Ask Matt Labash

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

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Fly-Fishing-Darth-Vader-Evangelical/dp/1439159971">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

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.

  • joeaiello

    That’s funny! The “Tea Party” clowns are still holding up disaster relief to sick and dying Haitians and they want them to help us! Fire the Tea Party!

  • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

    But are those “selfish Haitians” of any use to us to begin with? I would take someone who has internal drive over these people. Think about it.

    They are the oldest country in the Western Hemisphere after the USA…they have had 200 years to figure out how to do things.

  • http://twitter.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

    But are those “selfish Haitians” of any use to us to begin with? I would take someone who has internal drive over these people. Think about it.

    They are the oldest country in the Western Hemisphere after the USA…they have had 200 years to figure out how to do things.