Fishing Guides Should Set a Good Example

Everett Johnson
A couple of weeks ago news of a fishing guide who had run afoul of the law set our local waterfront on fire. Bait camp pillow talk would have us believe that this guide of some twenty years experience brought a box to the cleaning table that contained several undersized trout and an oversized red. You would think a guide of so many seasons would know better.

Naturally, lots of folks find it necessary to cuss and discuss matters of this nature to great length. Overhearing one such debate I was pleasantly surprised that even some of the hardliners who would rather take a whipping than show up with less than a limit were condemning this guy. The general consensus of the group was to take away his license. Two of them thought a greater presence from the wardens would fix the problem.

Now I have always believed that compliance with any statute is incumbent upon voluntary action way more than enforcement, which goes hand in hand with the old-school definition of character; doing the right thing even when nobody is watching.

Putting my personal theories to the test, I conducted a bit of related research and here's what I learned. Texas is currently home to nearly one million saltwater license holders. While the great arc of our coastline covers a distance of 367 miles, if you measure in greater detail you will find that the actual distance where Texas mainland soil touches tidewater measures a distance of 624 miles. The Texas Almanac says our perimeter shoreline, including beaches, stretches for nearly 2400 miles. And now for the really big number, the estuarine waters of Texas between the Sabine and Brownsville encompass about 4,177 square miles.

So how many wardens do we have working the coast? According to Rex Mayes, our captain here in Region IV, if you called all the game wardens (including captains and majors) stationed and assigned to coastal duty on any given day, they could amass a force of about 55 on the northern half of the coast and slightly fewer on the southern half, maybe 100 in total. Put them all in boats and launch them all at once with instructions to spread out and enforce the law and they'd be spread nearly as thin as old-time Texas Rangers where only one ranger could be spared to quell a single riot. So more wardens are probably not the answer.

Let's look at this situation from a different angle. Saltwater fishing guides I'm told now number within a whisker of 1000 here in Texas and the number is growing to meet the popular demand. A sizeable community of schools have sprung up, organized solely for the purpose of teaching and assisting applicants attain a Coast Guard license such that they may become saltwater fishing guides. So as the ranks of licensed guides swells to meet the eager clients on the docks every morning, maybe we should begin to function like the citizen soldiers of old who joined the Rangers to help enforce the law where there were no lawmen.

Think about it rather than teaching clients to dump fish that are too long or too short into the Igloo, we as guides should be teaching greater respect for the resource and the regulations that govern our sport. The lessons should include demonstrating how to handle the ones that don't measure so they'll survive and thrive rather than lessons on sneaking them to the cleaning table.

I read an account on an internet message board recently and I replied with kudos to the guide writer who was posting. His words were right on the money and went like this "I encourage catch and release. When my wading clients are keeping fish, I'm right there to keep track of what they're putting on the stringers. When we're drifting and catching fish I measure everything on the Check-It Stick. When we get a half-limit of trout I move them where we can target redfish." I think this guide sets a good example.