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Commentary: A Look in the Mirror
By Paul Crawford

As we look at the present state of fishing, we must conclude our sport is in a bit of a decline. Recent state reports show the number of fishing licences down by 20% over the last 5 years. Although some manufacturers are growing, others are passing into memory. The question of "Why?" has many answers, but as fishermen, we must look to ourselves for an uncomfortable number of reasons.

We do not seem to hand down our love of fishing as our fathers did to us. Our club has had an enviable record of father/son teams, but it's the exception rather than the rule. When is the last time you took your kid, even if he's now 35, fishing? How about those nieces and nephews, did you give them a rod and reel for Chirstmas as my uncle did for me? When's the last time you took a neighbor kid fishing just because he wanted to go? You get the point.

I'm sure you talk about fishing with people at work, I sure do. Do you lead them to believe you have to have a $20,000 boat to enjoy the sport? Do you find yourself ever turning up your nose at that Zebco 33 rig the guy next door uses to go cat fishing? Ever offered a pack of the latest worms you are using to those kids fishing from the dock? There are a lot of ways to get people interested in fishing, and a lot of ways to get them turned off by it.

Fishermen have a well deserved image problem. We are the ones who throw trash and line in the lake. We are the ones that curse at the top of our voices when we miss a fish. We are the ones that relieve ourselves 50 yards away from the dock with little regard of who's watching. Fishermen are looked at as the definition of "Bubba", and all the negative things that go along with it, a crude, rude, bigot with little respect for anything, including himself. Unfair? Sure, but with just enough truth in it to hurt.

Tournament anglers have a special problem with perception. We have forgotten the simple joy of an afternoon on the bank, when the fish don't bother you a bit. We are viewed as elitists who tie up the ramps, leave dead fish "wasted" after a tournament in the water, and look down their noses at anyone wanting some fresh table fare. We are jealous of "our" water, and quickly turn on anyone encroaching on it, expecially if you don't happen to be in a tournament. Can you think of anything you've ever done to deserve that kind of view?

Hard words for hard times. Sometimes we get so caught up in the chase, we forget why we love to fish to start with. Fishing, expecially for Bass, is as pleasent and rewarding activity as I have ever found. I would love to pass on this joy to everyone, most of all the kids. But until we take the time to see ourselves as other people see us, and take steps to correct the view, we will never be a crediable source of any opinions. We have an image problem. We, as individuals, may not have created it, but we do have to live with it. We can either watch our sport dwindle, watch the public money dry up for our lakes and ramps, and be the final generation of fishermen, or we can do something about it.

What to do? Simple! Get others involved with fishing. Use your knowledge of fishing to make it as simple and cheap to start as possible. Be courteous to those around you, on the water and off. Keep the water as clean as if you owned it, in a way you do. And share your love of your sport, along with your favorite fishing hole, with anyone who cares enough to share it with you. Fishing can be contagious, if you let anyone get close enough to catch it. The more people we can infect with the love of fishing, the more clout we will have to keep the waters clean, to give us good ramps, to manage the resource to keep the fish populations up, all of the good things we hope for in the future. The current trend is the other way, but each of us can have a part in changing it. Just try a little to change alot.

To paraphase Pogo, "We has met the enemy, and they is us."

Paul Crawford

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