Thursday, October 1, 2009

Catch and Release Tips

Why Should I Practice Catch and Release Fishing?

Catch and release is often a touchy subject with fishermen. Some fishermen are determined to practice catch and release, and demean any fisherman that chooses to keep a fish or two for the frying pan. On the other side of the extreme is the fisherman who keeps anything he catches, without any thought of returning a fish to the water. The best conservation practice is really somewhere in between these extremes.
Catch and release should be practiced because they are essential tools for good conservation. If every fisherman keeps every fish that they catch, a fishery will soon be fished out. Selective harvest has been the friend of outdoorsmen in almost every aspect of game management. By choosing which fish to keep, and which to return to the water, a fisherman can help to develop a strong, healthy fishery.

Which fish should be returned to the water? Younger, smaller fish should always be released back into the water, and allowed to mature. Unfortunately, too often the younger, more naïve fish are caught, and kept so that they never have an opportunity to grow into the kind of fish that are either trophy caliber, or even really good eating size. I have seen fish kept on a stringer that were so small it is hard to believe that anyone could possibly eat them. This is wasteful, and should be avoided!

Another reason to practice catch and release is to protect species of fish that may be in danger of being wiped out. For example, there are many wild trout streams in my home state of West Virginia, which harbor the native Brook Trout. It is legal to fish for these, and it is even legal to keep some. However, this is a delicate fish, and it is common to practice catch and release when fishing these wild trout streams. This is a great practice, since the fish are small, and not particularly suitable for eating, unless you happen to catch some larger specimens. Catch and release ensures that these beautiful fish are preserved for the next generation of fishermen.

There are several reasons that fish are still plentiful in most areas, here are a few:

• Fishing Licenses. Some of the revenue is used to fund hatcheries and other important agencies that maintain our rivers, streams and lakes. Fish legally.

• Anglers that observe bag limits, catch-n-release or simple common-sense behavior of not removing more fish than he/she can eat.

• Preservation of the surrounding areas. Pick up your trash! If you pack it in – pack it out! Don’t deposit junk in the water, it might be out of sight, but it doesn’t magically disappear… it damages the fish breeding environment.

If you are fishing with the intention of “catch-n-release” it is important to use barb-less hooks, or to pinch the barbs on your hooks down.

Do not pick up the fish with dry hands. That slimy stuff around its body is important for protecting the fish from harmful elements in the water. This applies especially to fish without scales (like a catfish) or small scales (like a trout). Think of the slime as their natural shield.

If the fish has swallowed the hook deeply, simply cut your line and release it. The hook will dissolve over time. It is important not to yank the hook out. If the hook is not easily visible (like in its lip), it’s probably best left where it is.

When reintroducing the fish to the water, hold it by the tail and gently and pull it backward (you will see the gill plates open) and forward until it swims off under its own power. The backwards motion will pass extra water over its gills and usually give the fish an extra boost.

Fish can stay out of the water longer than you or I can hold our breath, but the shorter the time on land (or in your hands) the better chance of survival the fish will have. If you are waiting for someone to bring over pliers or a camera, do so with the fish in the water.

Keep the fish off the ground and boat deck. If it flops around on the ground or boat it can damage itself.
Gills are fragile. When you hold the fish, avoid touching the gills. Fish can deal with a lot of adversity, but damage to the gills is almost always fatal.

Catch and release fishing is required on some waters and is a good idea on most public waters. There is nothing wrong with keeping a few fish to eat, especially panfish and catfish that reproduce quickly, but releasing bigger fish of all species allows other anglers to enjoy catching them, and you may catch them again yourself.


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