Chewin’ The Fat
Glen Stewart provides a thought-provoking and challenging critique of the role of technologically-driven “instant gratification” in modern recreational fishing… and asks if it’s time we all thought about occasionally unplugging.
Modern sounders are way more than just a depth finders. It’s almost inconceivable to think about what possible technologies future units might offer. But one thing they’ll all still have is an “off” switch. Maybe we should think about using it a little more?
“Fair chase” might not be a term you’ve heard in the fishing space yet, but I can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when it may well be murmured in campfire conversations or chats on the boat between bites.
The term, as far I can tell, was first used by none other than Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt: an American president whose legacy in the USA still bears fruit to this very day — not only with anglers and hunters, but anybody who enjoys the great outdoors.
“Fair chase” is a hunting term that promotes and fosters the idea that game should be pursued in a fair and reputable manner: not behind fences, and not “driven”. It focusses on pitting a hunter’s instinct, raw skill and learning against an animal, just as it may have been for thousands of years when hunting for food.
Technological advancement in hunting has expanded exponentially across the past century, thanks in no small part to two world wars and many regional conflicts. Weapons of war and their trickle-down into the hunting scene have totally changed the game. High powered calibers, ’scopes, night vision, digital mapping, GPS, game cameras, drones… the list goes on and on.
Regular Contributor — Tactics
Glen “Stewie” Stewart is a keen, dedicated and deeply-commited angler, hunter and outdoorsman. Glen was one of the earliest sign-ons to Fishotopia’s Inner Circle, as well as featuring in our very first “Beer With Starlo” video interview and podcast (available to view or listen to at any time in the Fisho’s Lounge section of the Inner Circle).
Based in the central west of NSW, the majority of Stewie’s fishing these days involves chasing our inland natives and introduced species on lures, but he also travels extensively in pursuit of his passions.
In recent years, Glen has devoted an extraordinary amount of time and effort into unlocking some of the secrets of big Murray cod, especially in dams and during the colder months of mid-winter. You can read about this journey of discovery in the Tactics section of the Inner Circle’s Fisho’s Library.
A true conservationist, deep thinker and genuine “bush philosopher”, Glen constantly questions his own actions and motivations regarding the sport we all love, often coming up with unique perspectives that challenge conventional wisdom and accepted practice… His thoughtful insights are well worth consideration.
Remember when letters came in the mail? Not so much anymore. “We have moved on” is the usual reply… But have we? I remember a handwritten letter that came me in the mail all the way from the USA. I still have it today, filed away somewhere special. It was from a guy who I took fly-fishing. We never caught a thing, but we connected, and talked of our love of all things outdoors. One such conversation was of a little duck called a wood duck, which is nothing like our local wood duck or maned goose. To my surprise, when I opened the letter there before me lay the prettiest feather I had ever seen. It was from a native American wood duck… I was blown away.
The push-back in the hunting scene has been interesting to watch. I guess it’s always been there to some extent, but the messages of guys like Steve Rinella (“MeatEater” on Netflix ), Donnie Vincent (“The Rivers Divide” and “Terra Nova”) as well as Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia’s founder), plus a host of others via the various media platforms available today, have really shone a light on this vexing term.
I’ll be completely honest: this conversation, at least from the fishing space, potentially has hairs all over it. I’ve mulled, dwelled and procrastinated on it for well over a year now. Your own views on it, if you have some, will no doubt be as wide and varied as the species we chase and the environment’s they live in.
In a way, this piece is as much about getting some phlegm off my chest as anything else: a conversation, a release… a time for some refection.
My Mum used a term way back in the day: “the instant generation”. I’m talking like 25 years ago! She was, of course, referencing me. I forget the crux of the conversation, but basically, whatever it was, I needed it now! Maybe Mum was ahead of her time. Either way, it was a Nostradamus moment of epic proportions!
Mind you, things have got a whole lot faster and more “instant” since then.
Technology, marketing, the way fishing stories are shared on the socials… it’s all had had a massive influence on fishing over the past 10 years.
Depth sounders are now allowing us to target individual fish or schools of fish in lakes and rivers in the sort of detail that I would not have thought possible even five years ago.
So much of what happens while fishing is not actually related to catching anything but it’s so damn good for us. It’s taken some sit-up-and-take-notice moments in my life to realise this… An increased level of maturity that I’m thankful for.
Brand awareness, along with new fishing products and how to use them — stuff which once would’ve taken years to filter through to the masses — are now available to us in HD at the touch of a button. Fishing bites, patterns and developments relevant to a specific day — both locally and further afield. It’s all there. Knowledge that would’ve taken months or even years to filter though via the lead times of magazines is now available for viewing in real time, and literally in the palm of your hand.
My fear is this: Like you, I love to a catch fish. But are we on a journey where the route we take has become (or soon or will be) so short that the essence or mystery of the fishing process is lost?
Will the human connection to a natural world — the links that lead us to see and to seek changes or adjustments during our time on the water — be lost or diminished? Will the shortcuts to success lead to a generation of anglers less appreciative of the moments and memories they hold up for that Instagram photo? I certainly hope not…
I must admit to having knots of guilt in my gut… And thoughts of change in my head. These are things that, even 10 years ago, would not have even entered my mind.
There is no way that I would expect a keen 20-something on the fishing scene today to have any other thoughts than to catch the most and the biggest, and to use whatever legal means possible to do it. That was me, and not so very long ago. So, what’s changed?
A few things, I guess. I’m a little bit older. I’ve seen and witnessed a few more adventures. I’ve been made aware of terms such as “fair chase”. I’ve had time to digest the different conversations — to relate it to the terms of my hunting and fishing adventures.
Will it stop me from buying the latest and greatest fishing equipment known to man? Most definitely not. But will it change the way I use it? Most definitely yes! I just may actually choose to turn off that thermal-imaging, auto-fish-tracking device that interfaces with my reel when casting.
I might, for a moment, switch off my phone and revel in the idea that playing the long game and working things out slowly from mistakes I’ve made actually makes me feel a whole lot better than more immediate gratification.
Chasing big Murray cod in impoundments through long, cold southern winters for a number of years has really rammed all of this home for me. It was like getting slapped in the face with a brick. All of a sudden, numbers and exactly how big something was mattered much less. It was all about the journey — the learnings, the trials and the tribulations — that’s what mattered most.
I began to celebrate other people’s journeys, too. We were drawing inspiration from each other in what, at the time, was still a very small niche. Some people were steps ahead and some a few paces behind. It was, and still is, a fascinating journey.
Not a week went by without an inbox message or three, often pumping me for intel’. I was astounded at the brazen frankness of some people… People I didn’t even know. I have a very small vested interest in the fishing game and consider myself as someone who likes to help out, which I do in most cases, if approached in the right manner. But no replies on my behalf were becoming all too frequent. It got me thinking. What have we created here? It felt and looked like to me like a bubbling, festering, pus-filled sore that maybe I had some part in creating!
By taking shortcuts, by relying too much on technology, we are divorcing ourselves from opportunities and experiences that are innately human: natural connections that are in each and every one of us, through the process of thousands of years of evolution.
Most of us grew up fishing from the bank. Some people are very surprised when I tell them I still fish this way. In fact, I’ve won lure tournaments doing it…
Now, I’m going to get a little “woo-woo” here. but stay with me!
In my time (only on a handful of occasions, mind you and, funnily enough, usually during longer stints on the water or in the bush) I’ve experienced times of genuine “flow” (it’s a boxing term). Times when my every move or decision was made off the cuff and through the gut, without help or guidance from anything or anyone. And yet, these choices proved absolutely correct at every turn. It’s led to some fascinating experiences with animals and fish.
To describe these situations and circumstances individually, in my words, would totally demean the experience for you and me. I just do not have the intellect or vocabulary to do those experiences the justice they deserve.
Maybe you’ve had similar experiences, fellow Fishotopians? If so, I would love to hear them. (By all means, PM me if you are a little shy about divulging such accounts more publicly.)
I guess, in closing, it’s as much about awareness and a level of maturity as anything else. Maybe, in future years, I’ll go full circle? In fact, I already know that to be true. One day, I’ll be old and grey and hopefully sitting on the banks of a flowing Lachlan River. The presence of the finned critters that search and sniff for my wriggling worms way down below will remain a mystery. My mind will wander to parts unknown, the minutes and hours will pass as if they mattered little.
The fishing world will have undoubtedly moved on to god-only-knows where by then. But a jerk on my finger from a nibble down below will awaken my senses to the mystery and wonder of what is still such a very beautiful thing.