Study Tracks Anglers

Don't be surprised to see yellow, blue and pink ribbons hanging from the ears of anglers next summer. Those 12-inch tags are an essential component of a monumental study of the lifestyles of people who fish.

"We're in the midst of an information explosion, but no one has ever collected any hard data about where anglers go and what they do when they are not fishing," said Bugs Gurney, head of the Fishing Institute for Better Science (FIBS), which is spearheading the study.

"Almost everything we know about anglers we've learned from launch ramp litter barrel surveys," Gurney said. "Our researchers have determined what anglers eat and drink - Vienna sausages, Ding-Dongs and soft drinks - but we have huge gaps in our cultural and social information.

"What happens, for example, to trout anglers when the trout parks switch to catch-and-release in the fall?" Gurney wondered. "Do they revert to responsible citizens? Or do they simply turtle down into their waders and hibernate until spring?

"And where do crappie anglers disappear to during fall turnover? One day they're thick as wool and the next day you couldn't find one with a marabou detector."

Gurney said that the colorful ribbons will help FIBS researchers to precisely monitor how, where and why anglers move.

"The tags let us identify anglers even when they aren't yanking a boat onto a trailer or stringing fish," Gurney said. "We can spot them in swimming suits, jogging suits or leisure suits."

Counters posted at mini-malls, restaurants, taverns and key intersections in the suburbs will tally the number of specimens passing by.

"We'll keep track of where they go for dinner, how often they stop for refreshments and whether they accompany the family to church," Gurney said. "We'll even note the titles of the videos they rent."

Gurney assured me that the markers won't interfere with the day-to-day movements of anglers.

"That's why we chose ribbons," Gurney said. "They're visible yet unobtrusive - unless there's a strong wind - much better than traditional marking methods, such as paint swatches or fingerclipping."

Anglers will wear a ribbon color corresponding to the species of fish they typically pursue.

"The color-coding is important," Gurney said, "because we suspect vast differences in the day-to-day living patterns of walleye, catfish and panfish anglers."

Gurney theorizes that anglers come to behave exactly like the fish they pursue. "Is it just coincidence that bass anglers