August 4, 2008

Lessons From the Rivers to the Road


Wading anglers can offer two lessons to motorists and bicyclists who are having a rough time figuring out how to share the roads:

1) Pay attention to your surroundings and have some respect for others who are trying to use the same resource.

2) Expect some bone-headed behavior and learn to forgive.

If you pay attention to letters to the editor in the Monitor, you may have noticed considerable reaction to the new bicycling law that goes into effect in January 2009.

Gov. John Lynch was surrounded by cyclists, many of them organized by the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire (BWANH), on a recent Friday afternoon when he signed the bill into law during a ceremony in the Executive Council chambers at the State House.

Known formally as "An Act Relative to Bicycles," House Bill 1208 strikes me as a balanced approach to resolving the cultural wars between drivers and cyclists. It requires motor-vehicle operators to give bicycle riders three feet of space while requiring bikes to generally keep to the right.

Fishing regulations don't address how anglers are supposed to position themselves on popular rivers and streams, but wading fishermen have worked out an informal system of etiquette.

It's based on common sense. Don't step through waters where someone else is casting a baited hook, lure or fly. It puts the fish down while causing anger levels to rise.

Anglers don't have a problem on wide-open stretches of river. Popular areas, on the other hand, attract congestion the way Concord's southbound lanes of Interstate 93 attract cars, trucks, SUVs and mini-vans on a Sunday afternoon.

A friend once escorted me to a very popular stretch of the Upper Connecticut River in Pittsburg. He promised it would be productive if it hadn't already been taken over by a bunch of idiots. He facetiously defined "idiots" as anyone who had arrived before we had a chance to stake out the best pools.

The etiquette has to be altered to fit circumstances. The most heavily congested waters I have ever fished were on the Salmon River in western New York state. I thought it was crowded when I stood with casters about two feet away on both sides. I was amazed when another angler filled in whatever gap was left, leaving us literally elbow-to-elbow.

On other waters, including most rivers and streams in New Hampshire, that would have been a very rude maneuver.

Energy price inflation, combined with a desire for better health and cleaner air, is translating into increasing opportunities for conflict between cyclists and motorists.

I hate to think what would happen to popular game fish species if anglers ignored fishing regulations the way too many cyclists and drivers use the rules of the road.

That leads to my second lesson from anglers to two-and four- wheeled road warriors. As they say at the beginning of boxing matches, protect yourself at all times. The basic concept of defensive driving or biking is to assume that the other guy will do something stupid. Be ready to act accordingly.

Anybody who fishes enough will make some bone-headed mistakes. Two of my own gaffes stand out in memory.

In one case, I was working my way to a favorite pool and had to cross the Connecticut to get there. I misjudged the intentions of an angler fishing from the other side and had to listen to some angry words after I stepped through the place where he expected to hook an attractive specimen.

In the other situation, I cast too close to a boat anchored below Upper Dam at an inlet to Richardson Lake in western Maine. It was pretty embarrassing when the other angler speculated unfavorably about my ancestors.

Health effects from bicycling are associated with an increased heart rate, not a rise in blood pressure. I sometimes have to remind myself of that reality when I try to make a legal left turn from a busy road.

Drivers who don't know the rules of the road will often respond to my hand signal by slowing down. That forces me to respond accordingly while I wait for the motor vehicle to clear the intersection.

Getting angry or rude just doesn't help, on the water or on the road. That's why learning to forgive can help.

A good signal when someone makes a dumb mistake is a few raps upside the head with a closed fist. This non-directional hand signal can indicate that someone (possibly yourself) is being a knucklehead.

Connecticut River Land

Congratulations to two key land conservation and fisheries organizations for preserving valuable riverfront land along the Connecticut in Clarksville.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests announced this week that it has raised the $2.8 million needed for the purchase of what will be known as the Washburn Family Forest.

The Concord-based Basil W. Woods Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited contributed to the effort by donating $10,000 and issuing a challenge to members and other TU chapters, resulting in a total donation of $30,000.

The tract stretches more than six miles along U.S. Route 3 to just below Murphy Dam, and is considered the gateway to Pittsburg.

(John Corrigan can be reached at [email protected])

Originally published by JOHN CORRIGAN For the Monitor.

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