March 25, 2013
Confessions of a Guide
From time to time, I like to read fishing articles from magazines at the library. One particular article caught my attention was from the latest issue of Fly Fishermen. The article's title was Confessions of a Guide and it was written by Karl Weixlmann. It's a cautionary tale about greed, big money, and throwing your ethics aside. For those who don't know, Pennsylvania's steehead fishery is under siege. The state stocks an obscene number of fish and their small creeks are clogged with them. The huge number of fish attract hundreds upon hundreds of anglers and they descend on the creeks during the season. Some acted like a herd of unruly cattle as they trample through people's properties with no regards. Over the past decade posted signs start popping up. Looking to seize on this golden opportunity are the guides and fishing clubs. It's tough enough to get clients on fish and it's worse when every piece of water is occupied. One club started leasing property and it was no other than Darth Vader - Donny Beaver. Beaver's club lured Karl to the dark side with the promise of steady gigs, good money and personal use of the playground. At the time, it sounded like a sweet deal.
Karl was once the president of Pennsylvania Steelheader Association and board member of the Erie Advisory Committee. He was considered one of the top guides in Erie. He did a lot of good work in promoting and developing the fishery. Beaver's club started to expand and they viewed Erie's streams as another playground for the corporate fat cats. Streams filled with massive numbers of steelhead - all paid for by Joe Steelheader. He used Weixlmann's connections with landowners to secure leases on the Elk and Twenty Mile creeks. Club members would never have to worry about rubbing elbows with the neanderthals. He was warned that going over to the dark side would do away all of the good he did and he would never been seen in the same light again. But over he went and the entire Erie steelheading brotherhood turned on him. He was called a sell out, a scumbag, a corporate weasel and some dubbed him as Karl Waxworm. His other title was club enforcer as he had to boot out fishermen and some of them were friends. But the money was far too good to pass up or so he says. Times were good in Beaverville.
But eventually in the corporate world, everybody becomes expendable. Weixlmann lost his gig to another guide (which he failed to mention) and got the boot from the playground. Now Karl was one of us, looking in from the outside. Many felt he deserved what he got and quickly became a pariah. In the article he mentions that money had bought him and now the money shoved him out. Karl learned the hard way and wanted to share his experience and the plight of the fishery with others.
After reading the article, I'm glad that Joe Steelheader's dilemma is getting exposure, especially from someone who's been of both sides of it. Do I feel sorry for Karl? Hell no, he knew of the consequences and it was all about the money. On FishErie's website, he disputes that charge and a lot of the members called bullshit. His tone through out the article reeked of "poor me".
But if I'm going to point the finger it's at the PFBC for creating an amusement park by stocking far too many fish into streams that really can't support their numbers and nearly all of the streams run through private property. Build it and the hordes will come. They also failed to secure enough land to ensure that everybody could enjoy the resource. Instead more and more people are crammed into what little sections are left. I've witnessed the circus on the Lower Elk and Walnut during the fall. It's a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Now add Beaver into the mix and he's locking up more water by throwing money at landowners who are more than happy to take it. This makes a lot of people resentful as they feel they're getting the shaft because they pay for the stocking by purchasing the stamps. The PFBC is finally trying to get public easements and they have secured some sections but it's a long way to go.
It's a shame we don't have the same laws like Michigan has, where anybody can wade the streams without worrying about some landowner calling the cops or even worse getting shot. I can't see that ever happening here in Ohio or Pennsylvania as politicians will kick the can down the road. The only solutions are offering property tax incentives for public access or purchasing the land outright. It's a proven fact that less and less Americans are fishing and it's even worse with the younger generation. That means less revenue for the stocking of fish and securing access. I don't want to become like some European countries where only the rich can afford to pay for the right to fish on some of the best lakes and rivers. Because if that happens I'll turn in my pole.