Trout Fishing photo

I have a guide buddy (who will remain anonymous) who once summed up the fishing and trespassing debate this way:

“Only the outlaws catch the big fish.”

Which in some states like Colorado is probably true. I know the biggest fish there live in waters behind fences. (Call it high fence fishing if you want). I know I’ve had a lot of fun fishing behind some of those fences. And I know that I have felt the sudden urge to jump some of those fences now and again. Whether I did or not…

Well, you’ll have to make your own educated guess.

How do you net out on the private water issue?

I ran into a guy on the river the other day. He was trespassing on private property (I was not). I didn’t know whether I should say something or not.

He said, “Oh don’t worry I’m just catching and releasing.” Does that make it less of an offense? I mean, let’s be honest, the real reason people hang signs is because they get all worked up that someone might jump in their river and catch “their fish”… or even kill one. Is catching and releasing somehow less of a violation? Probably not.

Then again, I’d consider a few small fish poached on private water a lesser violation than one big trophy brown (beyond eating size) taken from public water like, say, the Big Hole, because it’s somebody’s right to do so. Bull corn.

I will also say this. “Keep out” signs do a pretty good job of keeping people out of the woods, and off the rivers. Especially young ones. As a writer who depends on people who like the outdoors… enough that they might actually want to read stories about it, I’ve always had a hard time making the emotional jump over the no trespassing issue. I think we need fewer signs, not more.

For the record, I wished Mr. Catch-and-Release good luck, and fished on, feeling like I hadn’t been stepped on in the least.