Out There: The upright angler


Editor's note: Watch for Keith "Catfish" Sutton appearing on "The Casting Couch," a one-minute commentary on the wild world of fishing that airs on Saturdays during "BassCenter" on ESPN2.

Uncle Guy tilted the outboard motor on the old, wooden johnboat. An abandoned trotline was twisted tightly around the propeller.

"You like catfishing, don't you, boy?" he asked as he began cutting the old line away.

"Yes, sir," I answered.

"Do a little trotlining, too, don't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Let this be a lesson to you then," he said. "An upright angler doesn't leave his line where it'll trouble someone else.

"When he left, the fellow who was fishing this line could just as easily have cut it and took it out of the way where it wouldn't have bothered us. Now we'll spend the next 15 minutes trying to cut if off instead of fishing."

After incidents such as that, Uncle Guy often talked about "the upright angler," upright being his synonym for ethical or principled.

"An upright angler wouldn't leave a trotline that way," he'd tell me.

"An upright angler doesn't throw his trash all up and down the river," my uncle would say, pointing to garbage floating along the banks.

"An upright angler takes care not to spill gas in the water when he's topping his outboard motor tank," he'd note, topping off his own tank.

"An upright angler takes only the fish he needs to eat, and puts the rest back for another day."

Thing was, Uncle Guy didn't just talk about the upright angler; he was the upright angler.

During the years I fished with him before he died, he taught me more about being an honest, ethical fisherman than I've learned in all the years since.

Things would be a lot better if we were all upright anglers. So in memory of Uncle Guy, I've put together a list of things we can all do to make fishing more enjoyable for everyone.

It's important that all of us work together to protect our fisheries and the lakes and rivers on which they depend. Without clean water and healthy environments, there will be no fishing.

We also should show respect and consideration for other people who use those resources. We need to set a good example for others to follow and leave positive images of fishermen for those who don't fish.

Here are some ways all of us can help:

  • When regulations allow and you want some fish to eat, practice restrictive harvest. Release trophy fish and keep some smaller ones for dinner.

  • Voluntary catch-and-release is a good way to protect and perpetuate trophy fisheries. Shoot some photos for memory's sake, then carefully release the fish unharmed.

  • Properly dispose of used fishing line. Many animals die each year after becoming entangled in carelessly discarded line. Other trash kills, too, including plastic six-pack rings, plastic bags, bottle caps and even old fishing lures and cigarette butts.

    Don't drop any trash in the water, even if it sinks. Save everything — including bait boxes, minnow bags, hook containers, broken bobbers, drink cans and leftover bait — for proper disposal at home.

  • If you fish with jugs, trotlines, limblines, nets or yo-yos, take them with you when you leave. These items are a major form of unsightly garbage and can be extremely dangerous to boaters, swimmers and wildlife.

  • When wading, disturb the streambed as little as possible to protect the delicate habitats there.

  • Avoid purposely introducing non-native fish species or discarding unused live bait in favorite fishing waters. If an unwanted species gains a foothold, it can wreak havoc on natural ecosystems.

  • Read your local fishing regulations guide cover to cover this year, and stick by the rules — all the rules — year-round. Obtain the proper licenses. Obey creel and possession limits. Use only legal equipment and methods of harvest.

  • Avoid spilling fuel and oil when filling your motor. These chemicals are deadly to aquatic life.

  • Join, support and volunteer your time to an organization involved in water or fisheries conservation.

  • Share the joys of fishing with children. They are the future of fishing. Teach them the feeling of satisfaction that comes from being an upright angler. Discuss the importance of being a responsible angler. Explain your personal code of ethics, and encourage them to "do the right thing" when enjoying the outdoors.

  • Spread the word. Now that you've invested time reading this article, you're aware of some of the ways one person can make a difference.

    Here's another way: pass this story on to other people. Or at least pass on what you've learned. As you inspire friends and family, they'll inspire others. Our ability to have a positive impact will grow proportionately.

    By following these principles of conduct each time you go fishing, you give your best to the sport, the public, the environment and yourself.

    And, believe it or not, actions really do speak louder than words. Upright anglers can make a difference.

    To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net.