This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Backcountry Journal
By Hal Herring
For author Matt Miller of Boise, Idaho, life is too short to be a fishing purist. His work as a writer on the environment and conservation takes him across the United States, and he fishes wherever he goes, for whatever is there, with whatever method, be it throwing carp heads under a big bobber for monster alligator gar, trying to net cisco on the freezing shores of Bear Lake in Utah, tossing nightcrawlers for exotics in stinking Miami canals or swinging a willowy Tenkara rod with 8x tippet and a size 30 hook – yes, there is such a thing – for 4- to 6-inch chiselmouth (I’d never heard of them, either) on a whitewater creek near his home.
Like a lot of us, Miller just loves to fish. (By the way, full disclosure: I've known Miller for years. I've read his writing, worked with him on stories and hiked Idaho's canyons with him, as we talked fishing the whole way.) And as a professional science and environmental journalist of more than 20 years, he's seen a lot of very worrying things. (Those nasty canals of inner-city Miami are only the beginning.) As he writes in the forward to his new book, Fishing Through the Apocalypse: “When you spend every day interviewing experts about the state of the world, you become acutely aware of Aldo Leopold’s warning that to have an ecological conscience is to live in a world of wounds.”
But, Miller simply has far too much fun fishing to frequently complain or batter us with observations of all that has gone awry. In his book, he takes us along on a journey that begins in southern Idaho, fishing in hatchery-stocked ponds for the bizarre and glowing “banana trout,” a rainbow trout carefully bred for yellow coloration, and one that seems to grow faster and tolerate warmer water temperatures than our more familiar (but, as Miller points out, still carefully bred and usually stocked) rainbows. It is clear that Miller is a bit disturbed by the idea of a glowing fish, created and stocked for anglers. He writes: “Can we still delude ourselves that our hooks and lines connect us to the natural world? Can we even make that claim now, given our world of hatchery mongrels and mutants?” Still, he cheerfully fishes for them nevertheless – which many other anglers will understand, and appreciate.
Miller keenly understands the essence of the adventure: We may live in Aldo Leopold’s “world of wounds,” but the wild heart of the woods and canyons and rivers and all waters still beats. What calls us to fishing is the wild heart that still beats in all of us. Faced with a coal-mine-wrecked Eastern creek still holding a sunfish or two or a garbage-clogged Florida canal teeming with voracious Central American cichlids, Miller recalls in his book the words of Chief Sitting Bull, during the bad old days after the American Civil War, when all of our wildlife looked as if it were going the way of the passenger pigeon: “When the buffalo are gone, we will hunt mice, for we are hunters and we want our freedom.”
We are always going to fish. We are always going to want our freedom.
In his book, Miller also offers a warning: To whom much is given, and we American fishermen have had the birthright of a smorgasbord of opportunity, much is expected. And the sad fact is that American waters are getting warmer and more polluted, and fishing opportunities are getting more limited for more and more of us. We are laying down on the job of protecting our heritage. From the pristine Kenai Peninsula where Miller fishes with his aging father to the fetid garbage-clogged ditches in Florida’s industrial agricultural fields, where he meets four migrant workers fishing and having the time of their lives with castaway tackle, we may all be, right now, fishing through the apocalypse. As Miller makes abundantly clear, there is still lots of fun to be had.
A version of this story was originally published in Field & Stream and can be found at https://www.fieldandstream.com/river-runs-through-apocalypse
Be sure to catch the Matt Miller episode of BHA’s Podcast & Blast, sponsored by Sitka Gear. Episodes are released every other Tuesday and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbean and https://www.backcountryhunters.org/bha_podcast_blast_ep_71_matt_miller_outdoor_writer_and_obsessed_angler