CATCH and RELEASE – A Perspective………
I am by no means the oldest fisherman, although there are some mornings I feel that way. I do, however, remember a time when the phrase “catch and release” was unheard of in fishing. I began fishing seriously in the 1950’s and the mantra then was “catch, clean, and keep”. These were the days where a limit of crappie was several washtubs full of fish and keeping a muskie or sturgeon was considered normal. This was also a time when the USA population was under 150 million (vs. 270 million today), the “great north” was accessible only by old log roads or airplane, and fishing was confined to a period from June to September.
By the time I was guiding in the 1960’s pressure on lakes had increased, commercial fishing had increased, and limits had not been adjusted down. Killing a trophy fish and having it mounted was the only way to get a “fish on the wall”. So by the 1970’s things started “tipping” and fishing on most lakes, rivers, and even saltwater became tougher. We were in the midst of ruining sport fishing. And yes, I was right in there along with everybody else.
Then an amazing thing started happening in the late 1970’s. The term “catch and release” began appearing at resorts, tackle shops, and on tackle manufacturer’s packaging. We even put “Catch and Release” decals on all of our boats and watercraft. This was the beginning of a “movement”.
Here was a small group with a big idea and lots of energy. Unlike other “campaigns” this wasn’t something that had to be “sold”. It just needed to be communicated. It was an idea with almost no opposition. It was the perfect common sense solution! And so it spread and the world was a better place ~ well, not exactly.
As widespread as “catch and release” is today and as difficult as it is to find any angler who disagrees with this practice, the simple fact is all of us can (and should) do a better job of handling released fish. We can do a better job of tying knots, discarding rubbish, and generally making sure what we do and how we do it is in the best interest of the fish stock. Today’s hooks have so many coatings, etc. that they no longer rust away if lost in the mouth of a fish. Plastic and other synthetic baits and tackle lost will eventually find their way into a fish’s stomach, oftentimes proving fatal to the fish. Ditto on rubbish, cigarette butt filters, etc.
Make sure your line knots are strong as match the type of line used. We suggest making sure you know how to ventilate a fish that has proven a mighty opponent and given you a great fight. This dramatically improves the fish’s chances of making it upon release. Be sure you make every effort to keep the fish wet and in good condition. Don’t mishandle the fish taking pictures. Best you can, quickly untangle a fish in the net. Use a gaff only when absolutely necessary. Know how to resuscitate the fish and do it carefully. Never keep a trophy fish – release it for someone else to enjoy.
As I get older I often find myself more emotional about catch and release.. I want to see my kids, grandkids, and great grandkids enjoy what I have enjoyed. I want them to have my passion for fishing, the outdoors, and the honesty that God provides in nature. Making sure there are plenty of fish for them to catch will always be part of the process. And we need your help.