Let’s Walk Some Walk

Everett Johnson

Writing an editorial piece seems never to be easy. Granted, the degree of difficulty runs hand-in-hand with the topic so, I have only myself to blame here. I have deep beliefs and strong feelings leading me out on this limb. I therefore pray I have done a good job and my writing will be well-received, I also pray some good can follow.

I am taking direct aim at my fellows in the fishing guide business, but much can apply to non-guide anglers as well. This is not to chastise or ridicule, but to encourage. I want to talk about how and where we as high-profile fishermen are leading the general sportfishing public. I am in my eighth year as a fishing guide, long enough in my mind to be entitled to this opinion and make these statements. During my seasons of guiding fishermen, my attitude, my style of fishing, as well as my personal conservation ethic have all evolved. I didn't always think this way.

Like it or not, fishing guides are role models. Anglers who cannot fish every day live vicariously through the exploits, accomplishments and actions of those who do, especially those who have figured a way to make a living from it. We all have fans, most we'll never meet, and some of them hang on our every word. They learn to do as we do and strive to fish as we fish.

In the beginning I did not understand the role model thing fully. Yes, I always tried to be upstanding in my business practice, and yes I have always invested great effort to conduct myself as a gentleman. Naturally, I have always tried to deliver a good product, using my best judgement in selecting fishing areas and methods to suit client ability and desires, but there is more to it. Along the way it has occurred that some fishermen will copy me and that I will therefore share responsibility to some degree for the fisherman they will ultimately become.

Over the years I have enjoyed the good fortune to be able to hunt and fish in many places, much of this has been with guides. They taught me many things and led me in the pursuit of some great hunting and fishing successes. I was always careful to hire professionals who had earned solid reputations; therefore I have been in the company of many outstanding hunters and fishers. The best of these always supplied more, though. Along with their ability to place me where I could take game and fish, they taught respect for the environment, conservation of the resource we were using and generally good citizenship in the natural community.

I am offering a challenge. I want to challenge every fishing guide in Texas to consider their actions, all their actions. I want our industry, if we could term it such; to become more responsible in the harvest we lead our clients in, and especially in the way we teach them to measure success. It disturbs me that we the guides were the first to sensationalize the hero stringer. We used the piles of fish displayed variously to book more trips. We'd see one guy staging photos one way and pretty soon we did it. Somebody had a better idea and pretty soon others were using it. Then came the internet and we all built websites and began posting reports that included photos of great catches. But where is all this taking us?

I visit lots of internet sites. Some are moderated to a greater degree than others with strict rules governing what you post; other sites are moderated by the regular readers who by their own convictions set certain decorum. One of the most striking things I have observed is that a site that allows guides to place pictures and reports of great catches also have considerable posting by non-guides doing the same. "Congrats on the awesome haul," are the accolades such posts often earn.

So the challenge goes like this; what say we clean it up? What say we try to lead our fans and followers to fish more conservatively? Let's walk some walk here. People will follow as we lead. Consider how long we can continue advertising limits if we run out of fish. Fish them for half a limit and then switch to C&R. Most everybody wants some to take home, but is all the best number? Personally I have found that a cool C&R or action photo emailed to the client after the trip is every bit as effective as ten trout slung over the shoulder. There's my challenge.