At some point in his (or her) career, every fly fisherman has considered poaching.

Small stream

Worth a potential run-in with the warden?

The largely unfished streams are just burbling along, closed only because someone says they’re supposed to be, which in the light of a modern catch & release ethos seems rather like poor public policy.

After a couple beers, it can grow to feel more like a clear violation of your constitutional rights.

In fact, for an effete, catch and release fly fisherman who who rarely kills anything, the concept of off-season poaching can easily acquire a patina of righteous indignation; I don’t get to fish because some fools find it necessary to kill everything they catch?

The Spineless Felon

We’re experiencing a drought and the weather (until the last week) has been damned pleasant, yet all my little streams remain as far out of reach as if they flowed on the dark side of the moon.

It’s almost as if California Fish & Game doesn’t care that I have new fly fishing tackle to test.

It’s circumstances like these which push me to plan the perfect crime.

Questions arise (and are answered). Hypotheticals are crafted (and gamed to their conclusion).

Where can I leave the truck so the warden (ours is good) won’t suspect a fishermen?

What’s inaccessible to all but a skier (likely ruling out the warden).

What streams offer minimal exposure to onlookers? What are my “Oh shit” emergency escape routes?

I even start ticking through a mental tackle list.

Civil Disobedience, Long-Rod Style

As you can see, I’m already deeply enmeshed in an activity I won’t ever bring to fruition, but I’d like to think I could pull it off, if only as a form of biologically-correct civil disobedience.

And I’ll admit it right here: I actually did poach private water in my younger years, and frankly, I don’t feel too bad about that.

It was the mid-70s in Southern California, and my family lived within bike-riding distance of a manmade lake which featured crappie, bass, catfish and bluegill.

It was big and built by a developer, so houses ringed it and there really weren’t that many places to fish, but myself and a couple of junior-high friends badly needed to fish it.

It also featured a lake patrol, who cruised around in a boat throwing out the people who weren’t wearing the big buttons that signified a resident of the area (I think they featured a “W”).

We didn’t know about this last bit until we found ourselves standing on the shore while a couple of slightly older kids (not with us) hustled past and asked us to “watch their stuff for a second” while they “did something.”

We stood there like field mice before the thresher, though we eventually learned a few useful dodges of our own (fish at night; bring plastic guns so we could ditch the rods and appear to be playing war; fish near tall grass and simply flop down when the patrol idled by).

I’m saddened to say we never did hit upon the idea of counterfeiting the badges, but it remains my first real lesson in the divide between the haves and the have-nots (in terms of fishing access — it’s not like my family was starving).

I think about those early fishing trips more for the gradually dawning realization that fishing was proving as interesting as I’d imagined it was, but then, I now find myself living in a place with a lot of public access, and I’m drawn to streams that may not have been fished in years — water guaranteed to attract the bare minimum of fisherman.

So maybe those early experiences left their mark.

(For the benefit of any law enforcement officials reading this, this is not a poacher’s manifesto; let’s simply consider it an exercise in hypotheticals — wargames conducted in the event an oppressive, anti-fish regime ever seizes control of Siskiyou County.)

Still, I’m curious about my largely sociopathic readers. So today’s question is a multi-parter:

  1. Have you ever knowingly poached? (Mind the statute of limitations)
  2. Do you ever construct elaborate, illegal fishing plans with no intention of carrying them out?
  3. Do you own several pieces of camouflage clothing, yet don’t hunt?
  4. Anyone know how to hide a full-sized Ford Bronco?

See you in the hoosegow, Tom Chandler.