RAGGED LAKE, Maine -- An ice fisherman fishes when it's cold; a fly fisherman fishes when it isn't. An ice fisherman uses fish to catch fish; a fly fisherman uses ersatz insects. Maine ice fishermen are mostly born here; fly fishermen are mostly "from away."Although the worst violence that war correspondent Barry Newman encounters consists of lame jokes and soft putdowns that fly-fishermen tell about ice fishers, or vice versa:
These differences have gotten an airing this winter in a legislative debate about bait. Fly fishermen for "bait control" say live bait fish -- especially non-native ones -- get loose in lakes, glom all the food and drive the native trout out. Ice fishermen for "bait choice" say they must fish with live bait or be driven out, too.
"Ethically, the fly fishermen don't like ice fishing," said John Whalen, who farms bait in Canaan and has led the ice-fishing outcry. "They view it as consumptive, removing 'resource' from the environment -- fish that they want to be able to catch three or four times in the summer."Newman is clearly fond of the irony that "non-native" fishermen are advocating for laws that regulate non-native fish: he cites the out-of-state pedigrees of the bill's sponsors and supporters, and even mentions that one bait prohibitionist was on his way to a "Thai dinner" after closing his fly shop for the evening (a subtle accusation of elitism, I suppose: "If the ice fishermen are starving, let them eat Pad Siew!")
...Thom Watson, a Bath Democrat, sponsored the other bait bill. He was born in Louisiana.
"My dad was a duck hunter," said Mr. Watson. "He used to say ice fishing was like a hunter sitting by a fireplace looking up the chimney waiting for a bird to fly over."
Funny stuff, but in reality, there are probably at least as many native Maine fly anglers as there are out-of-state ice fishermen. If howling at "out-of-staters" is how the ice fishermen are going to respond to these proposed regulations, they're going to lose, and also foment a lot of useless resentment on the way.
The ice-fishermen argue that bait fish that have inhabited our lakes and ponds for decades are essentially native: "How long do they have to be here before they're called native?" asked Norman Chick, a retired apple grower. They might have come "from away" originally, but they're useful and they've lived here for years without doing much harm.
The man seems oblivious to the fact that his defense of bait might also apply to the legislators proposing the new regulations. But that doesn't invalidate the argument: in fact, a legislative committee had to weaken the bill when they discovered that no one could figure out when or how the allegedly invasive shiners arrived in Maine.
Which reminds me of Alan Burdick's book Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion. The book mentions that there are hundreds more known alien species in the ocean along the west coast than there are on east coast, in spite of the fact that the Atlantic coast has been exposed to alien species from foreign trade for centuries longer. It's not that the east coast somehow repels invasives. Everything that marine biologists know about the Atlantic coast is based on an ecosystem that has already assimilated hundreds of new species since colonial times: we just can't tell what's "alien" from what's "native" anymore.
Truly, some invasive species pose big problems when they're suddenly introduced into a new habitat (look at what happened when Mr. Chick and Mr. Watson's ancestors met the first native Mainers). But a lot of non-natives arrive in new places without causing catastrophes, and sometimes, they can increase an ecosystem's diversity and resilience. Fly-fishermen should keep this in mind before they anguish too much over bait fish, and ice-fishermen can do likewise before they deride their neighbors "from away."