Episode 20: Irish Wildlife Trust with Pádraic Fogarty


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This is a big one. Our guest, Pádraic Fogarty is the Campaign Officer at Irish Wildlife Trust and an ex-editor of the Irish Wildlife magazine. Protection and conservation of the natural world should be of the greatest importance for all outdoorsmen. For that reason, I was really excited when Pádraic accepted an invitation to the podcast. If you care about the environment, tune in and listen. We are talking not only about key conservation issues but also how to get involved and make a difference. This is not tree hugging stuff, this is a practical and down to earth discussion about the protection we all owe to Mother Nature. Also, check out Pádraic’s book “Whittled Away – Ireland’s Vanishing Nature”.

Sportsmen and Ecologists

While recording episodes of the podcast I get to meet and speak with people involved in the outdoors. Most of them are interested in the use and preservation of the natural environment. Among those people two distinct groups stand out the most: sportsmen, most often represented by hunters and anglers, and ecologists as in conservationists and environmentalists. In theory, they should represent one consistent front for protection of the natural environment. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Oftentimes representatives of these groups are involved in a counterproductive confrontation with each other. So, let’s dive into this issue and try to understand some of the reasons why this is happening.

For starters, let’s look at the common ground they share. Genuine ecologists are usually research scientists or employees of governmental or non-governmental bodies involved in the protection and management of natural resources. Of course we all know there are self proclaimed, shouty types, but I’m not going to talk about them here. Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to environmentalists I always ask the question, “Do you see sportsmen as allies in the efforts to protect the environment or as adversaries?” Based on the responses so far, I gather that sportsmen are mostly recognized as important stakeholders. Ecologists also recognize that they are an invaluable source of information about the state of the environment. It is because hunters and anglers spent lots of time in the outdoors and have an opportunity to observe nature and the changes it undergoes over time. They are often referred to as the boots on the ground.

Sportsmen also recognize the important role of ecologists as a source of information about wildlife and the environment. They also recognize that ecologists work to protect the resources they interact with. Wild game and fish. And here is where the tension starts. Ecologists often feel that sportsmen repeatedly engage in practices aimed mainly at their own interest, to the detriment of conservation. For example, when engaging in catch and release, they place more importance on taking a trophy photo with the fish over promptly releasing it back to the water. On the flip side, on many occasions sportsmen consider some of the regulations as limiting their activities unnecessarily.

It is not my intention to judge which side is right. Each case is different and everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, as the result of these tensions, the opportunity to create a combined, strong and environmentally minded front is lost. Sportsmen are often reluctant to engage in conservation initiatives worried that their interest won’t be recognized and they will find themselves on the wrong side of the equation. On the other hand, ecologists are reluctant to reach out to sportsmen for support, being afraid of a backlash.

It is my strong belief that true hunters and anglers are also environmentalists and conservationists. It is in their own interest, after all, that the waters are full of fish and the woods are full of wild game. In fact, there are many people who belong to both groups. It is not unheard of for a game and wildlife officer to also be an avid hunter or angler. These days, the natural environment is under more pressure from human activity than ever before. Only combined efforts to protect it can be successful. Sportsmen, ecologists, environmentalists and anybody else to whom nature is dear, should pull together. They should bury the discord about the way they intend to use it, and work together to protect it. Otherwise there will be nothing left to use anyway.

Tommy’s Outdoors on Carrie Zylka’s Hunt Fish Travel Podcast

It’s shark week! And it is no secret that I have a pretty intense, brief history as a shark angler. Some evidence of that can be found in the gallery and video sections on this website. So, I was stoked to be invited to the shark week edition of Carrie Zylka’s Hunt Fish Travel podcast. Go ahead and listen to Carrie and me talking about shark fishing in Ireland, shark tagging programs and shark conservation issues. Of course as a long standing member of The Shark Trust I couldn’t fail to mention this respectable charity which does so much great work for shark conservation.

Catch and Release

The practice of catching a fish for sport, with rod and line, and then releasing it back to the water is known as Catch and Release. It has been discussed countless times in books, magazines, face to face conversations and on the Internet. Before writing this piece, I asked myself a question, “Does the world need another blog post about Catch and Release?”. My own approach to the practice has changed over time. That change has been due to personal experiences and to opinions expressed by respectable outdoorsmen. As a result, I decided to write about that change and hopefully challenge a few ossified opinions.

On many occasions, Catch and Release (C&R) is discussed from the perspective of an “ethical angler”. Proponents of the practice, quite often, unrelentingly criticize fellow anglers who take fish for the table. While I was certainly guilty of the latter, it was always my strong opinion, that C&R cannot stand on the grounds of ethics or morality. After all, we are sticking sharp hooks into a living creature and putting it through a torturous fight. Then, we remove the fish from the water and, while it is in a state of agony, we take photos of our grinning selves next to it. All that for our own enjoyment. Claiming moral high-ground for not killing it at the end is a bit hypocritical. C&R is purely a conservation measure, designed to protect fish as a renewable resource, while not completely denying anglers an opportunity to pursue their passion.

From the beginning of my journey as an angler, I could have been described as a hard-core C&R practicioner. It was because I realized that fish can be removed from the wild faster than they can reproduce. The evidence is easy to find. C&R was to me more of a matter of self interest than of ethics. I wanted to be sure that the fish would be there for my children and grandchildren. At that point in time, I refused to even consider killing a fish for any reason. And then… I was introduced to sea fishing.

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Any discussion about sea fishing, commercial sea fishing in particular, and conservation measures can quickly get political. Since this article is aimed at recreational anglers I will skim over issues of overfishing and commercial exploitation of fish stocks. Let’s just say, that the number of fish removed from the sea by recreational anglers is miniscule compared to the amount taken by the commercial fleets of the economic powers of the world. Therefore, releasing a fish into the sea, from the perspective of conservation, is meaningless. In addition, many species of marine fish suffer from barotrauma, the injury caused by being pulled up to the surface from the depth of the ocean. This makes successful recovery of the fish, after it is released, doubtful. Given both facts, the responsible sea angler can either stop fishing altogether or keep the fish for consumption.

It is important to mention, that there are species of saltwater fish, like the european sea bass, which are particularly vulnerable even though they are not targeted by commercial fishermen. In such cases C&R still makes sense as a conservation measure.

After experience with offshore fishing and analysis of its place and impact my non-negotiable position on C&R was somewhat relaxed. A few years later, I put my hands on the book by a famous hunter, outdoorsman and environmentalist Steven Rinella. Although the book is a collection of hunting stories, it has a chapter dedicated to Catch and Release. To my surprise, this conservation minded author was not fond of C&R. That initially surprised me or maybe even made me a little bit angry. I even recorded an episode of the podcast reviewing the book. Spoiler alert: the review is largely very positive. After reflecting on what I read, I came to the conclusion that Steven might have a point. In his opinion, angling like hunting, was primarily a way to get food. As human hunter-gatherers became less dependant on hunting thanks to the invention of agriculture, the role of hunting and fishing started to shift. It is somewhat bizarre, according to him, that we still practice fishing but somehow try to distance ourselves from its original purpose. It has even become unacceptable to fish for certain species in certain ways!

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Photo credit to TPE from Sea Bass Hunting

Hunters, unlike anglers, don’t have an opportunity to “shoot and resurrect”. Every animal has to be dispatched as quickly and humanely as possible and the meat taken care of. Conservation measures are implemented by means of closed and open seasons. The number of animals that can be harvested, as well as the time and duration of open seasons for particular species of game, are decided based on scientific data. Factors like the carrying capacity of an area, the breeding capacity of particular species, food availability, the harshness of winters and the presence of predators are all taken into account. Application of these conservation principles to angling makes more sense to me. Especially because the mortality rate of fish caught and released can be significant.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that Catch and Release has its place in modern sport fishing. It is a useful conservation tool but it’s significance shouldn’t be overestimated. If the numbers of fish are dwindling, before we impose C&R we should first look at habitat issues and commercial exploitation. If an angler engages in C&R he must take extremely good care of the fish that he releases. Yes, that means no trophy photos, unhooking the fish while still in the water and using barbless hooks.

As an angler, I have arrived at the point where I am okay to stop fishing when I have reached my bag limit. If conservation of the fishery is a priority, there are better ways to tackle that problem. For example, working with authorities to establish sustainable bag limits and closed seasons based on scientific evidence. This will be much more beneficial for protecting fish stocks and ensuring that we can still enjoy the taste of a just caught, fresh fish.

Episode 12: Angling with Kuba Standera


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In this episode of the podcast my guest is a true legend of the local angling community, Kuba Standera. He is an angler, fishing guide, co-founder and former editor of a leading Polish fly fishing magazine and, recently, founder of Pirate Lures, hand made soft-plastics. He will share with us his vast experience and opinions on a wide variety of angling related topics. We are talking about pike fishing and sea bass fishing with both lures and with a fly. We also discuss various conservation related issues, tuna fishing, his latest adventures as well as his future projects. This episode is the one not to miss!

Safety in the outdoors

Taking on outdoor activities alone can offer a unique experience. Being able to focus on fishing, hunting, cycling or trail running without distractions provides an opportunity to enter a meditative state of mind and deeply connect with nature For that reason, many sportsmen prefer to spend time outdoors in solitude. But before you go out to hunt in the woods or fly fish from the rocks, all by yourself, you should take some basic safety precautions.

My friends and I spend countless hours in the outdoors, doing our thing, on our own. That often resulted in some hairy situations. This allowed us not only to better understand the dangers, but also to develop some basic practices. They could lower the risk or save our lives if things were to go sideways. In this short article, I would like to discuss some of those practices.

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Whenever you are cycling, running or swimming, there is a wide variety of GPS-enabled electronic devices at your disposal. These days, most of them can connect to your phone and transmit your location. Some of them even offer functions like crash-detection or fall-detection. In theory, they will trigger a notification to the phone number of your choice, about the emergency that has likely just occurred.

It might be a good idea to use this this type of technology. However, I would advise you to keep in mind a few things. These are usually simple consumer electronic devices, so they are not built or tested to be trusted with your life. They should be considered as bonus gizmos and not as the primary means of ensuring your safety. You will quickly find evidence of that while examining the user’s manuals. Nothing beats the old and still best method: tell someone trustworthy, a family member or a true friend, where you are going and what time you intend to come back. Make sure to inform them if you decide to change your plans. You can also agree up-front to an action they should take in case you do not make contact by the agreed time. Trust is a key factor here.

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Another good practice is to wear a bracelet or a tag with your name, blood type and emergency contact number. This simple item might be invaluable, in the event that something bad happens to you while you are with your friends. The likelihood that they will know your blood type is slim. Remember that having an ID with you is not the same. Reaching into your pockets might not be your friend’s first instinct while dealing with a likely stressful situation. Also, make sure that the information is well protected from the elements, eg. engraved or written with a waterproof pen.

I hope these simple tips will make you think about safety. I also hope you will never be in the situation that someone will have to make use of your tag or trigger an emergency procedure. Stay safe and I will see you in the outdoors!

Pike on jerkbaits

As spring approaches and nature wakes up from its winter sleep, spending time outdoors becomes more tempting. Springtime presents sportsmen with an opportunity to try one of the best, most spectacular and satisfying ways of angling available: fishing for pike with jerkbaits. And by pike I refer to the fish our American friends call Northern pike, as well as to Musky.

Before I start let’s deal with the controversial part of our discussion. There are many different types of lures that go under the name jerkbait. In reality, jerkbait refers more to the way the lure is swimmed by an angler, jerking it using a stiff fishing rod, than to the specific shape of the lure itself. Of course the shape of the lure will make certain types of movement more natural. So, let’s just say that for our purpose, by jerkbaits I’m referring to large and hard, lipless lures fished with a relatively short and stiff spinning rod.

Pike on jerkbaits

What I would like to discuss here, is the experience and excitement that this type of fishing produces. The warmer weather of spring gets the fisherman’s juices flowing and has the same effect on his quarry. The pike, which were weakened from the winter cold and the subsequent spawning season, are now becoming active and feeding aggressively.

Because pike spawn before roach and other species of small fish they have an abundance of food during that critical time of year. Both mature and juvenile fish stay in shallow waters hunting for easy snacks. This phenomenon makes jerkbait angling so exciting and spectacular. The fisherman can often see the pike swimming right under the surface of the water, enabling him to cast the lure right in front of it. The resulting attack is ballistic and powerful. The whole spectacle unfolds within sight of the excited angler.

I hope this short article will encourage readers to try the method that is considered by many to be the quintessential form of pike fishing: jerking.

To find out more listen to episode 5 of Tommy’s Outdoors podcast where I give a short report about springtime jerkbait fishing. Also, check out episode 1 where my guest is Greg Latour from the Tir na Spideoga Fishing Lodge where you can rent a boat to enjoy pike fishing on the nearby lake.