One thing that I will not discuss much on this fishing blog is "catch and release." fishing. I do not believe in catch and release fishing and I do not practice it. Sure, if the fish is too small or cannot be legally kept, I will throw it back. I hunt, fish and trap for meat. I am not a "spot fisherman."
I realize that catch and release fishing has played a roll in restocking waters that were over fished or polluted in the past, and for introducing new species of fish in areas where they are not native. This has especially been true for trout fishing in mountain streams. However, I think it has been over done. Too often, catch and release fishing is portrayed as the only ethical style of fishing and those who take fish for eating are looked down on, and even prohibited from certain waters. This really hit home for me when I was reading a cookbook published by one of America's largest fishing tackle companies. It had some good recipes and some interesting stories, but its tone was off-putting. I finally realized what was bothering me about the book when I came to the chapter in which the family is described as fishing with foreign guests, spending all day and evening fishing a stream with the most expensive gear and elegant accouterments and, "of course" releasing all of the fish and dining on grilled beef..... the doneness of which could only be measured accurately by the digital thermometer the company was marketing at the time... which sold for around $80.00 in the 1980s.
Well, to each his own. I have no problem with another person who chooses to fish merely for sport. I have no problem with a company marketing its tackle exclusively to the wealthy or upwardly mobile. In the 'yuppie" culture of the 80s and 90s, that company did remarkably well and brought many to fly fishing who otherwise may not have become anglers. What bothers me, though is really twofold: 1) the misguided notion that fish can be stockpiled; and, 2) the elitist attitude that those who practice catch and release fishing are somehow morally superior and more responsible stewards of nature than those who eat the fish they catch.
Fish are not immortal. The average fish lives less than a year before falling prey to natural predators (additionally, predation of fish eggs and minnows by other fish is extremely heavy). Fish can live several years and become very large, but those are more the exception than the rule. I once caught a mountain lake trout that was close to being a state record. That was a nice, big fish and a thrill to catch. I am glad it lived as long as it did. But, I ate it with a clear conscience... and it was delicious! That would certainly shock the catch and release fisherman who assumes a released fish will live another year and grow larger for the next angler who will eventually land a record. I spent most of my summers in the mountains, where the trout streams and rivers are crowded with catch and release fly fisherman. Some streams are designated catch and release only. Countless times I have seen raccoons, hawks and other critters destroying the dreams of the noble dry fly fisherman by chowing down on said potential trophy.
Assuming fish had no natural predators, evan man, would that be a good thing? Would the waters be filled will trophy fish? No. Wildlife cannot be stockpiled. All wildlife populations, whether fish, game or predator, must be managed. Even the highly esteemed wild rainbow trout, were it to become too populous in a stream would quickly exhaust available food resources leading to undersized, weak fish and eventually mass starvation. Overpopulation also creates favorable conditions for the spread of disease. It is the job of state wildlife/fish and game organizations to monitor populations of fish and game. They set low limits on those species whose populations are too low and higher or no limits on those whose populations are too high or at sustainable levels under current fishing or hunting pressure. When they set a creel limit on fish, they are telling you that you can and should take that number of fish of that given size.
It is a dangerous and foolish assumption that catch and release fishing is more responsible, or more ethical than taking fish for food. However, it is that very misguided assumption that leads to the attitude of elitism that so irks me. The elitist who views himself as the true steward of the environment and the highest embodiment of the art of angling, too often looks down on the man who takes his limit home to feed himself and his family. Never mind that the fisherman who keeps his fish does so in a manner that culls fish populations and ensures the availability of healthy fish for all anglers... but, he just might be a better fisherman too. He may be able to fish in varying ways with a variety of tackle, whereas the specialist is an expert in only one. He may even be more intelligent as he has the sense to enjoy the fruits of his labor and relaxation in a delicious meal. To the elitist though, he is a barbarian, a hick, the lowest of the human form, besmirching the noble art of angling.
In a mountain community in which I spent several years, all of the good trout waters were "owned" by a fly fishing club. I place owned in quotations, because their legal right of ownership was questionable at best. The law would appear to read that they could only own the banks on either side of the rivers, and that anyone could wade those waters - the water itself was public. But, money talks and these were big money "summer people". Any non-club member caught fishing would quickly be ticketed by the local game wardens. Their purpose was simple - they meant to keep the riff-raff out. We local hillbillies were unwelcome in their waters. Again, I have no problem if a club wants to legally purchase a stretch of water so its members can have a little extra casting room. But, when they lock up nearly all of the good fishing waters in a community so that the common man cannot enjoy natural recreation or provide for his family's table with the God-given bounty of the earth, that is wrong - and its wrongness compounded by the fact that those "private waters" benefitted from stocking of trout by state agencies, funded by the very tax dollars of those deemed unworthy to fish said waters.
At the heart of my objection to the elitist, strict catch and release philosophy... beyond all I have written previously... is that it embraces a very unnatural view of man's role in nature. Man is not separate from nature - some alien being to the wilderness whose presence can only be detrimental to the natural order. The same God who created the world and filled it with plants and animals also created man and gave him a unique role. The plants and animals - the bounty of the earth- would feed man and in turn, man would steward the earth. Man would farm, fish and hunt - and man would manage those natural resources. This stewardship is not only to ensure the earth's bounty for future generations but to ensure the health and environment for plants and animals - living beings that have no capacity for reason or concept of the future and no ability to manage their own environments.
The man (or woman) who eats his catch is fulfilling his natural and God-given role in the natural environment. For man to live, he has to eat. Everything he eats was once alive and must die for him to eat. Life is not catch and release. Whether plant, fish, bird or mammal, a living thing must give its life for another to live. The angler who studies the fish he seeks and the art of fishing, who catches and kills the fish, who cleans and scales the fish and who stores or cooks and eats the fish has a much more intimate relationship with his food than does the catch and release fisherman who spends all day yanking fish out of the water by a hook through their lip and looking at them, only to leave them behind to eat steak or hamburgers for dinner. An angler who fishes with simple tackle like a cane pole, or who keeps his catch to eat, should never be denigrated. The elitist who looks down his nose at the common man does so out of arrogance and ignorance.
In closing, I will say that when I begin publishing fishing videos on this blog, they will not be catch and release. Unlike most fishing shows, you will not see scene after scene of the angler pulling a fish from the water, holding up for the camera, exclaiming something like "whoohoo, look at that pretty fish", throwing it out and casting again. Here, you will fine detailed information about tackle and techniques. You will see how rigs are assembled and how they are fished. You will see fish caught, landed, killed, bled, gutted and scaled. You will learn how to store and preserve fish and how to cook them. Killing will be done as quickly and humanely as possible. At times, it may be a bit graphic, but will not be unnecessarily so. I do not enjoy killing, nor do I fish for sport. However, LIFE IS NOT CATCH AND RELEASE.