release is a subject dear to my heart. I have been fishing for more than
55 years and I can assure you that it was never a subject talked about
those many years ago.
fishing in my youth was more of a necessity than a sport. Every fish caught
was utilized as food. Licences were unheard of, limits were large and
muscle power rather than horsepower was the affordable way to move a boat.
Most boats, called punts, were built in the backyard and every spring
were taken to the river and sunk so the wood would expand and stop the
leaks. Rods, reels, lines, lures and baits were not very sophisticated,
but we did catch fish and lots of them. No one thought there would be
an end to it.
early teens, we no longer caught limits every time we went fishing. There
was also talk for the first time about pollution and that it might not
be safe to eat fish from the river daily. The words pollution, habitat
destruction, over-fishing, licensing, reduced limits, milfoil weed, zebra
mussels, conservation and catch and release started to be bantered about.
In 35 years,
since these words started to be used, we have still not moved far enough
along the road of conservation and catch and release. The vast majority
of us still think it is our God-given right to utilize our fishing resource
to its maximum. Our excuse is that we pay a significant amount of money
for fishing licences, rods, reels, lines, lures, boats, motors, insurance,
fuel, camping fees, travel, etc., and we should receive something material
for these expenses. And we should!
we must consider the generations that will follow us. We must teach them
that the resource is not limitless. How best to do this? By setting an
example. Is it okay to keep a feed of fish? Sure it is! But we don't need
to keep several limits. We can no longer make the argument that sportfishing
reduces our grocery bill. I'm not sure it did when I was a child. I know
my father thought it did, and we threw a great deal of fish in the freezer.
Today, I can purchase fish from the fish monger for far less than I can
catch them for myself. So why do I continue to fish? It's exciting, it
gets my mind off life's problems, it stimulates my brain as I think of
ways to outwit the next fish, it keeps me physically active, it allows
me to socialize with those of a like mind, it lifts my spirits, it energizes
me, it gives me satisfaction and it satisfies my primal urges.
reasons of mine sound like other sports or endeavors that give an individual
a sense of contentment? I think so. So why don't we just admit it, fishing
is a sport. Is it not time that we start treating it like one? If we are
ready to concede that what we do is a sport, then how can we start changing
our own fishing activities into a true sport? What follows are some thought
provoking ideas on how we can accomplish the transition from harvesters
to true sportsmen and women:
What do we really know about catch and release? Do we know how to practice
it? What are we trying to accomplish by doing it? First, let's define
what catch and release is trying to accomplish. It is a method of handling
fish that reduces trauma and shock caused by the injury sustained by the
hook being physically touched by the fisherman, oxygen deprivation, fear,
removal of its protective coating and removal from its environment. One
of the latter can cause a fish to bleed out and all can cause a fish to
go into shock and die. So how does a proper catch and release technique
lower the risk of possible death to fish? All fish that are not going
to be weighed and/or photographed must be kept in the water and they should
never be touched. Those fish that you wish to weigh or photograph must
be kept in the water for a period of time that is long enough for them
to recover from oxygen deprivation. Also, the hook should be removed in
A good analogy
for oxygen deprivation would be: an olympic athlete runs the marathon
and at the finish line someone chokes them. Very few of the olympians
would survive. Removing a fish from the water at the end of a fight chokes
them and very few can survive this trauma. A hoop net does not work well
as it puts the fish in an unnatural position and it is much more difficult
to extract a fish and not remove its protective coating. The best net
is a fish cradle. It should be long enough so that the species being targeted
fits entirely into the net. One end should be closed, the netting should
be weighted so it sinks, the frame of the net should float, must have
a weigh rope and be made of a material that does not easily remove the
fish's protective coating.
definitely a right and wrong way to handle fish. First and foremost, they
should be touched as little as possible. I often watch in horror as fish
are grabbed behind the head at the gill plate. The reason they are held
there is the thumb and middle finger will slip under the gill plate and
they can be held firmly. Have someone with large hands grab you behind
the head at the neck and squeeze hard. Now, relate that to a struggling
fish and ask yourself, how many will be injured or killed using this technique?
method, commonly used, is to gill a fish. This method requires an individual
to slide his fingers along the bottom of the gill plate, pull the gill
plate open and then slide the fingers up inside the plate, without putting
their fingers in the gill rakers, and lifting the fish from the water.
The gill rakers are very delicate and can easily be damaged. You can't
avoid coming in contact with them when using this method. When the fish
is removed from the water the gill plate supports its entire weight. When
the fish thrashes you can hear the cartilage breaking. Not many fish can
survive this kind of trauma. Get someone to stand on a chair and put his
four fingers under the side of your jawbone and try to lift you.
method commonly used is called lipping the fish. New lipping devices have
been developed so this can now be accomplished on fish with teeth. Have
someone stand on a chair and put their thumb inside your mouth and their
fingers under your jaw and attempt to lift you off the floor. Just imagine
your entire weight being suspended from your jaw. To hang a fish by its
gill plate or lip puts it in a very unnatural position with no buoyancy
from the water. A fish's internal organs can be damaged as the fish thrashes
and even though it swims away, when released, it will later die.
the most used method of handling fish of all netting. The vast majority
of fishermen net their fish then drop them on the bottom of the boat.
Without giving the fish a chance to recover, it is being strangled. Putting
it on the bottom of the boat allows it to thrash in an environment that
will cause it injuries and remove most of its protective slime. Very few
fish will survive this type of handling. I've talked to many people about
this subject and the majority of responses I receive are: Well, it's only
a fish. Fish don't feel pain. There's lots of them, what if a few of them
die. I don't care. Ah, you don't know what you're talking about. We've
got enough problems to deal with.
Do you know
anybody who cares? It seems, by these responses, that we have a long way
to go to change the attitude of those who think this way. Does a fish
feel pain? Honestly, I don't know. But I do know that when I have finished
fighting a fish and I bring it to the boat, it looks at me with its eyes,
it looks towards the water where freedom and life are, and it still continues
to struggle with whatever energy it has remaining. This confirms in my
mind that a fish is a living creature that deserves our respect and compassion.
If it is to be utilized, dispatch it quickly. If it is to be released,
handle it properly.
probably the biggest survival factor for a fish. Hooks cause more damage
than any other item in your tackle box. We have lures with multiple treble
hooks of various sizes. The larger the hook, the greater potential for
serious damage. Multiple hooks are hard to remove, often hook a fish in
more than one place, and seem to have an attraction for the fish's eyes.
A badly injured fish will bleed out in two minutes or less. If you are
into a good bite, keep the fish that are bleeding badly and release those
that are not.
we do to reduce the carnage caused by hooks? Require that our legislators
ban barbed hooks, treble hooks and multiple hooks. If we want our sport
to be known as a true sport then we need to demand that single barbless
hooks be made mandatory. Oh, I can hear the outcry already: I'll lose
too many fish. It's too hard to hook up a fish. They cause just as much
damage as treble hooks. My lure won't perform as well. If I have to use
them I will quit fishing. It will cost the manufacturers too much money
to change over. Believe me when I say, I have used every one of those
Then, I was
put into a position of having to use single barbless and single treble
barbless hooks. I guided fishermen for steelhead trout and salmon on the
Stamp River on Vancouver Island, for several years. For the past two years
I have been guiding on Lake Athabasca for giant lake trout and northern
pike. The Stamp River was restricted to single barbless hooks only. At
first it was a challenge to keep a hard-fighting, tail walking fish like
a steelhead or Coho salmon on a barbless hook. But like anything new,
it's a learned skill and after a few frustrating losses, I became proficient
with the barbless hook and was bringing to the boat or shoreline as many
as I would normally have caught using single or treble barbed hooks. The
outfitter I work for on Lake Athabasca requires that their guides and
clients use only single barbless and barbless treble hooks. Having used
both for the past two seasons, my findings are as follows: four out of
10 lake trout and six out of 10 northern pike were seriously injured when
using barbless treble hooks.
was greater to the northern pike because they are so much more aggressive
and virtually inhale the lures. The inhalation of the treble hook caused
many to become hooked in the gill rakers. The mortality of these gill-raker
hooked fish was nearly 100 per cent. In comparison, the single barbless
hook seriously damaged just one in 20 lake trout and two in 20 northern
pike. A big plus was the easy removal of the single barbless hooks.
I conducted was reducing the size of hooks used. When single barbless
hooks were reduced in size, the amount of hook-ups remained the same but
serious injury was reduced to one in thirty-five. Therefore, I was able
to conclude that there was a direct relationship between hook size and
serious injury. To support the single barbless hook movement you must
be willing to commit to learning a new skill.
for many of us is frustrating particularly as we age and our eyesight
begins to fail us, our motor skills start to diminish and our willingness
to learn new tasks decreases. We want things to remain the same because
change is not easy to accept. If we don't change, we can look forward
to further size reductions in the fish we catch, greater restrictions
on catch limits, higher costs, less opportunity to fish and all resulting
in fewer people using the resource.
would say, "Great!"to the last statement. But security of the
resource is provided in numbers. Fewer fish, less revenue; less revenue,
less government funding for the resource; less government funding, fewer
stocking programs and enforcement; fewer stocking programs and enforcement,
no fish; no fish, no fishermen and millions of kids deprived of a recreational
activity that is second-to-none. As the responsible adults of our time,
we have to make the right decision. Which one will you make?
is a guide for Laker's Unlimited (www.lakersunlimited.com). Bob and his
daughter also make custom-made fish cradles.
Bob at email@example.com or at
P.O. Box 105,
Ryley, AB., T0B 4A0.