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Theodore Roosevelt had three travel related firsts as president. He was the first president to ride in an automobile for state purposes; he was the first to ride in an airplane. Do you know the third?
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I have second thoughts as I arrive at a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It’s more like a glorified trail that hasn’t seen a grader in years. According to the map, it’s about five miles to the river.
Hoping it won’t be too bad, I turn onto the trail and brace for the bone-jarring bumpy ride. My Ford maneuvers over sharp basalt rock, and sagebrush scrapes the sides of the vehicle. I pray the truck doesn’t get a flat or overheat in the scalding sun – cell phones don’t work out here.
Mule deer look up in curiosity; their heads twitch back and forth, and then they go back to eating wild bunch grass. This backcountry hasn’t seen a vehicle in weeks. The truck continues to creep along barely exceeding five miles per hour. After an hour, I crest a sage-covered flat and finally see the river.
In contrast to the burnt brown and yellowish hard clays of the landscape, the banks of the river are green with native grasses and willow. I analyze the river, trying to determining where a fish might lie.
There’s a small pool turning behind rocks and a soft seam hugging the bank. My first cast is upstream to the grassy cut bank. Stripping fast, I take a couple steps upriver and cast again, this time behind a rock where the current is moving at a considerable pace.
Bam! The trout explodes, cartwheeling out of the water. She’s strong, pulling, not giving in, but her fight ceases after a few minutes. I bring her to the bank, remove the hook and release her.
These public land experiences are an American right. As a hunter and fisherman without access to private land, I take most of my trips afield on public land. I need access to the arid high-desert backcountry, which forms my playground for hunting chukar and mule deer and fishing for trout.
In southeast Oregon where the majority of my time is spent recreating, there are millions of acres to roam, and still sportsmen’s access to public lands is being infringed upon.
With the current demand for oil, gas, solar and wind energy, our public places are increasingly vulnerable to development. The TRCP is working to ensure that energy development is done in a responsible manner that balances our energy demands with conservation of core fish and wildlife habitat. Without this balance our favorite places to hunt and fish will be lost.
If you’re willing to go on an adventure, you can get lost on the endless backcountry dirt roads that lead to rim rock breaks or trout streams in the desert. These special places have no road signs, traffic lights or city congestion – just arrows pointing to dirt roads that cross an endless landscape.
I want to see these American landscapes kept the way they are so that one day I can come back to catch and release a trout again. Join us in ensuring that we keep public access an American right.
What is your favorite backcountry hunting or fishing story?
Mia Sheppard is the Oregon field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and fishing bum by night. To find out more about her work to help conserve public backcountry land, go to www.trcp.org.
I’m a very lucky guy.
I hit the fisherman’s jackpot when I was born, the son of an outdoor writer who dwelt in the expanses of marshes and swamps, bays, lakes and barrier islands of south Louisiana aptly named “sportsman’s paradise.” My dad rarely went hunting or fishing without me and my brother in the truck.
Some of my fondest memories will always be of standing, fishing rod in hand, on the deck of our modest powder blue, 15-foot bass boat. The boat didn’t go fast or look pretty, but it managed to bring us back to the dock with plenty of speckled trout and redfish for dinner.
A couple of times each year we would head offshore on the 65-foot charter boats out of Port Fourchon to fish for snapper, grouper, king mackerel and whatever else was swimming around the rigs and reefs. My dad always made a big deal when we caught a red snapper, sneaking the first few into a small ice chest he kept away from the crowd to make sure we got a couple to take home for dinner.
Taking the big boat rides to the deep water and watching the older fishermen muscle in amberjack or an occasional shark was an adventure. But those days were no more special than the ones spent simply walking the surf at Grand Isle, casting top water Mirr-O-Lures and gold spoons at speckled trout as they busted shrimp on the Gulf of Mexico’s lightly rippled surface.
As I got older, I began paying close attention to the changes happening to my childhood fishing haunts and my ability to access the fish. My marshes were washing away and sinking. Bayou banks and marsh ponds where I had caught redfish and watched teal fly past by the thousands became open water seemingly overnight, while more and more of Louisiana’s coasts fell victim to saltwater intrusion brought on by manmade canals and the isolation of the Mississippi River’s water and sediment from its delta.
I watched commercial fishermen use purse seine nets off Louisiana’s coast to harvest brood stock redfish by the hundreds of thousands in the late 1980s. At times so many fish were brought to the dock that they rotted in the baking late-summer heat before they could even be processed. Recreational fishermen lost an entire year of fishing for reds, and limits were severely curtailed as state biologists scrambled to recover stocks.
I watched as regulations on my dad’s beloved red snapper became ever more restrictive, limiting access and breeding distrust of fisheries managers at all levels of government among recreational anglers.
I watched hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike carve up my beloved marshes and barrier islands and devastate towns from one end of Louisiana’s coast to the other. And I saw the region get slugged in the gut again two years later by an oil spill that coated my speckled trout surf and took away an entire spring and summer of fishing from Gulf anglers.
Recreational fishing in the Gulf has a $10 billion impact on the region’s economy every year. But more importantly, it builds relationships between friends, families, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. It teaches us how to respect our surroundings and where our food comes from. It teaches us to appreciate a perfect sunrise and how to make others appreciate it as well.
Limiting access to the fishery, whether due to habitat loss, manmade disasters or unnecessarily restrictive regulation not only threatens communities and jobs; it also jeopardizes our ability to raise the next generation of sportsmen and conservationists. This trend of access loss for recreational anglers is happening not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but across our nation’s coasts.
We can do better. We must do better.
That’s why I am honored to have the opportunity to work with fishermen across the Gulf and throughout our coastal areas to try and unite those who want to make our fishing and our fisheries more sustainable. Fishermen must use their collective might to advance positive change, but we must reach consensus on what we want that change to look like – and we must be willing to compromise when needed.
My dad taught me well. Now that I have a son of my own, I’d like him to have the chance when he’s my age to remember the red snapper he caught and took home for dinner when he was 10. Join us in making this a reality.
Do you have a favorite stretch of coastline or a favorite fishing memory? Post it below.
TRCP’s Neil Thagard and his wife Catherine recently had the opportunity to enjoy some time on public land chasing Merriam’s turkeys. With Catherine behind the camera and Neil as the caller and shooter, they were able to coax this wily tom away from his hen into their decoy setup, which resulted in a 25 yard shot – enjoy the video!
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More