Are We Pushing Safe Fish Handling Too Hard?

Category: Articles

 May 20th, 2014 by zboudreau

Modified May 20th, 2014 at 12:00 am

Catch and Release MuskiesOne of my favorite comments to hear from someone – is that catch and release – and handling information offered-up – has had positive effects… especially-so, if it resulted in saving a fish!

Something I’ve long wrestled with regarding catch and release; size limits and fish handling: Are we (me) pushing too hard – taking the fun out of this? Are we being elitist? I guess I still honestly don’t know the answers. Maybe we (i.e. those of us who promote total catch and release for muskies and limited, selective harvest for other species) are. 

I continue pondering too though, the selling of careful release and the overall issue of fisheries health. And, what it really means. For me, when I was first told about release for consideration by a friend, what sold me was the simple question of “do you want to catch bigger muskies?” The answer being yes, I guess my reasons then – were mainly borne of selfishness. In pondering now, I’d like to tell myself it’s changed, but I’m not so sure it has (other than I truly hope that others, including my son, will be able to continue to enjoy fishing like I have).

The problem, I suspect, is that release isn’t the glamorous side of the equation. It’s more exciting to discuss the “things” (guys like me talk about) that result in better fish-catching. Things like learning structure, specifics of general fish location seasonally, tracking forage, moon phases, boat control and patterning fish. Even more exciting to consider are quick-fix-type-things like new tools (GPS, color graphs ….) and magic lures that fish can’t resist; the right color, speed; possibly even – “genetic responses”. Things … that fish just can’t refuse. And, I don’t mention this to make fun of it; it is important, it all matters; and it all rolls through my head on the water as I try to pattern things fishing for muskies or any specie.

It’s quite common for fishing-media to talk about the simple goal of helping folks catch more fish. A common statement offered is: “our goal has always been to help people catch more and ‘bigger’ fish”. And, that is very exciting stuff. Everyone has their reasons for fishing. There are lots of good reasons. I can’t think of many anglers though, who don’t want to catch more and bigger fish. Yet many of us are guilty of offering little – to zero – of what is really the most important thing anglers can learn to improve fish-catching.

With that thought in mind (forgetting about my ego for a minute) – the reality is that it all boils back to fisheries health, period. “Where” is the best place to film a fishing TV show? Where do serious anglers go – what is the endless search often about? They go to fisheries that are healthy. The ultimate goal is finding healthy fisheries that are little-fished. Ego aside, while I know I’m “good” at angling – and that countless hours and effort are cumulative; like most things in life, other folks who work real hard at it are too. In reality though, when it comes to “catching”, we’re only as good as the fishery we’re on. You can’t catch something that isn’t there.

If the bobber never sinks or the lure never gets bit, or followed … the interest stops dead in its tracks. All of the information, tools and effort in the world can’t produce results without healthy fisheries. The reality then, whether we like it or not, with finite fisheries and ever-increasing pressure on them (habitat, water-quality and more effective anglers), proper fish handling and management become more of a necessity.

Release ToolsSo … at the end of the day – the reality – for certain is: the single most important thing we can do as anglers – to catch more and bigger fish – is to have the proper tools and knowledge … get as good as possible with fish handling – “good” at successful catch and release (provide the absolute best odds of fish survival).    

As a new open water season begins in the northern regions – this discussion is important; just as very good anglers have mental checklists for important aspects of fish patterning (i.e. structures, presentations, forage, speed …) – there should be a checklist of questions for anglers to ask themselves, prior to going on the water, on the non-glamorous (but most important) side of fishing. 

Before you (we) go ask ourselves:

  • Do I know the proper tools needed to perform release; do I have them?
  • Do I know how to get a proper hold on the fish?
  • Do I have the camera ready and does everyone know how to use it (no delays)?
  • Do I understand if the weather (heat, waves …) conditions create extra stress for fish that day?
  • In general, with a success (catch), do I have a landing and release plan?

Other things to ponder:

  • How can I “sell” careful release to others?
  • Who have I told about careful release and overall message of fisheries health?

Here’s a quick video showing you the proper way to handle a muskie – Watch it and share it with your friends!