You and your partner just arrived at the remote Rapid River and encountered an angler at Middle Dam casting a fly. He has just arrived himself, after walking a mile from the gate to the dam. He tells you he’s been fishing for five minutes.
When you ask to see his fly, he’s happy to show you a Gray Ghost – a traditional fly for those waters. As you suspected, his fly is barbed. And he doesn’t know that this is the only water in the state where barbless hooks are required.
Do you give him a summons for fishing with a barbed hook, a violation that will cost him between $100 and $500? Or do you inform him of the rule and wish him a good day of fishing?
Let’s expand on the story. This angler - I will call him Gordon although that is not his name – is a busy guy. He hasn’t fished the Rapid in five years and he’s very excited to be there. He rarely keeps fish and is a very conscientious angler with an unblemished record.
But there’s more. Gordon owns 1000 acres in central Maine that is open to sportsmen. I hunt turkeys on his land, which is how I came to hear his story. He did not seek me out with his complaint, or ask me to write about it. A snowmobile trail also goes through his property.
Warden Colonel Joel Wilkinson has established goals for his wardens, focusing on education and good landowner relations. Both might have dictated a different result than giving Gordon an expensive summons.
But when I inquired of the Colonel about this situation, I got a call back from Major Greg Sanborn insisting that the wardens handled the situation correctly. Greg said the barbless hook rule has been in place for two seasons on the Rapid and is commonly ignored, so wardens are done educating Rapid River anglers about it. They’re going to give summonses this season.
I pointed out that Gordon had been fishing for just five minutes, hadn’t caught anything, no damage done. He would have been happy to pinch his barbs. But there was no give from the Warden Service on this one.
But there’s more. I’m a fairly well informed sportsman and I did not know about the barbless rule on the Rapid River – and I fish there too. So I asked John Boland about it. John was the long-time director of DIF&W’s fisheries division and is now in charge of both the fisheries and the wildlife divisions.
John told me that when his agency proposed to adopt a catch-and-release regulation to help the Rapid’s struggling wild brook trout population, local anglers also requested a barbless hook rule. So the department included it.
John says that research shows a slight 3 percent decrease in mortality for trout that are caught and released if barbless hooks are used instead of barbed hooks. When I reminded him that he established a goal of simplifying our fishing rules, and adopting a rule that applies only to a single water is going in the wrong direction, he agreed.
I also suggested that if barbless hooks could be justified on wild trout populations, DIF&W should have adopted that rule for all wild trout waters. John said the slight difference in mortality doesn’t justify a statewide barbless rule.
Gordon is now posting his land, angry about both the way he was approached by the wardens and the issuance and expense of his summons. Do you blame him?