Monday, July 28, 2014

Our policy on trophy fish.

Anybody that has spent much time around WWO knows that we value our trophy fisheries. It's not only important for our business but for future generations to ensure these trophies are taken care of. Those of you who know me personally also know that I will never chastise or go overboard when someone legally harvests a fish. I firmly believe that it is their prerogative to do what the will with a fish. In fact I make it a point to congratulate them on their catch. Inside I blame myself for not doing a good enough job of educating those around me about the value of these fish.

Those around us also know that I pride myself and my company on taking the average everyday working Joe on what is hopefully a very educational and worth while trip if not the trip of a lifetime. I absolutely love getting some their biggest fish ever. Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a professional fisherman.

(This is a picture of my father and I with a fish released many years ago)

For those of you who have ever considered booking a trip with us or any outfitter for that matter, I feel its important for you to understand our policy on trophy fish. Below is an email from a client I had last week and my response. I have removed anything of personal nature because it is not important who this person is but rather the general theme of the emails. I post these publicy not to criticize ( I would happily have this customer on my boat again) but rather as an educational piece as to why I have the trophy fish policy that I do. I hope you enjoy it and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, feel free to share it.

From my customer:


Had fun and learned a lot fishing with you last Thursday at Taylor
Reservoir.  Was very heartbreaking to release what was for me the catch
of a lifetime.  I am not typically a trophy hunter / fishermen and
justify the cost of my outdoor hobbies by the food it puts on the
table.  I was very disappointed to find out I have been disqualified
from the master angler program because I released my fish.  Northern
Pike are not wanted in waters west of the continental divide and while
releasing them is not illegal, it is discouraged and therefore
disqualifies the fisherman from the master angler program.  I have tried
to understand your reasoning on this one but keep coming up short.

I have had hundreds of people like and comment on the picture of my
trophy fish on facebook.  My brother is the only person who seems to
agree with your policy that forced me to release my catch.  I think in
light of the further disappointment your future customers will have if
they wish to document their Northern Pike catches while on your boat I
would urge you to change your policy in regard to that species.  I also
think your policy would be frowned upon by the DOW.

I had a wonderful time with you.  You seem to be a good guy and I do not
want to cause you any trouble.  I know you are trying to make a living
and provide for your family, so am I.  Beyond the disappointment of not
being able to document my catch, we really could have used the meat.  It
was a big stretch for me to spend the money to go out on your boat.  I
know fishing is never guaranteed and this was just a lucky break, but it
would have really helped to off-set the cost of my day with you if we
had some pike steaks in the freezer.  I realize I probably am not the
kind of customer you are looking for so the business you may have lost
because of making me release the fish will not really effect you.

I wish you the best and hope your businesses prosper.  It was an honor
to meet you and you have my respect.  I love the fact that you built
your businesses form the ground up.  Although we didn't get to talk much
about our faith I am pleased you are  involved in your church and youth
group.  I get a little nervous when I find out people are in a
non-denominational church because I have no idea what they might be
teaching.  I hope your Church is solid and believes the Bible is true
and useful to guide every aspect of our lives.  A person can't  make
that assumption anymore.  If you have any interest in what I do please
visit www.**************.org.  We have some mission trip
opportunities for like-minded believers and if I could ever be of
service to you or your church I would be willing.

God bless you,

****** ********

My Response:


Quite honestly I was taken aback by your email. I read it while on a trip this
morning and the more I thought about it the more it rubbed me the wrong way. I
first want to make it very clear that I too very much enjoyed the day. You and
your cousin's family were a pleasure to be around and it was very satisfying for
me as a guide to have someone get so excited over such a quality fish; as it
should be.

However, I cannot put into words my disappointment when I hear that someone
simply does not understand the treasure that a trophy fish is, and for that to
be reason not to use my services in the future is maddening. You had clearly
been fishing that lake a very long time and never even come close to a fish of
that size. I overheard you talking to your brother on the phone mentioning that
you had learned more in our 7 or 8 hours on the boat than you had in 20 years.
Further more you mentioned that we fished areas of the lake you had never even
considered and in ways you had never seen. The opportunities you now have to
catch trophy fish in the future are endless largely in part to the educational
piece of the trip. I know for a fact that little things you learned such as
trolling speed and not to point your rod at the fish would have almost ensured
you would have never caught a fish like that.

I make it incredibly clear on all of my web and print media that my company
endorses catch and release fishing on ALL trophy fish including northern pike. I
very much believe in population control of predatory fish such as the DOW
promotes on certain waters with certain species. But this can be accomplished by
the harvesting of smaller fish. Releasing large fish ensures that my children
and your new grandson will have the opportunity to catch trophy fish in their
lifetime as well. Again, this is very clear in all of my advertising and if this
was problem for you, I would suggest that you should have never stepped into my

Catch and release fishing is absolutely the standard in professional fishing. I
know for a fact the three guides here in Colorado that guide for pike that I
know of have similar policies. In fact I would encourage you to spend some time
studying outfitters across Colorado and the lower 48 for that matter. I believe
you will be hard pressed to find very many outfitters that would have allowed
you to harvest such a fish.

I am sorry you feel the way you do about the meat, but I simply do not buy into
that reasoning. We released at least a dozen smaller pike that put together
would have easily matched or over came the meat that was on that fish and helped
the population far more than we could have by killing one big fish if that was
your reasoning. If money is the issue when booking a guide trip and putting food
on the table is at risk, I would also suggest that perhaps booking a guide trip
is ill advised. The amount of food you could provide for your family in the gas
money it took you to drive over and back alone would have easily lasted a month.
Further more the cost of the trip probably would double or even triple that.
Keep in mind how many pounds of fish you will provide for your family in the
future because of what you learned on my boat. In fact you were in your boat two
days later while I was fishing with your brother. You were fishing those spots I
showed you and following us around, a practice most guides get extremely upset
about.  I'm sorry, but the pounds of fish to offset the cost is simply not a
valid argument for killing that particular fish. What I find most interesting
about this comment is it was your cousin who paid me for the trip. I don't know
about your arrangements with him over the payment, but he was the one who handed
me the money. Further more, you cannot slap a guide in the face any harder than
for him or her to work their tail off to get you a trophy like that and then not
tip him or her. I also think it warrants pointing out that had I ended our trip
at the determined 6 hours this fish would have never even been caught.

Finally, on the note about the master angler program. It has been without a
doubt a hugely successful program in promoting fishing across the state
especially with youth fisherman/women and I give the DOW props for implementing
it. But the simple fact that you cannot receive a patch for your fish does not
diminish the accomplishment of catching such a wonderful fish. It is truly a
personal accomplishment. I honestly believe the only reason you are so upset
about not receiving your patch is because it somehow makes it less of a bragging
opportunity. I cannot think of a single person that would rather see a master
angler patch than a picture and/or a replica of your fish. The only reason for
the patch is pride and as a minister you know better than most the dangers of
being prideful.

The other part of your email that I find more degrading than anything to do with
the fish is for you to make an assumption about and take a shot at my faith. You
have not a clue about my personal life or my convictions. In fact for a minister
to make those assumptions is probably the scariest thing I can think of. I would
imagine that being in the ministry for *******, you would see more people making false
assumptions about ones faith than perhaps any other ministry field.

I want to reiterate and stress that I truly enjoyed the day with your family
which is why your email was such a shock. I feel very strongly that I taught you
and armed with tools to have repeated success in your fishing journey. I would
strongly encourage you to consider your strategy before the next time  you land
a trophy fish. It feels as though trophy fish get harder and harder to find
every year and if we don't help protect some of them, I'm afraid there will be
generations down the line that never get an opportunity at such a catch. It
truly is shame that there has become such a culture of killing these rare fish
and northern pike have probably taken the brunt end of it, especially at Taylor.
If you or your family ever have the desire to return and fish with me, I welcome
the opportunity, but my catch and release policy will still be in place. In fact
starting next summer we are making it even more restrictive. If that is going to
be an issue, perhaps you should find someone else to guide you.

I wish you all the best in your future fishing adventures and especially so in
your ministry.

Ryan Johnson
Owner / Guide
Weekend Warrior Outdoors
Gunnison, Colorado