging was introduced and how it takes him away from other important issues. I realize that it’s all connected yet again. For me this has been a lifelong unravelling, this concept of all things connected but that’s an entirely different editorial
So do you see the inter connectedness of all this? Do you see how the law allowed for a degradation of a valuable set of ethics? I’m not here telling you don’t go to New York and have fun or don’t go Pike fishing out of respect for avoiding spawning Musky. That’s not my job! But I am trying to help you see how it’s all inter connected, how our actions and attitudes ripple out and have effects we don’t even perceive. The idea is to look past the immediate and see the long view, anticipate how behavior today informs future folks. Set the example, if you follow social media be that guy who illuminates and expands the social consciousness, rather than a full frontal attack, sneak up on them with wisdom and seek consensus like my CO friend. Always keep in mind that as a member or just day to day fisherman somebody is always watching, evaluating and building their own inter connected set of values and ethics. You can be a positive influence on that if you are aware.
We’ve got a brand new season unfolding and our image and potential have rarely been better. I don’t really believe I needed to write the preceding editorial. We already fit that paradigm very well. It’s a walk the walk deal, and Muskies Canada most definitely does just that. We are an elite group for all the right reasons with mentors and work horses throughout. Have the best possible Musky season, remember to take your camera…….. Calvin wants to know what the hell goes on out there!

Be ethical …
peace out,


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