Start Practicing Catch & Release

January 31, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Big Pike being released

Big Pike being released

When I go fishing, I’m a hook and bobber kind of a guy. While I’ve used downriggers, depth finders and detailed contour maps over the years, they don’t help me much and I’ve always been a low-impact type of angler.

While I typically get along with simple tackle for fishing – of bobbers, jigs, spoons and hooks – I’m not categorically against using the latest tools and technology. Provided, of course, their use is within the constraints of the law.

Sure, there are debates over whether GPS marking units and the latest sonar, gill-seeking, laser-guided fish finders have crossed the line, but I try not to get into that. Those who quip that modern-day angling is akin to … catching fish in a barrel, haven’t fished lately, now have they?

Walleye released from netting

Walleye released from netting

You can find fish – I bet we’ve all seen bluegills shading themselves under a dock – and still not catch them.

And so it goes. For the most part, contemporary anglers using the latest inventions have not accelerated the demise of fishing. Often, those anglers who buy those GPS mapping units to pinpoint exact coordinates of hot spots, are the same folks who are the greatest practitioners of catch-and-release fishing day after day.

Many modern-day anglers, save for a few fish pigs, enjoy a fillet or two, but are more in tune with catching than cleaning. Having grown up in North Dakota, this transition has surprised me. Most anglers will keep a few fish for eating, and maybe save a fish-of-a-lifetime to send to the taxidermist. However, it seems catch-and-release has become more of a standard than an anomaly.

Walleye caught & released

Walleye caught & released

As part of a college fisheries management course at North Dakota State, I reviewed a study on catch-and-release mortality of trout in the Yellowstone River at Yellowstone National Park. At the time I was not well versed in fisheries research, and I was stunned at the catch rate of marked fish.

In short, the same trout were being caught and released repeatedly. In many cases, the same fish was being caught and released multiple times on the same day.

Conventional wisdom says that some released fish will die. That’s a fact. But beyond the statistical potential for mortality of released fish, when done properly, catch and release can enhance angling in the long term.

Think of larger, productive breeding female fish caught and released a few times over the course of their life, rather than just being caught once and fried up. Their cumulative contribution to the lake’s fish population over several spawning seasons could be significant.

Brad Anderson holding a big female walleye that was released. Bass & trout hold the taboo for catch & release, but why not walleye?

Brad Anderson holding a big female walleye that was released. Bass & trout hold the taboo for catch & release, but why not walleye?

While anglers are doing a good job of practicing catch-and-release on their own,

fisheries managers are also at work investigating ways that regulations involving catch-and-release can help maintain or improve fish populations. While

slot limits and trophy regulations don’t work for every body of water, they can help maintain fishing opportunity in lakes where significant restrictions might otherwise be needed.

Beyond rules and regulations, I would surmise that most avid anglers are fishing more for personal enjoyment than for food. As one weathered fisherman related to me recently: “Doug, I remember when monofilament line came along. Anglers were all stirred up. They said, ‘the fish can’t see it,’ it will be the end of fishing.”

Indeed the debates will never end, but the particulars surely will change.

Historically, we know that if threats to fishing are eminent, anglers and fisheries managers will work together to make things better. And I’ll still be sitting along the shore with my hook, worm and bobber. But I’ll understand.


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