fly fishing in winter,    fly fishing poachers,    Underground Entertainment

The Fly Fishing Poacher's Guide To Winter Fishing

Posted by Tom Chandler 3/20/2012

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

Small streamThe 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.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

40 comments
Do you own several pieces of camouflage clothing, yet don’t hunt? Lol love it!
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The Underground's Task Force In Conjunction With Fish & Game Agencies Nationwide thanks all of you for your participation in our sting operation; we've already netted several poachers (did you see what I did there?), and those of you who haven't heard that knock on your door, well, it's only a matter of time.
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Andy: 1. Is it really poaching if you catch and release, shouldn’t be better labelled trespassing? According to the local ranger, yes. (Or, "Hell yes.")
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Does getting caught in a brood stock pond at a hatchery with a 10 lb. fish on the line whlist in the water up to my chest qualify as poaching? Is being in an altered state due to mass consumption of Cuervo Gold and some pills commonly refered to as "Gorilla Biscuits" considered extenuating circumstances? Only the fact I knew the hatchery staff well as we'd been fishing that access point of the famous ... more Oregon stream for 10 years and I think they were more than kind in cutting a dumb 20 year old a break kept me out of the slammer.
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HA... well... that does sound a little stupid when I read it again. Rephrase... There were far fewer places one could wet a line in the winter.
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1. Is it really poaching if you catch and release, shouldn't be better labelled trespassing? 2.We've gone as far as using google maps to plan the trip in and the place to stash the vehicle 3.does a fake ID count as camoflauge? 4.do what the moonshiners do...
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1. You pinned it down for me. I always genuinely felt fishing rules were not meant for me. I fish a barbless hook and when I chance upon a fish, back he goes to water immediately. 'What's the harm?' would I ask myself, and for want of a good answer, I poach happily. Makes the experience somewhat more intense, and sometimes in a very pleasant way.I would recommend it to anyone, provided there's reasonable ... more hope you won't get killed by an overzealous armed guard.2. I do plan, but remain agnostic as to whether I'll carry those plan out or not.
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Just paint "Internal Affairs" on the side...
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Good one. I'll give you points for that.
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As mentioned, live in WI. Here is the CA definition of angling right from the most recent regulations. 1.05. Angling. To take fish by hook and line with the line held in the hand, or with the line attached to a pole or rod held in the hand or closely attended in such manner that the fish voluntarily takes the bait or lure in its mouth. Not angling if there is no hook and a hook needs a bend. The CA ... more regulations mention absolutely nothing about harassment but it appears that the wardens can harass you. Finally, you aren't 'taking' fish. Come to WI where we understand these things.
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"there were many, many fewer places one could wet a line in the winter" Many fewer. Many, many fewer. Good lord.
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2213 new places to snag your fly, that's all I'm saying.
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I wanted to confirm the rumor of Gi-normous black bass sightings in some of the lakes in Golden Gate Park. I had been given the secret rundown by acquaintances at the casting club who claimed, "I know this dude, who knows this other dude, whose wife heard ...." So, I snuck into the park on a moonless night armed with a couple of co-conspirators, spinning gear, two six packs, and blackface, to fling ... more lures into the dark depths of a couple lakes. We were thinking we were Seal Team Six, until some other fellow erupted out of the tules with a duck in his grasp. We figured his dinner beat out our desire to know things - and ran like hell before the cops swooped in ...
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We still talking about fishing here?
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The Lower Sac is open year round... the Upper Sac is largely open year round. The Trinity is open. The Klamath is open. There are countless man-made lakes open. The justifications for poaching are going right out the window. When I was a kid (which was a long time after YOU were a kid) there were many, many fewer places one could wet a line in the winter. Now you can fish the Truckee, the Upper Sac, ... more the Stan, the American and sooooo many other waters.
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Read Chief Seattle's 1854 Oration for my view on land ownership and by extension "poaching". Not that it ultimately did him any good but his broncos were considerably easier to hide.
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Yeah, the new car may not be as convincing. That'll teach me to unintentionally drive off the road
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Fly guy: Paint your Broncol like a Warden’s vehicle. Interesting thought, though it probably only works for everyone but the warden, who would naturally wonder...
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Chris Raine: While racing around the lake, (1978) I saw you and your knobby kneed friends and turned you in. Wow, you're old. And I was probably the knobby-kneed one giving you the finger.
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1. You tell me - I was fly fishing at sunrise from a dock using a 9wt w/ a closure. Bass season just opened and there was one small clump of Lilly pads I was fishing to. On the second retrieve a bronze torpedo darted out of the depths to give chase. My brain instantly resisted the species as a Muskie in the 30-35" Range. Unfortunately, the Muskie season didn't open for another two weeks. After I completed ... more the strip, I pulled the fly out of the water and paused to reflect before I made my next move. I was engaged in a tug o war battle of my conscience - knowing an identical presentation would likely result in a hook up with a fish out of season - am I crossing the irreversible line of poaching if I throw my fly again? In a weak moment, my ideals crumbled and I threw the fly again leaving my fate to the fish. As anticipated the same fish jumped the closer and after a short fight I landed and immediately released my first Muskie on the fly. It was a bitter sweet moment that left me feeling exhilarated. I have been able to suspend judgement on myself. Would you consider this an act of poaching? 2. Constantly - they usually begin with the belief that a 20" hog lurks in forbidden waters. Then my mind helplessly develops elaborate schemes to successfully infiltrate, fish, and exit undetected. My plans are always held at bay by one penetrating thought: many seasons of bad fishing will be cursed upon me if I ever crossed the irreversible line of poaching. 3. No 4. Paint your Broncol like a Warden's vehicle. Sun Tzu said in The Art of War "all warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must seem far away; when we are far away, we must make him believe we are near."
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Sadly, I most invoke my rights under the fifth amendment. At least on a public forum. My neighbor's koi really put up a fight though.
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Well. I can clear that up. While you were running and hiding from the lake cops, I was paddling around that lake. It was just outside Thousand Oaks. The W is for Westlake Village. It hosted a Marathon Canoe Race. While racing around the lake, (1978) I saw you and your knobby kneed friends and turned you in. So, really. It's all about you.
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Does it count if you used a worm? I knew someone that was very young, and the weather for March was really warm and the stream behind.....
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My honest advice is it get an underwater video camera and a long pole and see what's under those rocks!
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Will only answer question #2 since fly fishing has had a law abiding effect on me. Seriously when I have "criminal" type impulses it usually involves selective trout and going back home to dig out my old bait casting gear;-)
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Full ghillie suit, that's all I'm saying.
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Ed: What is this “closed” season of which you speak?The BBQ isn’t the only thing better in NC. I'm sorry, but I can't hear you over the sound of the Beach Boys and the Laker Girls and all those bikini-clad beach babes who are at this moment rubbing my feet.
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Maybe in your neck of the woods, the real question isn't about when the season closes on fish, it's when it closes on anglers...
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I'm sorry, but how is this lengthy comment about me? Let's stay focused here...
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Try that out here, and you'll end up paying a fine. I asked the local warden if I'd be busted for casting a hookless dry (or piece of yarn) to rising fish, and he said that harassing the fish qualified as fishing. Apparently Wayne Eng got pretty much the same answer. Where do you live?
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1. I did catch and deliberately fail to release a dozen largemouth bass newly placed in one of those SoCal manmade lakes. My grandfather was complicit, because he thought my junior high science project idea of "growing" gamefish in a giant garbage can was creative. They didn't live much longer than a week but I wrote up a lab report anyway so no one would guess I was only in it for the sport. 2. Time ... more and energy being what they are, I'll stick to constructing elaborate legal plans that are equally unlikely. 3. If Sunday-best counts as camouflage, then, um yes. 4. You betcha.
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Steve Z: Put the flashers on like I broke down. This idea has legs. The Bronco has 23 years on it, every day of which was spent outdoors (a lot of it on California's dirt roads). Nobody would doubt -- for even a second -- that it could be anything but broken down...
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JP2: Steal Kbarton’s rig and park it up the road so the warden finds it first…He’ll be so busy calling out HazMat teams, the Humane Society,Cal Trout(what’s a notorious brownliner doing out in the woods?) and taking pictures with circles and arrows on the back you’ll have mst of the day worry-free……. Yeah, but to steal his truck I'd have to drive it, exposing me to all those things that make me ... more want to stop typing this and take a shower... There, i feel better. And yes, you lost points for the oversight, but you gained them back for what I gather was an Alice's Restaurant reference...
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Abram: I accidentally poached this past Sunday. Sadly for you, this post was actually a sting operation undertaken with the cooperation of a mutlinational coalition of game wardens, and like those folks with bench warrants who are apprehended because they're told by undercover cops that they've won Super Bowl tickets, you can expect a knock on your door any second now...
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I was 14 or 15 years old. Couldn't drive. My desire to fish "Gould's Pond" for 1 pound bluegill had over-ridden all common sense. Old Man Gould had the reputation of shooting trespassers with rock salt from his 12 gauge shotgun. No Trespassing signs were posted all along his property. Dave Matthews, a new friend from North High had told me of the opportunity. He had poached Gould's Pond throughout ... more his young life, and said there was no better bluegill fishing to be had anywhere. And Dave was a rare find. He fished, and he was truthful. Dave told me 3 things: The bluegills in the pond went up to a pound each. Old Man Gould would shoot you with his 12 gauge. And he drove a green Chevy pickup truck. My Dad dropped me off across the road from Old Man Gould's ranch. He gave me a dime to call him from the phone booth at the store, "If I survived the experience." I crossed the road, hopped the barbed wire fence, and walked right over to the pond. I was taken aback. Litter was everywhere. Empty worm containers. Food wrappers. Cans and bottles. And an empty 50 pound onion sack. Yea, onion sacks were 50 pounds in the 60's. Before OSHA. I grabbed the onion sack, and walked around the pond picking up all the shit. Filled up the sack. Compressed. The pond now looked liked it would if it was home to 1 pound bluegill. It was home to one pound bluegills. A Poor Man's Permit. What a ball! Smash. Dig, dig, dig. Over and over. I lost track of time, and, well, wasn't listening that well, either. Never heard the 53 Chevy pickup truck as it coasted down the hill to the pond. Tires crunching on gravel told me that I needed to look over my shoulder. There he was. Old Man Gould. Window down, he stuck his arm out, and with crooked finger, beckoned me over to his truck. "What's your name, boy?" Chris, I said. "What's that sack over there?" Garbage I picked up from around the pond I said. "Put it in the truck." I grabbed the onion sack, hopped the barbed wire fence and put it in his pickup. "Cattle will be here in a half hour or so. Don't keep 'em away from the water." And he drove off. I wasn't a poacher ever again at Gould's Pond.
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All the time......with a twist. The trout season closes September 30 in WI and the October and November fishing is excellent. The secret??? Cut off the entire bend below the tail of your nymph or dry fly. You will feel the take and will even play the fish for a few seconds before it lets go. In every state, fishing is defined as using a hook. With no bend what you are using is not a hook. Stopped ... more twice over the past 20 years and have not had my tackle confiscated. Oh.....make sure that all the flies you have with you are already altered. You can be pinched on that technicality. Poaching is an art form.
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What is this "closed" season of which you speak? The BBQ isn't the only thing better in NC.
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1) No 2) Absolutely. I can put the car in the pull-off about a 1/2 mile from the water. Put the flashers on like I broke down. Take a backpack out that will easily conceal a 4 pc, 7 ft rod tube and when the traffic is clear, skid down the slope to the valley floor and make my way overland to the stream. The Rainbows should be thinking about spawning right about now. Just sayin' 3) Relative to how ... more much I hunt, I own too much camouflage clothing. But that's only cause it accents my positives. 4) Camowraps. Available at Cabelas and other fine retailers though the Kbarton idea is a good one.
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OK,,here ya go..... 1. No 2.subsitute "growing" for fishing(mostly my youngerdays,no one gives a .......... now 3.Yes! Of various nationalitys and patterns....Never know when Yugo splinter pattern will come back in style.... 4....Short of a cloaking field; I'd say mirrors positioned around it OR a decoy....Steal Kbarton's rig and park it up the road so the warden finds it first...He'll be so busy ... more calling out HazMat teams, the Humane Society,Cal Trout(what's a notorious brownliner doing out in the woods?) and taking pictures with circles and arrows on the back you'll have mst of the day worry-free.......
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I accidentally poached this past Sunday. It was 25C in eastern Ontario, which is pretty wild, so I took my son to our favourite spot, an old bridge with a ton of rock bass and sunfish underneath it. The part of the river it's on is closed in the spring, from (I thought) March 30 to May 24. This year they changed it to March 1, so I was happily casting while all the traffic and locals went by. Didn't ... more catch anything, there was nothing to catch this early, but I'm glad the warden didn't happen along. Last summer my son told him 'Come see all the fish in our bucket!' I know how you feel about the small streams, the little creeks around here are about the only place left to catch some wild speckles (brook trout) and our season closes September 30, right when the weather is perfect. Soon the runoff will be gone though and I can start fishing them again.
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