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Why catch & release when you trout fish?

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POSTED April 3, 2011 11:45 p.m.
I was about 12 when I began to seriously fish for trout. Prior to that time I was simply accompanying my Dad along the stream and reeling in an occasional trout or two that he had hooked. While it was great fun splashing in the stream, picking wildflowers & harassing the frogs & tadpoles, it took awhile for me to appreciate the challenge of spotting a feeding fish, and then successfully planning & executing a successful stalk to outwit him with my hand-tied flies.

At first, I missed far more trout than I caught and my goal was to catch my daily limit of fish. In the 1950s and 60s the legal limit for Trout was 15 fish per day. Initially I had great difficulty catching that many fish in a single day. As I became increasingly proficient at outwitting my quarry, catching a limit became more and more common.  I guess I figured that a creel full of fish was the mark of a successful angler. After a while however, it began to dawn on me that I really couldn’t eat 15 trout at one meal. Since my Dad & brother were also catching their limit of fish, I soon figured out that it was quite impossible for us to eat 45 fish in a single evening. Of course there was always the freezer & surplus fish could be frozen in empty milk cartons filled with water. That way the blocks of frozen fish stacked neatly in the freezer. It also took me awhile to learn that frozen trout were not nearly as good as fresh trout.  

Almost like a Darwinian process, I eventually reached the conclusion that simply releasing fish unharmed meant that I could catch them again later after they had time to grow larger. Instead of bringing home 15 dead fish I began to bring home fewer fish that were larger in size. My goal shifted from catching lots of fish, to catching bigger fish instead. Unbeknownst to me, under Dad’s guidance I was still evolving on my journey to become a successful angler. If you caught & kept only big fish, it wasn’t long before there were only little fish populating given water. Where was the fun in that?

Probably the hardest step in my angling education was learning to release the big fish so that they could breed and only take home a few smaller fish for dinner. No longer did my freezer resemble a stack of cordwood made of frozen fish. Photographs of fish being released became my goal rather than stacks of freezer-burned fish that were really pretty lousy food. Somewhere along the way, while doing some volunteer fish conservation work for the Fish & Game department, a fisheries biologist taught me how to mark the trout I released by clipping their small adipose fin that is located just in front of the tail. Now when I catch a fin-clipped trout in one of my favorite waters, its like meeting an old friend.

When I stop & think about it, I realize that fishing is very much a microcosm of life itself. It is a journey, not a destination and catch and release fishing is an important component of that journey. I’m not sure where it will lead, but I’m still learning. Thus far, I know that I can heartily recommend catch and release fishing to you as a powerful tool to not only improve your fishing skills, but maybe even your very being.

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines
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