I got up a little before 5:00am on Saturday to get a quick fishing trip in before attacking my chore list. I pulled up to where I would spend the next 3-4 hours fly fishing at a stillwater that has several special regulations. On this water, you're not allowed to wade nor swim(though float tubes, kayaks, etc. are ok), dogs aren't allowed, only artificial flies and lures are allowed, and any cutthroat caught must be immediately released. Despite these well-posted regulations, however, I commonly see people violating them. Saturday was no exception.
As I was doing my last check on my fly boxes and fishing pack in the parking area, another car pulled up. The driver hopped out, followed by a large dog with a boxy head. It snarled at me as it ran towards me, until the owner growled at it to come back. The dog reluctantly returned to the car. I figured it was a driver making a quick stretch, so I ignored it all and made my hike down to the water, about half a mile below.
An hour into fishing, I had just finished releasing a beautiful cutthroat, when a huge impact almost sent me tumbling into the water. I turned around and that dog was snarling and snapping at me. Luckily I had my long-handled net and I was able to hold it by the hoop end and jab at the dog with the handle end. After catching it in the eye a couple of times, it backed off and ran back for the trees. My heart was racing and I sat there in shock. Luckily when it attacked, my pack had taken the initial bite, because that dog could have easily put me in the hospital.
I continued to fish, and when my time was up, I had allowed the beauty of the area and the quality of the experience to put the incident behind me, though I spent the rest of my time keeping an eye on the tree lines. As I started the hike to my car, I noticed three fishermen floating Powerbait under a bobber. Another clear violation. Frustrated, I chose not to engage the men, and I continued up to my car, picking up bottles and cans along the way in my Bring it Out Bag (shameless plug, I know).
When I reached my car, I noticed two things: the dog that attacked me was locked up in the car next to mine, and that my fish pack was open and I was missing a Tacky Fly Box full of flies. There was also litter scattered about in front of the car. At this point I decided that this place was too special to just let things stand. I'm not usually the most confrontational person, but since I was going to need to backtrack steps to look for my fly box, I figured I would have a word with the men down on the water.
As I approached where I had been fishing when the dog attacked, which I figured was what had caused my pack to open and make the fly box fall, one of the three men that had been fishing with bait was in my spot, just getting ready to toss out a neon-green clump of Powerbait. Noticing my fly box on the ground, I picked it up and then approached the man.
"Excuse me," I begin. "Were you aware that you weren't supposed to fish with bait here? It's artificial flies and lures only."
"Yep," he responded with a sarcastic tone. "You want to take my pole from me? If not, I'm going to keep fishing how I want. Go get cozy in your Patagonia and yoga pants."
He clearly wasn't going to be swayed, and then he went into a cuss-filled rant about snobby fly fishermen wanting to control all waters and so on. I knew there was no point, so I headed back to my car. He wasn't interested in hearing that fish mortality rates were very important on this water, as the cutthroat were used as brood stock for the state's fish stocking program and native population restoration. He surely didn't want to hear about what I thought of his dog. So I left.
I could have dug my heels in and got into a heated argument with the man, and it very well could have escalated into something uglier, but there's no point in that. Instead, I made my way up the side of the mountain, got to my car, and calmly called and reported the incident to the local wildlife management authority. They're trained to handle confrontations with people who ignore regulations, and they were appreciative of the report.
Regulations are in place for good reason, but it's not up to us to enforce them on others. I have had tense conversations with others violating regulations in the past (trespassers, keeping over the limit, illegal baits, ignoring slot limits, etc.), but it has never been productive. And when it comes down to it, I don't have the authority to enforce these rules, and everybody else knows it.
If you find yourself witnessing anybody in violation of regulations, call and report it. While it's never fun playing narc on your fellow outdoors enthusiasts, often times there are very important reasons why the regulations are in place. Even if the person doesn't end up getting caught, it's good that local wildlife and fishery management enforcement knows that these violations are being witnessed on waters with special regulation.
When it comes down to it, the job to manage proper use of our natural resources falls on all of us. We can do our part by always knowing the regulations and following them. When we see others in violation, we can report it if the situation won't allow for a gentle reminder.
Get out, enjoy the wild spaces around us, and help ensure that they're being used responsibly.