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Old 08-06-2007, 08:36 AM
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Default Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Here are my thoughts on the ethics of fly fishing. I would like to hear your thoughts and respond to them:

As a rabbi and a fly fisher, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the ethics of fly fishing. Is it morally acceptable to spend one’s free-time taking a trout from the river, either to return it shortly to the stream or to eat it for food? Is fly fishing humane?

When fly-fishing for food, I feel on solid ethical ground. To catch a large beautiful rainbow trout, take it home and then fry up the fillets with olive oil, salt and a bit of pepper, is a delicious dinner. Even when fly fishing for food, I take steps to make the process as humane as possible. I never use a creel, to keep a fish alive for hours in the water, which seems cruel. If I decide to keep a trout, I kill the fish immediately. To keep it fresh, I bring a cooler filled with ice on every fly fishing trip.

I also use a very sharp knife, and I kill the fish quickly by removing it head, hoping to minimize the pain. These steps that I take were inspired by the Jewish kosher laws, a collection of rules for how and what a Jew may eat. One law states that in order for a piece of meat to be kosher, the cow must be slaughtered with a very sharp knife that has no nicks or cracks within it. That way, the cow is killed instantly and without pain. I try to end the life of the trout in a kosher-like and humane manner.

While I sometimes fly fish for food, most often I practice catch and release fishing. If I and all of the other fly fishers out there kept or killed every fish we caught, the rivers and streams and lakes would soon be empty of fish. Catch and release fly fishing is necessary to preserve those beautiful and special places where the trout live. I probably keep only one out of every dozen fish that I catch.

We can all take steps to make the catch and release process humane and ethical. When I hook a trout, I do not play it to exhaustion, since the fish may not survive even if released. I always dip my hands in the stream before holding a trout, since the oils on my skin will harm the fish. I also try to minimize the time that the fish is out of the water, quickly removing the hook from its mouth and releasing it back to the stream.

Even when I practice catch and release fishing, I suspect that the trout that I reel in are not having such a great time. But they will all live to see another day. To practice catch and release fishing is to acknowledge that trout are precious. With our expensive fly rods and exquisitely tied flies, we may have the ability to catch many fish on a stream. We also have the responsibility to treat a trout with respect and dignity, for a fish is a beautiful living creature whose source is ultimately divine.

When fly fishing, I still sometimes feel a little bit guilty. And I am not sure there is any way around it. In fact, I would say that feeling guilty about fly fishing is probably a good thing, if that feeling motivates us to be as humane as possible with the fish. Fly-fishing is a wonderful activity that can lead us to feel close to nature. And it can also be ethically challenging. Our task is to make fly-fishing, and all activities in our lives, as ethical and upright as possible.
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Old 08-06-2007, 10:16 AM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

RabbiEE, A good question. I'm a Buddhist and never deliberately kill on maim a fish. I fish strictly C&R, even when fishing other than in my own state (PA). I fish for the shear pleasure of fishing and consider the art of fly fishing a mystical experience. I have been fishing for over 60 years, both salt water and FF. Yes, ther will be days when one plays the fish too much and you have a half dead trout on your hands. I try to revive the fish and do feel bad when the effort is a failure. It's almost like a metaphor for life. I don't eat fish at all and I fish for the simple pleasure it provides me. The argument over whether a fish feels pain has not been resolved as yet, but the anatomy of the brain would suggest that there is no pain involved and the fish is mearly trying to escape being held by the fly line. The PETA group believe differently. And the argument continues. It's admirable that you take the steps to kill the fish in the Kosher method and that does make sense and is humane. The fish is supplying you with food much as beef would. Enjoy the art of the fly. It does irk me when I see dead trout on the river and shows me that it was for the most part a ''''''woem dunker" who did not de-barb his hook causing the hook to be pulled out and causing severe injury. I do de-bard all my hooks, use a net and try to remove the hook without handling the fish. A very nice post and good question. In all truth I don't think I've ever met a Rabbi who fished. Neat. Enjoy. S.D. (Frank)
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Old 08-06-2007, 10:53 AM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

We have discussed this before sometime back, but it
is still a very good question to keep on the forefront.

I am a Christian & I practice both ways. If I catch a fish,
depending on the species & it is of lawful size I may keep it
depending on what I currently have at home. If it is not
of keepable size I treat them with the respect & gently
release after giving it a chance to recoup as I hold it in
the water with it's head facing upstream. I would say that
close to 90% of what I do is C & R. If we don't practice
some method of C & R there may not be that resource
for those whom we teach this sport.

Always in the water,
Tie One On
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Old 08-06-2007, 08:42 PM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Doc View Post
RabbiEE, A good question. I'm a Buddhist and never deliberately kill on maim a fish. I fish strictly C&R, even when fishing other than in my own state (PA). I fish for the shear pleasure of fishing and consider the art of fly fishing a mystical experience. I have been fishing for over 60 years, both salt water and FF. Yes, ther will be days when one plays the fish too much and you have a half dead trout on your hands. I try to revive the fish and do feel bad when the effort is a failure. It's almost like a metaphor for life. I don't eat fish at all and I fish for the simple pleasure it provides me. The argument over whether a fish feels pain has not been resolved as yet, but the anatomy of the brain would suggest that there is no pain involved and the fish is mearly trying to escape being held by the fly line. The PETA group believe differently. And the argument continues. It's admirable that you take the steps to kill the fish in the Kosher method and that does make sense and is humane. The fish is supplying you with food much as beef would. Enjoy the art of the fly. It does irk me when I see dead trout on the river and shows me that it was for the most part a ''''''woem dunker" who did not de-barb his hook causing the hook to be pulled out and causing severe injury. I do de-bard all my hooks, use a net and try to remove the hook without handling the fish. A very nice post and good question. In all truth I don't think I've ever met a Rabbi who fished. Neat. Enjoy. S.D. (Frank)
Thanks for this response. I enjoyed reading it. And yes, I am a Rabbi who loves to fly fish!
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Old 08-06-2007, 10:08 PM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

For another less religious view:
I feel it is unethical to lose our connection with the natural world. Most Americans do not know the difference between wheat and barely. The typical American can recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but not cannot identify ten birds. With modern conveniences we have lost touch with reality. Naturalist E.O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have a innate desire to interact with nature. Ecopsychologist take this even further and suggest that the exponential increase in anti-depressant medications is do to this lack of bond with nature. Fishing teaches one to listen and observe the lessons of a billion years of evolution. Fishing re-connects humans to the cycle of life with a rod, a line, a well presented fly, and a knowledge that cannot be passed on in text books.
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Old 08-06-2007, 10:38 PM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Quote:
Originally Posted by alanthealan View Post
For another less religious view:
I feel it is unethical to lose our connection with the natural world. Most Americans do not know the difference between wheat and barely. The typical American can recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but not cannot identify ten birds. With modern conveniences we have lost touch with reality. Naturalist E.O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have a innate desire to interact with nature. Ecopsychologist take this even further and suggest that the exponential increase in anti-depressant medications is do to this lack of bond with nature. Fishing teaches one to listen and observe the lessons of a billion years of evolution. Fishing re-connects humans to the cycle of life with a rod, a line, a well presented fly, and a knowledge that cannot be passed on in text books.
Pretty good first post. I am one of those 'victims of the modern age' you speak of, but I'm overcoming that one step at a time.

Further, I totally disagree with the view that man and nature are inherently separate entities. Taking a fish out of a river to eat it is not destroying the natural world; killing an animal is not inherently wrong. For millions of years, man did these things. Only in the last five or six hundred years has man had the so-called benefits of civilization.

Now I'm the first to admit that most of those benefits are actually not bad things (rods, reels, rifles ... even the internet). I'm no back-to-the-land guy. But there must be some sort of balance, where we can reconnect with the traditions of mankind interacting within the nature that we are part of, rather than viewing it as either higher or lower than we are.
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Old 08-06-2007, 11:01 PM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eric Cioe View Post
Taking a fish out of a river to eat it is not destroying the natural world; killing an animal is not inherently wrong. For millions of years, man did these things. Only in the last five or six hundred years has man had the so-called benefits of civilization.

Now I'm the first to admit that most of those benefits are actually not bad things (rods, reels, rifles ... even the internet). I'm no back-to-the-land guy. But there must be some sort of balance, where we can reconnect with the traditions of mankind interacting within the nature that we are part of, rather than viewing it as either higher or lower than we are.
Eric- that is exactly what I was trying to say. To not fish is to lose a connection that is innate, however easily forgotten in todays modern world.
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Old 08-07-2007, 09:09 AM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

There are more beautiful moments when fishing and catching a trout. There's the moment when a doe and fawn come to the river to drink, the muskrat family that is building their home, mink cavorting on the banks, even the water snakes that cross infront of you. The Blue Herons, various and sundry birds that inhabit the river side and the flocks of wild turkey that fly by on some occasions. At the river early in the morning before the sun is up watching some fish come to the surface for the hatches. Chosing the hatch of the day, casting. It's all great. Nirvana. Silver Doc
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Old 08-07-2007, 10:09 AM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Quote:
I feel it is unethical to lose our connection with the natural world. Most Americans do not know the difference between wheat and barely.
Along with RabbiEE, I too am a man of the cloth who flyfishes (Catholic priest and Benedictine monk). The quote above deals with a very serious matter that we'll be struggling with in the future. This is the first generation of people, in any time or place, that does not have significant and direct contact or involvement with the natural world. That's going to be a very significant challenge for pastors, teachers, counselors, etc. Just one example: one hundred years ago it wasn't all that necessary to talk much about sexuality. People saw it all the time in farm animals and it was obviously associated with life. It's not by coincidence that procreation and sexuality became diassociated (with disastrous effects in many cases) at the very same time that people's live became much less connected with the natural world through urbanization, industrialization, etc.

In terms of religious and spiritual development, I can see a couple of immediate things. The odd paradox is that people are very conscious right now of the environment and human activity within it, especially the effects. Yet, the same group isn't learning or encountering much through experience with nature. As it directly pertains to the Rabbi's question, people are going to be making decisions about flyfishing's humanity and ethics (and for that matter hunting and fishing in general) without ever seeing things like predator-prey, food chain, carrying capacity actually existing in the wild. As a kid, I got a lesson in these things by seeing a snake hunt a frog in a pond. It taught me that predation is natural and being preyed upon is simply part of a frog's life. As an adult, I learned a deeper lesson in this watching a doe from a deer stand. Every pop, crack, and snap brought her to a stop from browsing to look and sniff out the source and check for danger. Those who get their ideas about deer from the movie Bambi would think that a hunter is invading and terrorizing a poor, peaceful creature that means no harm. Seeing a deer in reality teaches you that a deer knows nothing of peace. It's reality is one in which danger and death are always an immediate possibility.

The other pastoral challenge, certainly for those of us who are theists, is that the natural order is a very important foundation for theological and philosphical insights. The present situation risks being cut-off from a very important source and experience of some of the most fundamental realities and mysteries of human existence. For example, something like Providence. It's something you can learn about from a sacred text, but that's not the same as seeing it and experiencing it in the natural world. There's a young, intellectually-promising monk here who recently decided to plant peanuts to make homemade peanut butter. He commented to me the other day, that in growing them and caring for them, it was his first significant experience of the natural order, soon followed by what he believes is an experience of divinity in the form of Providence.

As I understand, virtually any credible spiritual and religious outlook has this sort of experience. It's something very critical to human spiritual health, no matter what religion someone embraces as true.

People like RabbiEE and I are going to have our hands full. If you want to help, all of you who detect and feel spiritual overtones casting a fly rod and landing a fish need to be open about them with others. True, there's much more to the spiritual life, but that transcendent dimension that comes with flyfishing is vital and in danger of being lost. All of you can, figuratively speaking, bring people to the doorstep of the flyshop that people like RabbiEE and I run. we can take it from their. We're both trained to help people figure out the choices of rods, reels, and fly lines that constitute life.
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Old 08-07-2007, 01:21 PM
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Default Re: Is Fly Fishing Humane?

Rabbiee and Flyfisher for men, this thread has been an absolute pleasure to read, thank you for your insights and spiritual guidance!! Bless you both!
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