The author with a ring-necked pheasant hunted on public lands. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Hauck.
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The author with a ring-necked pheasant hunted on public lands. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Hauck.
I don’t own land. I live in an apartment in a city of 2-plus million people. But I love to hunt ring-necked pheasants. So I rely primarily on publicly accessible lands for almost all my hunting. Can you relate?
I know many of you can, which is why for the last four years, Pheasants Forever has held its Rooster Road Trip event, a one-week online hunt that showcases not only the opportunities for the public-land pheasant hunter but also Pheasants Forever’s heavy involvement in many of these projects. And to underscore the breadth of Pheasants Forever’s upland habitat work, the Rooster Road Trip makes its way across five states in five days.
This year, even in this era of unprecedented modern wildlife habitat loss, we once again found reasons for optimism and projects worth modeling in other parts of pheasant country:
Hunting with local Pheasants Forever volunteers in five locations represents just a snapshot of Pheasants Forever’s impact. We have 700-plus (including the Quail Forever) chapters doing public land acquisition and restoration work across the country – areas open to me, areas open to you and areas that will be open to hunters in years to come for their own rooster road trips.
-Anthony Hauck is Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor
After an all-out gill net assault on Florida’s mullet population, order has been restored.
My blog last week told how a circuit court judge in Florida’s Panhandle ruled that the state’s constitutional net ban amendment, which has been in effect for more than 18 years, was not, in her opinion, being correctly interpreted and enforced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and therefore netters could once again use gill nets.
At that time, the state attorney general had filed an appeal, which put a stay on the judge’s ruling. Problems resulted when that judge, Jackie Lee Fulford, rejected the appeal on the basis that she believed the netters who challenged the amendment would win on appeal and would be hurt if the stay on her ruling remained.
Netters wasted no time in pulling their old gill nets out of storage, buying up as many new nets as they could and killing as many mullet as possible, mainly in the Panhandle and Jacksonville area. Several netters posted photos of their nets filled with gilled mullet in their boats on Facebook.
Unfortunately, on Nov. 1, the FWC decided not to enforce the net ban amendment. According to a source with the FWC, the agency was afraid it might get sued if law enforcement officers arrested netters and the judge’s ruling was later upheld.
According to prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney Ali Waldman, the FWC had nothing to worry about.
“They should wait until the ruling has gone through all of the challenges, and all of the appeals, before they stop enforcing the amendment,” she said. “It’s silly.”
The state attorney’s office kept at it, and on the afternoon of Nov. 6, the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, Fla., reinstated the stay of the judge’s ruling. Col. Calvin Adams Jr. of the FWC quickly sent out a memorandum that said, “Effective immediately, we are resuming enforcement of the net [ban] amendment and all associated statutes and rules.”
Adams went on to say that officers should use discretion in case they come across netters who are not aware of the stay, which will be the defense of every mullet netter they come across from here on out.
In the meantime, the appeals process must play out. Coastal Conservation Association Florida, which played a critical role in getting the net ban amendment passed by 72 percent of Florida’s voters in 1994, has intervened in the appeal.
My belief is that Judge Fulford has been grossly misinformed by the netters who sued the FWC and has no understanding of the issue. In her final judgement, she noted that the net ban prohibits all entangling nets except cast nets, so it is absurd that FWC allows netters to use seine nets, which occasionally entangle fish. She also wrote that it appears FWC is enforcing the net ban only to keep mullet fishermen from fishing.
The thing is, netters caught 12.5 million pounds of mullet in 2011 using seines and cast nets, so it’s not like they can’t catch mullet without a gill net. It’s just harder to catch mullet using those nets compared to gill nets, which catch more mullet with less effort.
Before the net ban, netters were catching upwards of 25 million pounds of mullet a year, which was hurting the mullet population as well as the populations of gamefish that feed on them such as redfish, snook and tarpon.
It certainly would be fitting if, because of the lawsuit and Fulford’s ruling, the FWC decides to outlaw seines. Of course, knowing the lengths to which netters will go to fight the net ban, the FWC might also have to outlaw dip nets because there is a chance that while netting a shrimp or crab, you could entangle a glass minnow.
In many cultures, mountains and water have a special significance and attraction. In China, an ancient song titled “High Mountains and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship. In the Bible, Psalm 23’s well-known verse three teaches, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul,” and those of us who pursue fly fishing in the mountains around moving water know the therapeutic value of a day spent on the water.
In 2007, a group in Bozeman decided that this experience would help aid in the recovery of our nation’s wounded warriors from the injuries, both physical and psychological, that they received during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From this idea sprang the Bozeman-based Warriors and Quiet Waters Foundation for which I served as both the volunteer director of fly fishing operations and a board member from 2007-2010. During that time, the program grew from two five-day events to eight events that served 40-50 wounded warriors and their spouses each year.
The typical fishing experience is a five-day event that begins with equipment fitting, compliments of Simms Fishing Products, followed by a day of fly fishing instruction on a local pond; we call it Fly Fishing 101. Events typically conclude with two days of guided fishing and a sight-seeing trip into Yellowstone National Park.
Participants with injuries ranging from bilateral amputations to post-traumatic stress disorder come from military medical facilities across the U.S. and are fully equipped, accommodated and cared for during their stay by a group of dedicated Warriors and Quiet Waters volunteers.
I’ve been fortunate to have been involved with Warriors and Quiet Waters and another great therapeutic fly fishing program, Project Healing Waters, for seven years. During that time, I’ve seen first-hand the palpable impact that time spent in the mountains, around flowing water and fly fishing has on these wounded warriors and vets.
I could tell their stories myself, but the most powerful testimonies come directly from the participants themselves.
“Fly fishing has given me a chance to ease my mind. There is no peace quite like being on the river surrounded by surreal beauty with only a friend, Mother Nature and yourself. When I leave the river, I feel rejuvenated and optimistic.”
– Avery, a wounded U.S. Army soldier
“I really wanted to mention the day we had at the creek. I had a great time, and even if I had not caught a single fish it would have still been tops. The scenery was great, the wildlife was awesome and I could have just sat on the bank and imagined I was in heaven. I will never forget my day on the creek. It was like a year’s worth of therapy wrapped into a single moment.”
– John C., U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class
Testimonies such as these underscore the importance of ensuring that all Americans can enjoy a day on the water or discover the camaraderie forged during trips afield. These experiences would be harder to come by if not for the groundwork laid by the forefathers of conservation like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold and others. And groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited help uphold our nation’s great conservation legacy.
We do this because these high mountains and flowing water experiences change lives, and, in some cases, they even save them. I will leave you with the following story from Chris, a U.S. Air Force wounded warrior:
“While I was in the ICU, I died three times, flat-lined. I don’t recall much, except for the last time. The last time I flat-lined I do recall accepting it that my body just could not handle the stress of it any longer. Things were going dark for me, but I remembered a Warriors and Quiet Waters fishing trip that I took to Montana. I was fishing at the place where they filmed the movie A River Runs Through It. I saw the old train tracks, and I saw myself sitting on a rock just fishing, not trying too hard, but just relaxing. It was the most relaxing place ever for me. But, I knew I was going to die and this was it. But when this happened, I pictured my son sitting on the rock with me smiling away as we were fishing. Then, all the alarms were going off in ICU, but I accepted it and then everything went black. Four days or so later I woke up. I was out the entire time. I was told by the nurse I flat-lined three times and almost died. In her words it was a miracle I am still alive.”
Images courtesy Dave Kumlien.
“To capture the fish is not all of the fishing.” – Zane Grey, Tales of Fishes
Fishing is so much more than just catching fish.
It’s also about the experience – the adventure, the thinking and the thrill of the chase that is all wrapped up into a great time on the water. Therefore, it is no accident the TRCP has held our Saltwater Media Summit in Florida for the past three years.
If you want to talk about saltwater fishing and the importance of conservation, then Florida is a perfect backdrop. If you also want experience great fishing and get folks out on the water seeing these issues first-hand, then the “Fishing Capital of the World” is the perfect playground.
In fact, the Sunshine State is the center of the universe when it comes to saltwater recreational fishing. According to statistics from the American Sportfishing Association, Florida sees nearly 2.4 million saltwater anglers per year. This activity injects approximately $6.8 billion into the economy and accounts for more than 65,000 jobs.
The TRCP hosts these gatherings of media members each year for three main reasons: (1) to identify and discuss pressing conservation issues, (2) develop and strengthen key relationships and (3) ultimately tell the story about the importance of conservation and the link it has to our ability to enjoy the thrill of fishing.
While all are important, developing the relationships and forming bonds through a shared experience has the most lasting impact. To bring folks down to Islamorada, put them in a boat with rod in hand and have them experience the great, well-managed resources Florida has to offer is irreplaceable. The folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Visit Florida, and the Florida Keys & Key West recognize this and rolled out the red carpet to the TRCP and our summit attendees. Nothing stays with you more than good memories, and those were abundant on Florida Bay last month.
Which brings me to my own fishing memories forged at the media summit: I had the good fortune of fishing with Dave Mezz, deputy editor of Garden & Gun magazine. That morning, we made a long run past numerous flats and mangrove islands to find a most spectacular display of tarpon busting pilchards on the surface.
As we anchored, a Spanish mackerel jumped into the boat and landed in our live well. It took only one toss of the cast net for bait and we were in business.
On his very first cast, Dave was hooked into his first-ever tarpon. The fish put on quite a show…we had never experienced anything like it. After a few more pilchards, I too had the joy of feeling that great jolt of electricity on the end of the line – my first tarpon as well! Never had I felt such speed as the line ran off the reel. The acrobatics of the fish are pure joy and only make you want to catch another one.
After a few more hookups but unsuccessful fights, we moved farther into the creeks as the tide continued to drop. We cast our baits into the mouths of the emptying creeks and let them swing out into the main channel. Pretty soon, we both felt the subtle thump of the snook. This fish was an equally delightful fighter and had his own unique tactics for evasion. Once near the boat, he too put on an aerial display and tail walk trying desperately to throw the hook. To our good fortune, both Dave and I landed our first snook ever this morning as well.
The TRCP Saltwater Media Summit was a rewarding event for many reasons. We made new relationships, discussed some critical issues and furthered the message of conservation for these important fisheries. But when I tell the story years from now, it will begin as the day I caught my first tarpon and snook. Now that’s fishing!
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