A big debate that continues to go on within the fishing community revolves around the release of fish that have been caught. In one corner you have anglers who view fishing as a way to put food on the table (or in a fryer). In the other corner you have anglers who simply enjoy the act of pursuing wild fish, and are not interested in actually eating their catch.
Cleaning and eating something caught in the wild creates a connection with nature that is indescribable, and we are not trying to shame anyone who regularly heads home to eat their catch. That said, this piece is all about the reasons why anglers should consider releasing their catches. Let’s start with some background.
The releasing of caught fish has reportedly been practiced in parts of the world for at least the past one hundred years. In the US, the first noted push for release has been attributed to the state of Michigan in 1952 in an effort to help conserve fish populations. Ultimately, Michigan’s drive can be attributed more to their desire to reduce fish-stocking costs rather than being driven by conservation.
Today, however, conservation is the reason most often attributed to the act of releasing caught fish. Overfishing is a problem that is having an increasingly negative effect fish populations around the world. Global demand for fish grows with the human population, and without proper conservation efforts the number of fish found in the wild will continue to dwindle.
Along with preserving fish populations for consumption, there is another reason why conservation should be practiced by every angler: future generations of anglers. Think back to the first time you caught a fish. Remember the thrill that came with feeling a tug on the line, and the pure excitement when you got your first glimpse of your catch becoming closer and closer. For many of us, that first catch has led to a lifetime of pursuing fish. It’s an experience that we whole-heartedly believe should be passed down to younger generations, but without conservation efforts, fishing as we know it could become a thing of the past.
To ensure our precious fish remain healthy and available for every angler to experience, there are some simple steps to follow:
Keep ’em wet: after you’ve reeled in a fish, always wet your hands before handling. Furthermore, don’t keep the fish out of the water for too long and don’t hold the fish too tightly in your hands.
Get the hook out quickly: this will ensure you cause the least amount of trauma as possible for the fish. With fly fishing, hemostats can help you get a grasp of even the tiniest flies so they can be removed.
Make it snappy: getting a photo of a prized catch is important, but don’t take too long getting the perfect photo. Take your pic and then get your fish back in the water as quickly as possible.
TLC: if you find yourself to be a bit exhausted after a long fight with a fish, imagine how the fish feels. When it’s time to let it loose, it may take some gentle coaxing and TLC to get them back to normal. Carefully move the fish around in the water allowing them to “catch their breath” and reacclimatize to their environment. When they’re ready, they’ll take off.
Taking these simple steps can greatly increase the odds that the fish you caught will survive to be enjoyed by other anglers in the future.
For more information about fish conservation, we recommend becoming a member of Trout Unlimited.