Are Anglers Sportsmen, Too?
By V. Paul Reynolds

In a few weeks, Maine voters will go the polls, not only to elect a President, but to cast a vote that could be the beginning of the end for this state’s hunting heritage. Question Two will ask voters to decide whether to ban the hunting of bears with bait, which is the traditional method of hunting black bears in the Pine Tree State. A “Yes” vote would make the traditional Maine bear hunt a crime. A “No” vote would preserve the status quo. Guides and outfitters in rural Maine would continue to have jobs and businesses,and state wildlife biologists would continue to oversee one of the best managed bear populations in the country.

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Whatever the outcome in November, this state’s outdoor community will not be left unaffected by the struggle to preserve the rights of sportsmen. We will look back and realize that during this anxious time we learned a lot about ourselves, who we are, what we stand for, and what we count as precious.

For example, does it seem astonishing to you that Maine sportsmen, threatened by this anti-hunting initiative, contributed more than a million dollars to save their heritage and their right to be left alone by wealthy dogooders who have stuck their collective noses where they don’t belong? It does to me. When you consider that trappers, individual sportsmen and rural fish and game clubs opened their wallets repeatedly until the campaign money goals were reached, it underscores the cohesiveness of sportsmen as a class of citizens. It also puts to rest the popular myth that folks who fish and hunt aren’t tuned in to the world of politics and social change.

If we lose this struggle for our sovereignty as sportsmen, we will always be able to find peace of mind and take comfort in the knowledge that we fought the good fight and did all we could to help ourselves.

After the smoke clears in November, however, it is likely that those outdoor folks who did not rally to the cause will be remembered for what they didn’t do. And they will be all that more conspicuous, made highly visible by the sprit and teamwork of those Maine outdoorsman who did understand the stakes, appreciated the peril and put their shoulders to the wheel. For reasons that make little sense, a few state outdoor organizations chose to remain neutral, or not take a position on the bear referendum. Two prominent ones are state angling clubs: Trout Unlimited and the Penobscot Fly Fishers (PFF). TU President Greg Ponte reasoned that the bear referendum was not an angling issue. He said that TU decided it would be inappropriate to take a public stance. PFF’s board of directors abdicated for fear of “dividing its membership.” Perhaps most puzzling of all was the reasoning of the Maine Izzack Walton League. It couldn’t decide. At press time, this organization was polling its members in hopes of figuring out what to do. Imagine. This is the same group that is trying to attract membership and is spearheading a new idea to create a Maine Master Hunter category!

Presque Isle sportsman Sandy Baird wrote an admonitory letter to TU president Greg Ponte urging his group to reconsider. His letter hit the proverbial nail. It reads in part:

“I am extremely disappointed that TU has not taken a stand to help defeat the bear referendum. You know how HSUS feels about fishing. They’re against it.

Hunters & trappers are now carrying your water. They will never get to fishermen until they have gone through hunters & trappers

Baird went on to drive home the point that the antis will be after anglers one day. Baird wrote:

If HSUS wins in Maine I predict that it won’t be long before we will hear the CEO of HSUS, give the following speech, or one similar:”

“We are here today to announce our national campaign to end certain cruel and unsporting fishing practices. We are particularly concerned about the cruel and unsportsmanlike activity referred to as “catch-and-release” fishing.

Be assured that we are not out to end all fishing. Fish provides a major part of the American diet. We only want to end this horrific practice.

Catch-and-release (C&R) refers to catching a fish without any intention of keeping and consuming it. It is done merely for the human pleasure(?) of inflicting this ugly, agonizing experience on the fish.”

Far-fetched? I don’t think so. Just read a few of PETA’s press releases. With or without a prospective threat to our rights as anglers, there is a larger question. It is the headline for this article. Are anglers sportsmen, too? Or are they, indeed, non-sportsmen who simply like to ty flies, buy splendid fly rods and study the hatches?

Perhaps it’s all part of the changing times. Over the years, the anglers that I knew and enjoyed the outdoors with were sportsmen first and anglers second.

What do you think?

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com


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