Roughfishing FAQ


Roughfishing FAQ

What is Roughfishing?

This is a question I get asked a lot.  After all, you see me fishing for "game" fish such as trout, bass, and pike all the time.  How can we call ourselves roughfishers when we enjoy  these traditional "game fishes"?  The answer is that roughfishing is not really about what species you fish for.  It's about why you fish.  First off, the primary reason for roughfishing is not to get food for the table.  Sure, I like a nice smoked cisco on occasion.  I'll bake up a tasty drum or boil burbot chunks sometimes.  But this is only done where the fish population clearly is in no danger, and when I feel like I've done well and deserve to eat a few.  Secondly, roughfishing is about interacting with the aquatic ecosystem.  In fishing, one finds a way to become integrated into the natural world, if only for a time, by testing the food chain.  Roughfishing allows one to explore an ecosystem down to the last detail, and gain rare knowledge by doing so.  Who knew that a hatch of large white mayflies, that occurs in upper mississippi riffles at certain times of the year, draws both smallmouth bass and common carp to feed at the surface together?  This is the kind of knowledge a roughfisher seeks.  Some day, I might master the art of flyfishing for Blue Suckers.  If I did, I'd be the only one in the world to have that knowledge.  Likewise, some anglers fish the Mississippi river for years and encounter only a paltry half-dozen species of fish.  Those people are blind to the whole richness and diversity of the ecosystem they spend so much time on.  Third, roughfishing is about stripping the commercialism out of the sport of fishing.  Since nobody knows how to catch northern hog suckers, there aren't sixteen brands of special baits marketed to catch them.  You don't need a forty thousand dollar boat and six tackleboxes crammed with commercialized fishing crap to catch them.  All you need is an old pair of sneakers and some kind of fishing rod.  And you can't just pay a guide to have them put a hog sucker on the end of your line. This is what I mean by pursuing fish "on their own terms."  There is a very fine line between "angling" and "harvesting".  With modern technology, we humans could catch every single living fish in the country.  We could blast the fish out of the water with dynamite or electricity.  Or I could spend millions of dollars buying every sort of gadget on the planet so that I could become such a great fisherman that I'd never get skunked.  But that isn't any fun, you don't learn anything from that, and you don't really get the same experience out of it.  Roughfishing means bringing yourself down to the level of the fish.  You observe nature closely, trying to garner clues about what is going on in the ecosystem right now.  Then you come up with a theory, and test it.  That flooded marsh next to the river sure looks like a place where a big eel might live - how can we find out?  We could drain the marsh and look for eels in the dried up mud.  We could invent some strange eel-seeking technological gadget that would guarantee success. We could hire a person to put an eel on your line.  Or, we could become a student of the eel.  We could research everything possible about where eels live, what they eat, and how they behave.  Armed with that knowledge, we could then approach the situation, armed only with simple equipment and a burning desire to find the answer.  That is what roughfishing is all about.  It's about the challenge of fishing, which is a small subset of the challenge of understanding the whole natural world.  It is fishing "in the rough" as opposed to fishing in the glitzy, high-tech world of maximum harvest and commercialism.

What are Rough Fish?

This is the paradox.  Although this site is called, there really is no such thing as a rough fish.  Historically, this moniker has been applied to fish that were considered undesirable.  But no fish is universally undesirable, so this definition doesn't hold water.  I really think that the term "rough fish" should be expunged from the language of natural resource management as well as biology.  So, the answer to this question is: a roughfish is any fish that you catch while roughfishing, whether it is a brown trout or a bullhead.  Or - there's no such thing.  Either way, it's not a derogatory term.  Instead, it's a term of endearment for a fish which you have caught using only your own personal wits and skill.

Are You Insane?

No.  I'm quite sane.  I just love fishing too much to limit myself to just trout fishing, or just walleye fishing, or just carp fishing, or whatever.  If there are carp, mooneyes, brown trout, northern hog suckers, and smallmouth bass in a given stream, I want to catch them all.  I might start with the trout because they're the easiest.  They're the easiest because you can find five hundred detailed books about how to do it.  But after figuring out the trout, I'll move on, until I've mastered every species in the stream.  It can take years, and it's a lot of fun.  If the mooneyes fail to cooperate, I'll fall back on the trout, or the bass.  If the northern hog suckers happen to be biting like crazy, well, then I'll catch northern hog suckers till my arms fall off or they quit biting.  Or maybe I'll feel like fishing only for giant brown trout, or giant carp.   Whatever I choose, I create my own challenges, and push myself constantly to become a better fisherman, and a better ecologist as well.

Why no bowfishing or spearing? It's legal, and I love bowfishing!

You have fun with that. Bowfishing and spearing are NOT angling. To catch a fish by angling, you have to have the skill and intelligence to put the hook inside their mouth through some form of trickery. You don't just walk up to them and smack them while they are minding their own business. Now, there's nothing wrong with spearing and bowfishing, I'm sure it's fun and everything, but if you want to blather about all the giant fish you shot or speared, please go somewhere else. You won't be missed.

What about small minnows and chubs? I love fishing for chubs! Why don't chubs count for the contest?

No, I like chubs, and even fish for them intentionally quite a bit. But there are many, many hundreds of species of small fish in America. They outnumber the larger species ten to one. Take a look at the "Minnows and Allies" section on the species page, and try to tell me you can tell them all apart by sight.  They cannot be identified reliably except by trained biologists, and even we can't do it without having a physical specimen. Fishing for small minnows is good sport and a great way to get free, native live bait. But having all the small species of fish as part of the contest would never work. If you are competing in a species contest and are offended that your minnow species doesn't count, I would recommend putting it on an 8/0 circle hook immediately.

How do you decide which fish are "Micro" and which are "Standard"?

There are many factors, but it basically comes down to whether the fish commonly grows to over a pound in weight.

I like to snag roughfish! Why don't you talk about snagging here?

Snagging is not angling. It might be fun, it might be ecologically sustainable, and it might be effective, but snagging is not an

gling - just like bowfishing and spearing are not angling. This is an angling website. You're welcome to have fun with your snagging, spearing and bowfishing - but keep it off our website. We're not interested. In fact, please start your own snagging website (might I recommend the domain is free for the taking!) so we could refer snaggers to you.

I went on a great guided trip and caught all kinds of fish! I'm awesome!

No, you're not. OK, you could be, but nobody will ever know how awesome you are, because everyone will assume you just reeled in the fish that your guide caught for you while you sat in the shade of an umbrella and drank Pina Colodas. If you caught a new species on a guided trip, it will STILL count on your lifelist. But just like Barry Bonds, you'll have an asterisk next to that species that says you were not able to catch this fish without the help of a professional who is paid thousands of dollars to catch fish for people. By all means, if you can afford it, hire a guide! It's fun and a good way to learn. But don't brag about the fish your guide caught for you, and FOR GOD'S SAKE don't write a ten-thousand-word story about it, because we would rather read about some kid catching bullheads in his Grandpa's pond at the farm than read about your fully-catered bonefish trip in the Marquesas where you had servants prepare fresh Mangos for breakfast and your freaking guide positioned your skiff perfectly in a stiff equatorial wind so you could make your cast. That stuff is for the glossy fishing magazines where they sell idiots all-inclusive vacations.


Eric Kol's picture


Carpy Diem!

Everythingthatswims's picture

How about "How do you catch gizzard shad on hook and line?" Please!!!

Check out my blog @

andy's picture

Never caught one myself , despite fishing over hundreds of the buggers.