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Professor's view of the environmental record

7/20/2006

Fishing days are always special.

Whenever I awake and the order of the day is to go fishing, cares, worries and traffic jams easily disappear.

This never happened in my teen-age years, when the day ahead called for loading cement blocks or piling hay bales in a hot barn.

So when I went off to college in search of a career, one of the jobs on the top of my list was fishing. This will explain why I was so absolutely tickled when 90-year old Jim Schwartz climbed into my boat recently to spend the day, well, … fishing.

We go back more than 40 years. His name back then was Professor Schwartz. He was on the Journalism staff at Iowa State University.

One day Professor Schwartz called me into his office and said if I wanted a career in journalism I needed a swift kick in the behind. He kicked and I went on to a career of fishing, hunting, watching sunsets and tweety birds and writing about it.

While we dragged leeches for smallmouth bass the other day, Professor Schwartz and I recalled the kick and other fond memories. He has a keen sense of history.

For nearly 50 years, he's spent his summers on Ten Mile Lake at Hackensack, Minn., casting for largemouth bass.

In his younger days, he'd seek the night bite of walleyes in the clear waters of Ten Mile. "But now I'm too old," he said.

Has the fishing changed? Of course. For the better? No.

One of the lessons offered by my old professor was his view of the environmental record:

Each generation hopes to maintain good fishing, clean water and so forth but fails nevertheless for many reasons. The next generation believes the degradation is normal and hopes to maintain that.

As the decades go by, we accept as normal less and less in our outdoor endeavors because we seldom look back historically to know how much has been lost.

There are exceptions, Professor Schwartz agreed. When he was an Iowa kid, the sight of a deer was rare; wild turkeys once gone are now returned.

His view from the shores of Ten Mile are not unlike my own:

We accept bluegills not much larger than a potato chip. We tolerate Northern pike the size of hammer handles. On many state walleye lakes, a slow day is the norm.

Yes, bass and muskie fishing today may be as good or better than anglers experienced 50 years ago, because now those species are largely being caught and released.

Can we turn back the clock where fishing has declined? Probably not.

But maybe it's time we stop thinking we're doing enough to maintain good fishing for the next generation.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.

Ron Schara's short feature, "The Outdoor Beat," airs at 7:55 a.m. ET Sundays on ESPN2. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.