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Trash Fish Truths

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

By David Graham - July 10, 2012

“We as fishermen are as unique in our differences individually as the fish we pursue, and yet at the core of each fisherman there is a thirst for adventure, and the thrill of the catch which we all share despite our different philosophies and beliefs…”

As a multi-species enthusiast, I am frequently on the defensive in the continual debate between mainstream anglers and those who choose to pursue nearly all fish. It’s not difficult to understand; after all, anglers are arguably the most superstitious, boastful, misled, stubborn tale-tellers on the planet! Nearly every fisherman has his or her highly prized ‘spot’, secret baits, or rituals, not to mention the ‘lucky’ hat, or a special tattered, stained t-shirt, or some other nonsensical item or habit that he or she maintains are critical to the successful catch. However, the casual explanation of the reason for these lucky charms or rituals is generally accompanied by colorful tales of memorable angling trophies, which seem to grow each time the tale is repeated.

As anglers, we get so absorbed in our own convictions about what is “right” and “what works best” that they become almost ‘legend’ as they are passed down over time to our closest friends and family. Therefore, when you place two unrelated anglers together, from different angling experiences, the competitive instinct emerges almost immediately, with declarations of what works best, what never works, and who has caught the most amazing specimen of whatever species is being discussed.

For ‘multi-species’ anglers, debate is imminent and simply comes with the territory. There is no shortage of fable-like myths, outdated notions, fabricated ‘facts’ and legend in all areas of fishing. Convincing any angler that he or she might be wrong is about as simple as nailing jello to a tree.

“Whatcha fishin’ for?”

“Are you SERIOUS? Why you wanna fish for (fill-in the-blank, rough fishermen) that?”

“Don’t you know those are TRASH FISH?”

“Why do you fish for (____), those are ‘trash fish’”

Ah, yes … where to begin to converse with these opening questions? Those kinds of questions speak volumes about the type of angler by whom you are querying. Honest curiosity is one thing, but the premise of these “Why-do-you-want-to-fish-for-THOSE-fish” is packed full of preconceived notions. You just know the “helpful advice” you’re about to be pelted with is basically to let you know that the other angler is much smarter than you could possibly be.

Not much reasoning with anglers like this. In fact, I’ve developed a few “quick talking points” when I’m asked what I’m casting for, something along the line of “Bass”, or “whatever is biting”, just to stop the stream of opinion I’m about to receive. Yes – I am intellectually capable of providing the true and proper answer to those silly questions. However, there is insufficient time to be direct with someone simply drifting by on a john boat.

There is no harder head than the hard-head of an “old fashioned” fisherman who has plenty of advice to give, but little interest in hearing how someone else might do it differently.

“At the core of all fishermen there is a thirst for adventure, and the thrill of the catch which we all share despite our different philosophies and beliefs.”

Simply put, you just can’t rationalize with the irrational… leave out the science, leave out the facts, leave out all ecology, history, and state the obvious. Regardless of how different the angler’s ideas are from yours, one thing is unmistakably true for both of us: the ‘promised land’ is at hand when we get a sharp tug on the fishing rod and hear the sound of drag screamin – music to our ears!!

“Why do you fish for carp? Carp eat bass eggs, they are non-native trash fish from China!”

A simple and honest response to this question could get you hours of lost fishing time, and generally nowhere with the angler making such statements.

“A fish that grows over 4 feet long and excess of 50 pounds? “Why not!” generally shuts them up real quick. Avoid the idea of bass egg consumption etc all together… he ain’t changin’ his mind, but you describe to any fervent angler a fish in excess of four-feet in length and 50+ pounds and that angler’s mind will ‘missile-lock’ on your words… and generally grab his or her attention.. time to move in on those irrational fishing assumptions!

Is that a careless way to handle a situation where someone is obviously in dire need of education? Meh… perhaps. What is the textbook long answer for these questions? Well.. I suppose it depends on the species being questioned. People have the right to question why we do what we do, and I reserve the right to avoid the question. In all honesty, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with anglers who choose to fish in a predominantly ‘species-specific’ manner. Why pursue those fish? Simple answer, I am bugged by this concept of what is the ‘Complete Angler’.

An angler is someone who pursues fish, and not just a certain type of fish. ‘Fish’ are creatures that encompass greater species diversity than any other class of organism with a vertebrate. It is not a term that acknowledges popular ideas and beliefs of the hapless angler who so often verbalizes them… or restricts certain species from the classification based on these ideas. Fishermen pursue fish – and thus, anglers who pursue ALL fish in my humble opinion are what I would consider a complete Angler. Anglers who single-mindedly pursue largemouth bass, for example, are simply bass fishermen. Considering that there are somewhere in the range of 32,000 fish species, becoming a COMPLETE angler is virtually impossible, but it is an incredibly satisfying quest.

Who is the better fisherman? An illogical question maybe, but if I had to assume based on how I define the term ‘fisherman,’ I would assume it is an individual who elects to pursue fish ‘boundlessly’… not restricting that pursuit with personal belief, superstition, or bias. As great a biodiversity as the aquatic ecosystem sustains, an anglers method of capture should be expected to reflect that… and oh the diversity. The ‘fish’ world includes predators, herbivores, and omnivores. I guess you could toss in filter feeders as well. Interconnected into these categories are different branches of consumers. You have salt and fresh, open water species, species that stay primarily in rivers, creeks and streams, warm water/cold water, deep water, and shallow water species and more.

Understand that there are predators that move in schools operating as units launching highly organized attacks on schools of smaller forage species. Just the same, there are those that are entirely self sufficient, solo predators that may feed completely opportunistically or rely more heavily on cover, concealment, and camouflage.

Understand that there are species of fish that grow close to 100 pounds, which may sustain themselves on creatures that are scarcely visible to the naked eye and those that feed entirely on plant matter.

I could talk endlessly about the different waters, tactics, etc that are required to pursue all these fish. However, what I intend to present is the fact that an angler who has dedicated himself/herself to successfully matching these variations of habitat, feeding patterns etc with artificial tactics of deceiving these fish by rod and reel should be able to take a greater amount of pride in what they have succeeded in doing as an angler than those who choose to dedicate all their time focusing on one, or a few species of fish… neglecting to acknowledge the opportunity presented by the full spectrum of species of fish they could otherwise chase. Is being species specific wrong? Absolutely not, as it has made some people millionaires. But to question why, with a predetermined notion that it’s wrong regardless of a given answer, an angler chooses to fish for ‘trash fish’ is just absurd.


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