In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the concerns with the health of inshore and offshore fisheries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Stock analyses reflect significant declines in Flounder, Striper, and other species. There are many perspectives on the topic that only proves to create a lot of finger-pointing. However, the next generation of inshore anglers have an approach that may not solve the problem but have a significant positive impact.
Only in the past few years did this group of young fishermen arrive with this interesting approach to fishing. I recently spoke with one. Ethan Bilderback, a fishing guide of Topsail Island, North Carolina, is an up-and-coming inshore guide that has already earned the respect of veteran guides much older than himself. Not long into our conversation, I realized that his perspective was far different than most guides and inshore fishermen, a perspective that brought a greater focus on fishing as a sport than as a food source. He explained to me how he approached each fishing opportunity with a carefully planned strategy by making fishing more of a stalking process other than older strategies that focus on just hoping the fish are there.
Ethan’s game plan includes visually tracking the fish, in this case, Redfish. He locates an environment that the Redfish prefer and then he looks for tailing at a distance. He approaches the fish quietly and without being seen in order to make the best cast possible. Ethan’s constantly monitoring the wind and how it impacts his movement to or away from the fish, avoiding scraping the bottom of any nearby oyster beds. When possible, he uses the wind to slowly and quietly move his boat nearer to the fish, again seeking that perfect location for the cast. Now, he and his charter customers are in the moment. They have visually stalked the fish, set themselves up for their best cast, then get ready to attack the target for the catch. This way is far more effective and rewarding than the approach of most anglers.
It’s important to understand that Ethan’s goal is not to fill the cooler with fish. His success is not measured by the number of fish he has laying on the dock after a day of fishing. Fishing is his sport, and to meet the challenge of out-thinking the fish. Ethan knows where to look for the fish, stalk him, and cast with success. It’s all a part of a great moment.
Fishing was born as a means of gathering food, which it still is today in many respects. However, success as an angler for many years has been measured by the number of fish caught, not the chess game-like approach that fishermen like Ethan bring to the sport. With him and those like him, “it is a sport.” By adopting their mindset and vision we could see the concerning decline of our fishery lessen. While it would not be the total, it would be a great start. This generation is showing us how to be better anglers and better stewards of fishing. From my perspective, this new generation of anglers comes with great value to our sport and fishery. I’m glad they’re here!
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