We used to catch 40, 50, 60 bass a day on a fly rod. Not all of them were big, but at least you caught them. Today you're lucky if you catch seven, eight or nine. We've lost almost all of the fish. I think it's something like 70 percent of the male bass in the Potomac have female eggs in them. I think this is a canary-in-the-mine sort of thing where the EPA isn't really up to speed on it. Sewage-treatment plants do not treat medicines. Any excess medicines that go through the sewage systems end up in our waterways. When you compound that, every town from Cumberland south is putting their medicines through the sewage systems, it's affected male bass to the point where they're having female eggs, then we've got a problem. The other big problem is that Frederick is the second-largest city in Maryland and Frederick County is one of the most populated counties and the water table has dropped so low that the Monocacy River, where we used to fish, is almost dried up. Many of the streams where we used to go fishing don't even exist. You've got a multitude of problems and unfortunately the Department of Natural Resources really doesn't have much power. County commissioners are easily influenced by developers and manufacturers. They are where the leak starts.
Is modern fly-fishing as pure a sport as it once was?
It's expanded. When I began fly-fishing, there was no one to go to. You learned on your own. After those organizations were formed, they formed chapters. Then you had books come out. There are probably more books written on fly-fishing than any other sport. Then you had the VCRs and the DVDs. You have a tremendous amount of dispensing of information on how to tie flies, how to fish, how to cast. I have done eight or nine videos myself. Not only do you have more people fly-fishing, but you have more knowledge available. With the equipment, everything is vastly improved compared to what it used to be.
Speaking of TV shows devoted to fishing, do you think fishing can become a popular spectator sport?
No, because the money's not in it. They're catering to younger people. Even the fishing and hunting shows we've had have declined. They're trying to sell the ads to young people, but the truth is, most of the people who hunt and fish are over 40 years of age, an awful lot of over 50. The money is being spent on ads in the fishing magazines, but the younger generation might buy one or two fly rods, but they're not going to buy a lot of them. Fly-fishing has never been tournament-oriented. When I ran the tournament down in Miami, I had so many unpleasant experiences with people cheating or being unethical, we actually banned the presidents of corporations and the janitors of corporations. Competition is almost foreign to fly-fishing. Most fly fisherman enjoy helping each other. In bass fishing, competition is very successful because you have a different culture. They enjoy competing with each other. My own personal philosophy is that when you compete with someone, you become their competitor. If you help people, you become their friends. Almost all fly fishermen I know do not sanction tournament-type fishing.
Do you have any particular highlight or achievement in your career that stands out?
I have never felt especially bright anyway. I always tell young writers, 'Don't get puffed up about your success — your car mechanic is smarter than you. You cannot even fix your own automobile.' The thing that they're doing on Monday, I actually opposed that. First they were going to name a lake up in Frederick County after me. I fought that tooth and nail. Then they made percolation tests and they found out that the soil of the lake bed wouldn't hold the rake well. A stream that used to be so deep you couldn't wade it is now a trickle. Then they were going to name that lake after me and I said, 'Heck, I am going to get a lawyer.' So they backed off on that. I told them I don't want them to name anything after me. I ain't got a high opinion of myself.
If not the name on a dried-up lake, what do you want your legacy to be?
I know my inabilities, so I know that I'm not that impressed with me. I just hope people enjoy what I did.