Catch and Release Fishing

February 2, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Catch and Release fishing is becoming common in the ethics of many fishermen

Catch and Release fishing is becoming common in the ethics of many fishermen

I’m a casual, low impact angler. I have never caught a fish that would qualify me to receive a Whopper patch from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Seldom do I catch a limit, or even a fish to keep. It doesn’t bother me to put a worm on a hook and watch a bobber float without disruption from a fish. I’d venture to guess I’m an exception, even though I love to fish. If all anglers were like me there would be no such thing as – nor a need for – catch-and-release fishing, since the term requires a catch before the release.

There was at time not so long ago when catching and releasing fish in North Dakota was, for the most part, illegal. That’s a not a misprint. Prior to 1975 all fish legally caught in North Dakota were required to be reduced to possession. You could not land a fish, take a photo and release it back into the water to fight another day without risk of a citation.

But that was another time and another way of thinking. That philosophy has been replaced by our current system which offers a choice at the time a fish is landed: keep the fish, or return it to the water.

Once you decide to keep it and put that fish in a livewell, on a stringer or in a fish basket or bucket, it is not legal to let it go at a later time, even if it seems perfectly healthy.

Ask a casual angler what the term “high-grading” means and they might not have an answer. Such weekend warriors probably don’t mind much if they don’t catch a limit of fish, and if they do get lucky, they’re not much concerned about the size of the walleye or pike on the stringer.

 

Catch and Release fishing can be important to help protect many fisheries

Catch and Release fishing can be important to help protect many fisheries

But some of those who do know about high-grading, understand the debate is over the practice of replacing a fish that’s already in your livewell with a bigger fish. It’s not the angler’s intention to keep more fish than a limit – it’s more about bragging rights.

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios.

Instance number one: Your day begins with a nice, small, legal-sized walleye, and you put it in the livewell. But after that, fishing success drops off and by the end of the day, the livewell still only has that one fish occupying it. You wonder aloud if it’s worth the time to unsheathe the fillet knife for just one small fish.

If high-grading, or just plain letting a fish go after you’ve kept it for awhile, were legal in North Dakota, you might be tempted to dump it back into the lake, assuming the fish appeared healthy. However, even if a fish in a livewell or on a stringer appears healthy, that’s not a guarantee it won’t die after a few hours.

Instance number two: Your day begins with a nice, small, legal-sized walleye, and then you catch four more after that. If high-grading were legal, you could continue fishing, and any time you caught a walleye larger than one you had in the livewell, you could throw the small one back and put the larger one in. With any mortality at all among the released fish, you would wind up killing more than a limit of fish.

While many of today’s livewells are very good at keeping water refreshed and well oxygenated, the best chance a fish has at long-term survival is if it is released immediately.

Nowadays anglers can boat dozens of fish, handling them carefully and releasing them back to the water. Some anglers hardly ever keep a fish.

Bringing it all back into perspective, it’s not a stretch to consider high-grading as the aquatic version of group or party hunting. There will always be arguments for and against, but as it stands you must shoot and tag your own deer, and once a fish is put into a livewell, or onto a stringer or in a fish basket, you can’t release it back into the water.


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