Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: Why selfish Haitians should help American earthquake victims, and the tubing menace — a fly fisher’s lament

Sir, have you any suggestions of how to minimize user group conflicts among tubers and wading fisherman on Blue Ribbon trout streams? I await your response with baited breath. — Dr. Trout

Well, nobody likes to be a scold. As I’m fond of telling my children when we see “no fishing” signs as we blithely traipse past them while toting our fly rods, “Ignore them.” No man or government can claim ownership of a river. We should all be free to enjoy the endowment of God’s natural resources. And if private landowners or Parks & Rec officials disagree, they can take it up with my Lord and Savior. That said, there are few things that fly fishermen dread more each summer than what they call the “tube hatch.”

Since trout don’t have the luxury of running down to Food Lion, they generally hold against current, looking to feed on the aquatic conveyor belt of nymphs, mayflies, terrestrials and other snack foods washing their way. So imagine their alarm when in the midst of chow time, they see you — selfish tuber — with your lumpy, mottled  keister sausaged into unflattering swimwear, holding a shiny can of beer, with your god-awful DayGlo Crocs sloshing overhead like a wounded otter. That would be enough to scare most humans in scuba gear to the bottom for two or three hours, at least. A fish might never recover, electing to stay under his rock until he expires after pulling the full Karen Carpenter.

As someone who owns a small fleet of kayaks and a stand-up paddleboard, I like spending time on moving water as much as anyone. But since good trout water, particularly in the mid-Atlantic, is much scarcer than good tubing water, there are all kinds of worthy arguments for banning tubing on Blue Ribbon trout streams, or for at least regulating it to within an inch of its life so as to cripple the commercial tubing menace. After a recent spat broke out between fishermen and tubing rental outfitters who bus large numbers of tubers to otherwise pristine waters on one of my own home trout rivers, the Gunpowder in Maryland, my friend and Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux Le Gardeur (who also owns one of the nation’s great fly shops — the Backwater Angler in Monkton) has eloquently made most of these arguments.

Theaux can tell you, as he has recently told the Baltimore Sun and the local Country Chronicle, how old-timers now complain of tubers who treat the river like a Cancun strip club during spring break. They wreck the good-times family vibe by getting drunk, leaving trash everywhere, and even urinating riverside. (Though to be fair to rowdy tubers, I’ve been known to do that last bit myself. As I’m not about to go in my waders. ) Additionally, as Theaux has pointed out, a high volume of tubers can be extremely detrimental to the river — accelerating stream and channel erosion, causing potential loss of spawning habitat, and leading to pressure to remove woody debris that serves as vital fish cover.

Public safety types also complain that tubing leads to drinking, and drinking and tubing lead to drowning. This, to be honest, doesn’t concern me, since drowned tubers mean fewer tubers (we all grieve in our own way). What does bother me is that tubing is a stupid pastime. I’ve done it, and have enjoyed it, at least until I nodded off. As being a successful tuber doesn’t even require maintaining consciousness (hence, the large number of inebriated enthusiasts). So it’s time to face facts, lowly tubers: God made rivers for fishing. If you want to swim, go to your local lake or ocean. If you want to aimlessly bob while drinking, go sit in your bathtub or above-ground pool and pop an Old Milwaukee. But don’t traumatize thousands of fish simply because you’re too lazy to pick up a fly rod or lack the ambition to paddle a canoe or kayak. I therefore beseech tubers, have some respect for both fish and fishermen. But also consider that this is how you look when practicing your craft.

Which is to say, ridiculous. So if possible, find some self-respect as well.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is now available in paperback from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.