Can They Survive Our Good Intentions

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Posted by: Captain Woody - Comments Off on Can They Survive Our Good Intentions

The sun’s first rays are cresting over the mangroves as the morning sky begins brightening. The trolling motors on low as you and your friend ease quietly across a broken-bottom flat. Expectantly, you toss that favorite MirrOLure Top-Dog, making precision cast into each pothole. You know they’re out there, like any experienced angler you can almost smell em’. With each cast, you conscientiously recall everything you know about top water lures, like not setting the hook until you feel the fish, etc. Suddenly it happens… the water explodes with the ferocity that only trophy Snook produce. You feel the pull, set the hook and shout to your friend, “Fish On”. Expectedly, you lose about 35 or 40 yards of line, your heart pounds, your pulse races… you can hardly catch you breath. “Look at her go”, you shout, trying to out guess her next move. Try to it from jumping you lower the rod tip to keep her in the water. After what seems like an eternity in an excitable voice you say, “She’s beginning to tire, I’m getting some line back… are you ready with the net?” Your mind races and you think, just a little longer… don’t horse it… keep the line tight… seems like a million things you’re trying to remember. Then as quickly as it started, she is in the net. For the first time, you relax your shoulders, catch your breath, and realize what a trophy fish you just caught.

Composure returning, you remark, “We need some pictures, no one will believe us without them, let me find the camera”. After several minutes of rummaging around, you remember, it’s in a box under the bow. “Sliding your hand into the gills you lift the fish from the net holding it vertically. After several photos, your friend says, “Let me get a photo holding it.” You lay the fish back in the net, and slid your fingers out of the gills. Your partner slides his in and again poses with the fish held vertically. After a few more photo’s he returns it to the net.

“Is it big enough to keep?” says your friend. You reply,”Looks too big but let’s measure to be sure.” Again sliding your hand into the gills, you lift the fish, lay it on the measuring board and align the front lip and the tail. “Yep! It’s too long, better put it back to fight another day.” With that statement, you toss the fish back into the water, watching as it slowly swims away toward the bottom.

“Man! That was fun, too bad it was too long to keep, but we’re about catch and release anyway” they both remark, proud of seeing it slowly swim away.

Whenever asked, these anglers, like others are quick to say they religiously practice catch and release. Actually, what these anglers released was a dead fish.

Here is the crux of the situation. Always be prepared to quickly release any fish, unless you plan to keep some for dinner. In that case, only take enough for the intended meal. Understandably, fish do not freeze well, get freezer burned and ultimately end up in the trash. If you like fish, there is nothing like a piece of fresh fish to satisfy the appetite. However, failing to preserve a wonderful resource, like fish, we could end up eating beans and calling it fish.

Fishing is a great pastime and people spend countless hours and energy learning the skills necessary to catch them. However, overlook learning how to preserve them. Every year the number of people turning to fishing for entertainment escalates, so it is important that we remember there are only so many fish and to preserve them we must educate ourselves. No one deliberately sets out to kill them unless they intend to eat a few and no one purposely set out to kill a trophy. It usually happens through ignorance of how to fight, handle and release them alive. “Alive” being the optimum word means, according to Webster’s: “being alive, not dead, still in existence”. Just because it swam away doesn’t mean it will survive.

Studies conducted at the Queen’s University in Ontario demonstrated the mortality rate rose significantly after prolonged exposure to air, especially after the stress of capture. Essentially, 28% or 3 out of 10, fish released after 60 seconds of exposure lived; the other 72% died within 12 hours. Exposure for 30 seconds increased the survival rate to 6 out of 10 and fish stressed but not exposed to air increased by a substantial margin of 9 out of 10. Their mortality relates directly to gill damage suffered from exposure to air.

This damage is avoidable by leaving fish in the water. If netting becomes necessary, leave it and the fish in the water while removing the hook. When used correctly, a fish dehooker tool is another alternative, which releases fish in only seconds.

Another contributing factor is fatigue and over-stress caused by light tackle. Using tackle, to deliberately, extend the battle is signing a death warrant for the fish. Light tackle can mean anything exerting undue stress by intentionally extending the fight. Do not assume light tackle means only fly anglers it doesn’t because most match their tackle to the target. On the other hand, don’t get the impression you need 4/0 tackle to save Snook, Redfish and Trout… some common sense and practical thinking should dictate the requirements.

Like our two anglers in the beginning, without that photograph… no one will believe you. Here’s what to do… be prepared. Have the camera ready, as the fish comes alongside have someone prepared to take the photo. If getting that special shot requires lifting the fish, do it gently, using wet hands and never holding them vertically. One or two shots should take no longer that a couple of seconds. When returning it to the water never through it back hoping for the best. Always place it in the water, revive as necessary and watch as it swims away.

There are times when good intentions and efforts for a safe release fail, especially during the warmer months. Now you face the decision of whether to keep it for dinner or return it to the food chain. If you keep, make certain it’s within the legal limits. Because it died, does not make it legal and everyone knows the reasons why.

When good fortune smiles and you catch that trophy fish… take a moment to consider how long it took to reach that size and how long it will take to replace it. It might effect how you think and handle a wonderful opportunity that came your way.

This article is owned by Capt. Woody Gore and is copyright protected. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by Capt. Gore. wgore@ix.netcom.com